Seize the moment

Celtic fans received a boost ahead of tonight’s game against Bayern Munich at Celtic Park. The club announced that Kieran Tierney has signed a new 6 year deal for the club signalling to his admirers that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Of course, we already knew that though didn’t we? It’s just that from time to time you have to silence the media who tend to fabricate matters for their own readership.

Even with the continued press coverage linking him to the latest Premier League club, there wasn’t a chance KT would be signing for anyone else soon. He’s on course to be club captain as well as being the best footballing product to come out of Celtic (possibly even Scotland) since the 1980’s.

Back to tonight though and Bayern Munich. The German side beat Celtic convincingly at the Allianz Arena amid another night of starstruck Hoops players.

Brendan Rodgers’ players need to believe in themselves. At home we can appear comfortable, but we can also be unconvincing at times, be it domestic or continental opponent.

I was at the 5-0 game against Astana and Celtic Park was bouncing that night. As early as it was in the season, Celtic were expectedly not as sharp, but the performance they turned in that night was spectacular.

Last Wednesday against Aberdeen the performance was on a different level as well. Celtic have dropped points this season and many thought (as I did) that Pittodrie might be one of those nights, but it wasn’t.

Celtic put in the sort of display that demonstrated their prowess in Scottish football. With a few changes against Kilmarnock we didn’t get quite the same, but that wasn’t totally unexpected with one eye on tonight’s game.

The emphasis on this match is huge. There is an obvious gap between Celtic and the top European clubs in terms of finances but there has been for a long time.

On the playing field is a different matter. Yes they have more expensive players and more of them but that gap can still be closed.

Celtic have shown in the past that they can inflict defeat on such opponents or at least slow them down to a draw. I also think some of Celtic’s results are down to what they did or didn’t do on the night.

PSG wiped the floor with Celtic by three of the best forward in the world but did Celtic do everything and is this team still learning? Bayern demonstrated their squad strength by easing Celtic out in Germany over ninety minutes but I actually thought this was an improvement on the PSG match.

Tonight Bayern will be without two key players in  Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller not that it means the Celtic defence get a night off. They have Arjen Robben, Kingsley Coman and James Rodriguez to call upon.

Celtic have to take this opportunity though and seize the moment. Just as they have in the past against teams like Porto, Juventus, Valencia, Manchester United, Shakhtar Donetsk, Benfica, AC Milan, Villarreal and Barcelona.

They’ve all been beaten at Celtic Park in the last 20 years. They were all deemed to be better than us and overall probably so but you don’t write history without changing it.

Let’s stand up and be counted tonight Bhoys. No matter the odds.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Domestic record equalled…now it’s time to believe

Celtic’s midweek masterclass was followed up by a 1-1 draw at home to Kilmarnock on Saturday. Despite dominating the game the Hoops couldn’t find that second goal.

The most important outcome was that they didn’t lose the match. The draw meant that Brendan Rodgers equalled the club record set by Willie Maley between 13 November 1915 and 21 April 1917.

Maley, also a Northern Irishman by birth, was Celtic’s first manager. And like Rodgers he began his managerial career at early age albeit through different circumstances.

Now some 100 years on, a man from County Down and a man from County Antrim share this unbelievable feat. The club are currently bookmarked by two managerial legends.

Of course club history could be rewritten if that run continued next Saturday at McDiarmid Park. Before then there is the small matter of Bayern Munich at Celtic Park on Tuesday.

The bad news for Celtic is injuries once again. Paddy Roberts went off at the weekend with a hamstring injury and will be out for 4-6 weeks.

As much as that is a blow, I’ve been encouraged by James Forrest’s performaces of late. I think he’s been starved just enough to give him the motivation for such a huge home tie.

A few players were rested or used in part on Saturday with one eye on this Champions League fixture. That’s understandable because I get that there’s a feeling Celtic could take something from this game.

That may not amount to a win but what Brendan Rodgers and his players must do is make some progress against teams that sit at the top of the European pyramid. Too much caution and respect hasn’t yielded anything but a hiding.

Bayern have their own injury doubts as well. Robert Lewandowski went off at the weekend and is on the current injury list, but he has plenty of team mates to step in and do a job.

Celtic just need to focus on this game and with the players they do have. Anything can happen.

Go at Bayern like they did Manchester City in season one. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

Hallowe’en it may be, but Celtic must exorcise their Champions League ghosts. It’s an eleven v eleven situation and you have your fans right behind you. 

We believe in you Bhoys. Now believe in yourselves.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Three and easy 

Before the match at Pittodrie I said that both managers would take a draw, but I was wrong. It was clear from the outset that Brendan Rodgers had no such intentions.

Other than the surprise omission of Sinclair from the left flank, this was a strong and hungry line up. Celtic controlled and created from the first whistle.

They silenced Aberdeen with a fine first half showing. Tierney, Forrest, Dembele and Rogic came at them time after time.

Aberdeen barely got a chance to show Celtic why they’ve gone 9 games unbeaten in the league. Celtic didn’t give them much of a chance.

This was all about the invincibles. They flexed their muscles in the arena of their closest rivals these last five years and came away with the rewards.

Tierney turned in the first goal from a tight angle after Dembele showed great strength to get the cross in. Tierney returned the favour by skelping in a pacey cross for Dembele to steer in from close range.

0-2 Celtic. Brilliant.

The second half was more of the same from Celtic. They pestered Aberdeen who were desperate to get into the match.

They did have their chances, but Celtic would wrap things up with a third goal. Dembele capitalised on a free kick by heading in a nodded cross from Boyata.

Game over. Great performance.

Next up is Kilmarnock on Saturday who took a point off Glasgow’s newest club tonight. Motherwell, who beat Rangers on Sunday, also won tonight and slip into 3rd in the Scottish Premiership.

Carry on the good work of this evening to Celtic Park on Saturday and Tuesday. A result against Bayern is not impossible.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Faceoff at Pittodrie

Another week, another midweek fixture for Celtic. The games are coming thick and fast for Brendan Rodgers’ invincibles.

At the weekend Celtic saw off Hibs in a pretty decent semi-final at Hampden. An unlikely double from our vice-captain and the returning Moussa Dembele was enough to make the final next month.

Now Celtic will face a lively Motherwell who put Rangers to the sword on Sunday. Tonight though it is all about league duties.

Celtic travel to Pittodrie for this evenings encounter with Aberdeen. Both clubs are neck and neck.

The question now is whether a share of the spoils is on the cards or if one club is about to give up their unbeaten run? Neither club will be willing to give this one up easily especially so early in the season.

Aberdeen have home advantage, but they have also lost the last seven matches to Celtic home or away. Their last victory was recorded back February 2016 at Pittodrie but Celtic will be favourites for this one.

If this game is a draw, it’ll be the first between the two since the 1-1 result in March 2012. Should that be the case it wouldn’t be a disaster.

Both clubs would take a draw right now I am sure. It means both would remain unbeaten and the league challenge continues.

Once more Brendan Rodgers is sure to make changes. The squad rotation has been in full use so far this season but a strong side will be required for tonight.

Aberdeen will be looking to get something from this and Celtic will not want to give up their unbeaten domestic run. It should be a good game.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

 

Hampden, Hibs and Hopelessness

A win would have seemed impossible and a draw unlikely. In the end it was nothing unexpected.

Celtic rocked up to the Allianz Arena on Wednesday night to take on one of Europe’s best teams. Reinvigorated by their past master, Juup Heynckes, Bayern Munich beat Celtic in convincing fashion.

It wasn’t so much a lesson, but more of a reminder to us all of the disparity in European club football. Not so many moons ago Celtic were much closer to matching Munich, but now the gulf is immeasurable.

On the night you can always hope that in an eleven versus eleven situation you have a chance. To do so you need to impose yourself physically if not skillfully.

Celtic had their moments, but we also saw some star struck players out there too. The body language was reminiscent of what we’d seen against PSG and Barcelona.

Am I being harsh on Celtic? I don’t think so.

They were up against a great team yes. This Celtic team have further to go in terms of self belief though.

On the domestic scene we’ve eclipsed everyone on and off the field. To bridge the European gap means the rest of Scottish football to get on board.

That’s an even bigger task though. There is no money in our game north of the border.

What Celtic do is self generated. We have nobody but our fans and club sponsors to thank for that.

The Celtic business model is created around the dire financial environment that Scottish football exist in. We didn’t cheat our way into this position of sustainability.

There is a glass ceiling though. Not just in Europe, but in Scotland.

Our domestic game is well behind the times. The people who make the decisions and govern the game lack foresight and ambition.

In fact so to do the people who run some of the clubs. I mean the so called big clubs.

Is this a Scottish thing? Well some folk are quite happy with things as long as their pockets are lined and they get their free lunch a de

On the one hand you have Aberdeen, Hearts, Hibs all stable but lacking in going the extra yard. Then there’s Sevco and there mad men trying to run this incarnation of Rangers like the old days.

There is no money out there and nobody is willing to invest. And why would you when there is nothing to sell to prospective business men and woman?

Celtic singlehandedly contributed £4M to the Scottish game due to their personal efforts in Europe last year. It will go to the other clubs who to be quite frank have done feck all.

This money is a lifeline to some of these clubs though. Everyone knows it and yet little comes in the other direction to help Celtic.

Take today’s game at Hampden. A cup semi-final against Hibs with a 12:15pm kick-off.

The other semi is tomorrow at 2:30pm. And how many of these semi-finalists played midweek overseas?

Celtic could quite easily have been allocated the Sunday slot. That would been seen as favouritism though wouldn’t it?

Talking about biting the hand that feeds you. Then allow the SMSM to boot in afterwards.

Speaking of which, they didn’t take long to document the rubbish left by Celtic fans in Munich. Despite the local police praising the travelling supporters for their good behaviour and friendliness, the SMSM decided to focus on the kind of mess that isn’t unfamiliar at concerts, festivals oh and Orange Walks!

And don’t even get me started on the ticket fiasco for today’s Hibs match. It just isn’t funny anymore

Come on Bhoys. Let’s put this one to bed.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Play The Celtic Way…

After returning to domestic duties on Saturday with a 1-0 over Dundee, Celtic face a sterner test tonight in Germany. The Hoops are in Munich to take on Bayern at the Allianz Arena on matchday 3 of the Champions League.

What sort of result can we expect from this match? How will Brendan Rodgers set up against such a high quality opponent?

I think in this competition you have to expect that virtually anything could happen. Because Celtic are one of those sides who have experienced the effects all across the Champions League spectrum.

From heavy defeats and unjust decisions, cheating opponents and howlers to sublime goals and the odd shock result. I’m not certain what kind of shape Bayern are in mentally after sacking Carlo Ancelotti, but you can be sure they’ve been well-drilled by Juup Heynckes.

If you think a team replacing their manager so early in the season spells disaster then you’d be wrong. Heynckes and Munich are a perfect fit.

This is the German coach’s fourth spell as manager with his last yielding a winning ratio of over 75% during a two-year spell at the club. In that time he also delivered four trophies: Bundesliga, German Cup, German Super Cup and er the Champions League.

Similar success followed the club after his third departure in the form of Pep Guardiola. Again, a win ratio of over 75% and seven trophies during a three-year reign is not to be sniffed at though no Champions League this time around.

Carlo Ancelotti would follow but he lasted little more than a year. His win ratio was 70% and he won both the Bundesliga and German Super Cup.

That wasn’t enough though and he was sacked after the 3-0 defeat to PSG on matchday 2 of the Champions League last month. Just goes to show you the expectations and standards at a club that breeds success.

How do Celtic deal with an opponent like that? Does Brendan have a game plan that can outfox an old fox other than his own wining percentage of over 75%?

Well the odds are against him, especially with Heynckes back in the fold. The restoration work on this team began convincingly at the weekend with a 5-0 drubbing of Freiburg.

Bayern have a brilliant squad with a mix of youth and experience. They will be galvanised by Heynckes return and prepared to get the Champions League bandwagon back on the road.

That’s bad timing and bad news for Celtic so they just have to go about their business. Not show them too much respect, but have a go at them.

Celtic also have a blend of youth and experience, but the players need to believe that on the night anything can happen. We know what happens when we are too cautious with teams like PSG and Barcelona – they walk over you.

I’m not saying it is time to go gung-ho and cavalier. We do need to play the game we’re used to playing though.

Celtic cannot contain a team of this stature. It’s impossible but we have seen what Celtic can do when they have a go, especially away from home.

So let’s play football. The Celtic way.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Who’s next for Scotland?

Before we step back into the domestic scene for the foreseeable future, there was one more story from international setup yesterday. The SFA announced that Gordon Strachan would not be staying on as head coach of Scotland, bringing an end to almost five years in the job.

The news was not totally unexpected. A fresh approach was required.

Strachan steadied a sinking Scottish ship after his predecessor was made to walk the plank. Fans were hopeful and interested in what his appointment would bring to the Scotland team.

After a fair crack at qualifying it was time for him to move on though. A new era awaits us with the next generation of players in mind. 

It’s almost a year until Scotland have another competitive match. Time should be taken now to get the right candidates shortlisted.

The list won’t be long, but my faith in the SFA is even less. So I can only hope that the right man is out there, willing and able to take up the arduous task of getting Scotland to a tournament finals.

Who might that person be? And are they interested?

I can’t see the SFA going for a foreign coach despite Scottish based Michael O’Neill’s name being in the frame. There are too many Scottish managers out there that are currently available.

Early odds had Malky Mackay, David Moyes and Derek McInnes as top bets. On the next rung of odds were guys like Paul Lambert and Alex McLeish.

McInnes has done well with Aberdeen, but still not really reached a point worthy recognition for me. It would be unlikely for him to leave Aberdeen for Scotland and still has more to do at Pittodrie in my opinion.

Mackay on the other hand is already in the Scottish setup. His role as Performance Director puts him in a prime position even if his recent past is still on the minds of many.

Lambert and Moyes are both out of work, experienced, but not so successful with recent appointments. The same could be said about McLeish.

He had a very brief spell at Hampden before being lured south of the border. Whether he would be considered after such an early departure last time around, but he does have some credible results from that spell in charge such as victories over France and Ukraine.

Like his old Aberdeen team mate Strachan though, McLeish has also been undone by a damaging result against Georgia.  I’d say he’s an outside bet right now.

Other names currently out of work are Steve Clarke, John Collins and Billy Davies. Clarke has a good coaching background in England, but perhaps comes up short as impressing as a head coach.

That’s not to say he couldn’t do the job alongside someone else. Head coach might be the only role he’d be interested in though.

John Collins, most recently assistant coach at Celtic, I don’t see as head coach. In fact I still wonder what he did under Ronny Deila.

Again though, he could be seen as part of the coaching team by the SFA. Whether that interests him remains to be seen. 

Billy Davies has a reasonable amount of coaching experience. I don’t think he’s anywhere near top of that list though and certainly not someone I would like to see in the Scotland role.

One guy not mentioned is John Hughes. Perhaps not the most fashionable choice out there, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a more passionate guy talk.

In a 20 Minute Tims podcast not so long ago, he talked at length of his time as a player and coach. What an amazingly genuine insight he gave to the Scottish game.

Apparently he’s also good friends with John Collins. He gets bonus points for being keen cyclist like myself and a health  fanatic (I can’t claim to be the latter!).

Could big Yogi have a role? Maybe not in the eyes of the SFA.

There’s worse candidates out there for sure but perhaps a role in the coaching team wouldn’t be out of the question. You don’t get much time in the international setup and he could help gel the players on international week.

There is a need to analyse and prepare well in advance. As soon as international week comes along, that coaching team have to assemble a group of players to work together who don’t play together regularly.

That’s the challenge. It’s been mentioned by many, myself included, that Strachan should have used the all conquering Celtic based Scots at the core of his team earlier.

He did so in part and long after it was even suggested. Or dare I say it, after blatantly ignoring the obvious?

This isn’t Celtic favouritism. It’s common sense.

Darren Fletcher is the most recent person to say so. As someone who has served Scotland well over the years, and under several managers, I’m sure he knows what he’s talking about.

For now, the search for the next coaching team begins. Let’s hope the SFA get this right.

Thanks for bringing some pride back to Scotland, Gordon. It’s time to move forward.

Stevie Mac