Things could look very different in the coming weeks

Celtic return to action today as they host Ross County at home in the Scottish Premiership. It’s a top vs bottom scenario where both clubs are separated by 46 points and a goal difference of +59.

Talk about contrast. And that’s been a relatively timid season by the Hoops.

Last season Celtic were rampant, unbeaten and of course treble winners. This season they are still out in front and in with a chance of winning another treble, but less convincing.

Now that won’t matter to Ross County today. Anything they get from today’s match will be a bonus.

At this stage in the season though, Celtic will not be slowing down. In fact they need to get into top gear.

Injuries have plagued Celtic all season. With eight league games remaining and everything left to play for, it’s good to see so many players returning for such an important part of the season.

Few in the media have commented on Celtic’s injury blight. Presumably as it gives us an excuse for poor results.

And still, here we are in the hunt for back-to-back trebles. Could be another piece of history in the making.

Assuming that Celtic, Rangers or Aberdeen don’t stuff up any of their remaining pre-split matches, the earliest the league could be tied up would be on matchday one of the post-split fixtures. By that time Aberdeen could have used their game at hand to leapfrog Rangers into second spot.

After today, Celtic have Dundee at home on Wednesday and Hamilton away next weekend. Rangers are away to Motherwell today and it is a potential banana skin for them.

They then host Dundee at Ibrox next weekend. Aberdeen have it a little tougher though.

Today they are at home to St Johnstone, away to Motherwell midweek and away to Hearts next weekend. So despite having a game at hand they also have three hard matches.

There is also Hibs to consider. They also have a game at hand.

They’re at home to Partick Thistle today, home to Hamilton midweek and away to Ross County next week. You might also think Kilmarnock cab put pressure on the situation as they also have a game at hand.

Their next three matches are home to Hamilton, away to Partick Thistle and away to Hamilton again. So the top four spots could look very different very soon by the time the league splits in two.

Celtic’s objective is to start flexing their muscles. Despite still missing five first team players through injury and suspension, they have gained from those returning from injury recently.

Stuart Armstrong, Tom Rogic, Marvin Compper, Patrick Roberts and now Leigh Griffiths are all back in contention. Probably not what the opposition want to hear at this end of the season.

Celtic also boosted their ranks of course with Scott Bain, Jack Hendry and Charly Musonda in January. These are all timely arrivals which so far I’ve been impressed with.

It’s such an important stage of the season for everyone. There are trophies, contracts and history at stake.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

When will UEFA implement a fair game for ALL clubs?

Next season is set to get tougher for certain teams from certain countries. It doesn’t matter how big a club you are or even think you are.

European club football is for the big boys. It’s more about the wealth of your league.

UEFA have been rewarding the affluent leagues for decades now. The rich get richer and the poor stand still or drop further down their rankings.

Under the current system clubs and leagues with high revenue streams get rewarded handsomely. They have stronger leagues and are better funded so in European competition can compete at a higher level.

Meantime, everyone else suffers as a result trying to keep up the impossible task. If it is was a level playing field in football it would be more of a fair fight, but it isn’t.

European countries have a whole range of infrastructure variables which dictate their game such as TV revenue, stadium capacity, population, climate etc etc. There has always been disparity in football between European countries, but the competitions always allowed a team regardless of location or wealth, an opportuntity to win.

You never knew who was going to win the European trophies. Now you can narrow it down to a handful of teams each season, because they are the only ones that can afford it and the gap is widening.

UEFA ensure the wealthy prosper, thus creating a super league. It isn’t exactly what I would call fair play.

Every league winner under UEFA’s wing should have automatic entry into the group stage of the Champions League without argument. Unfortunately that isn’t how the men in Nyon see it.

The seeding system currently employed by UEFA does work, but it is also heavily imbalanced. Why should leagues with less income have to jump though more hoops?

If UEFA want to seed teams over based on the last five seasons I have no problem with that. However, if some teams are having to play anywhere between one to five qualifying rounds just to get there, playing against teams that finished 2nd, 3rd or 4th in their league then I do have a problem.

The continual rewarding of non-champions with direct entry and/or little to nothing in the way of a qualifying campaign is a two-fingered salute to clubs like Celtic. We know Scotland are way behind the times in terms of football, but clubs such as Celtic are suffering by the ineptitude of Scottish football and the greed of UEFA.

Here’s the thing, if you give all UEFA members one winner from each league, direct entry into the group phase then smaller countries get an opportunity not just to experience the Champions League/Europa League, but also to accumulate some wealth which can benefit that club and country’s development. A team from Kosovo, Andorra, San Marino, Gibraltar or the Faroe Islands, currently the bottom five nations in UEFA, are unlikely to every see the inside of the Champions League group phase because them system keeps them down there.

Whilst it is great to see the best teams in Europe all slug it out, it isn’t a fair system. It certainly isn’t a Champions League.

A Champions League consisting of 54 of the 55 members plus the previous seasons winners of the Champions League and Europa League would give you 14 groups of 4. Seems like a lot compared to the 32 you get in the current group phase, but considering 79 teams competed starting back at the qualifying stages in June 2017 why not just expand it and if required lengthen the whole competition for all nations?

For Celtic, another round of qualification this season is quite frankly, insulting. Once crowned the Champions of Europe against all odds, though in with a fair chance, we now face oblivion against a wealthier team before the group stage is in sight this summer or indeed one that didn’t even win their own league.

There was no rewarding the big clubs or ensuring direct entry back in those days. It was a fair fight on every match day and of course a knockout competition.

In order for Celtic to ever win the Champions League, they’d have to break the bank. With financial fair play rules in place that isn’t going to happen.

So Scottish football would have to get its house in order and that isn’t going to happen any time soon either. The bottom line is if your league is poor you’ve got no chance.

Celtic have all the right things in place as a business, but we are let down by the environment run by the SFA and the SPFL. UEFA aren’t going to change the rules unless there is some kind of stance taken by other leagues across Europe.

In the mean time, Brendan Rodgers will just need to keep plugging away and build on these last two seasons. He can’t go beyond a certain budget, but to be fair he has been patient and prudent so far but it’s beginning to look more and more like his team.

There will come a point when he can go no further, but as we’ve seen so far during Brendan’s reign, there is still much left to do. He’s here for three more seasons and there’s still time to see an improvement.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Paddy Power Betfair Shame

When I heard about the details of Celtic club captain Scott Brown’s testimonial match, I was blown away by the gesture. We all know these kind of matches are rare in the modern-day so it has to be somewhat justified.

With the proceeds rarely finding their way into that players pocket, as they did in years gone by, it takes something special for the match to attract people and serve a purpose. However, sports bet company Paddy Power Betfair employed one of their columnists to write a piece on the upcoming occasion.

Now it must be said that Paddy Power Betfair are well-known for courting the controversial. They have a penchant for ruffling feathers and there appears to be no sign of that ever-changing given how long they’ve maintained this practice.

On this particular occasion though, it isn’t an insensitive advertisement or a controversial odds offer. Instead, Limerick freelancer, Andrew Cunneen wrote a critical piece on the planned testimonial match.

It’s worth noting that the guy clearly isn’t a big Celtic fan. If he was, he’d be over the moon at his country playing a club he supported.

However, Cunneen sees this Celtic v Republic of Ireland match as a blatant opportunity for a republican, political sing-song. Not to mention that Scott Brown has no links with the Irish national side or that Martin O’Neill’s links are barely “credible.”

Well, I’ve been to a fair few testimonials over the years, particularly when they were more common. Even in back then there were generally no links between the player and the opposition.

In all of the Celtic hosted testimonials dating back to 1909, only two featured teams where the player of honour played for both teams at some point in their career. Pat Stanton (Hibs) and Paddy Bonner (Republic of Ireland).

Like Bonner, Jackie McNamara also had his testimonial against our friends across the Irish Sea. Does it really matter about personal links though?

Celtic have played Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United in several testimonials without any of the celebrated players having played for them. Even Newcastle United, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Nottingham Forrest have been guests or hosts at one time or another.

The point is Celtic have been invited to many a testimonial and friendly when they’ve had no links with the player. What has been counted on is the support that they bring with them.

Cunneen even suggested that if Brown was to play any international team it should’ve been Scotland. It sounds like the obvious choice, but it’s also the wrong choice.

I doubt many Scotland fans would turn up for that one. Particularly the blue half of Glasgow or any of those Scotland fans whose clubs have suffered at the hands of Broony on domestic duty.

If Cunneen can’t quantify that then I have to assume that his football knowledge (particularly in Scotland) is fairly basic. The fact that he has branded this meet-up as a “cringe-fest” and a “PR exercise that will backfire brilliantly” makes you wonder if someone shat in his pint of Guinness on St Patrick’s Day.

I mean did someone in the Celtic boardroom do a number on one of Cunneen’s relatives or something? I’d normally out him for being a closet hun, but I think he’s just got a few issues or trying to endear himself to the Paddy Power Betfair hierarchy.

With the Republic of Ireland there is of course a huge link to Celtic and its foundations. That’s a fact nobody needs to pedal, except perhaps to Cunneen.

He clearly abhors the idea of Celtic and Ireland in the same stadium. Perhaps he should set-up a blockade preventing all Irish people from going to Celtic Park on match days.

The most significant feature of his March 26th column was the fact that he failed to mention one of the key beneficiaries of this forthcoming celebration. The family of one of his very own countrymen.

Liam Miller represented both Celtic and the Republic of Ireland. He died last month just days before what would have been his 37th birthday.

Despite cutting his ties with Celtic so soon after gaining first team success, his career continued without the progression he might have experienced in Glasgow. Many a Celtic fan felt bitter about his decision to leave (myself included) having been supported by the club through tough times.

Any residual bitterness simmered when it was announced he was seriously ill. Upon Liam’s death, all animosity was gone forever.

That’s football. That’s the reality of life and death.

Of course, Cunneen fails to mention any of this. Or the fact that Brown and Miller have each played for Celtic and Hibernian, albeit at alternating times.

Yet they still faced each other on several occasions. They played against each other for both clubs in 2003-2004 and 2009-2011.

They had their final meeting in the summer of 2011. Miller had just recently moved to Perth Glory from Hibernian and Celtic were on a pre-season tour in Australia.

So is this really a cringe-fest or is it a gesture worthy of a little bit more respect? For two players who served the same clubs and match days, but ultimately carved out different career paths.

It is a tremendous touch by Scott Brown, Celtic and the Republic of Ireland to honour a fallen player. A young fella who was taken from his family and friends so early in his life.

Shame on you for trying to sour the occasion, Cunneen. Shame on Paddy Power Betfair for promoting it.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Scotland must suffer the consequences, sadly so must we

I’m a Celtic and a Scotland fan. Obviously, Celtic come first every time, but that doesn’t stop me having a degree of passion for the country I was born and raised in.

Yet I have never felt quite so much contempt for the national side as I do now. Many Celtic fans have had issue with the national set up going back decades, but for me this is current and unresolved.

Firstly, there’s my ongoing desire to see the SFA disbanded (as well as the SPFL) in favour of a new progressive governing body that works for the future of the game including the clubs and the supporters. Secondly is my distaste at the appointment of Alex McLeish for a second time.

In light of the EBT scandal at Ibrox before, during and after McLeish’s reign at the now liquidated Glasgow club, coupled with the SFA’s allowance of the activities by key individuals, this reunited partnership is a stain on the Scottish game. There will be many out there saying it is time to move on, but have we even resolved this matter?

Not in the eyes of many. Myself included.

McLeish himself admitted to a sporting advantage in an interview around the time of the story breaking in the media. The scale of this scandal and lack of action by our governing bodies has been poorly covered by the SMSM in general.

Those who are employed by the SFA or SMSM appear happy to let it go because they are towing the company line. The appointment of McLeish isn’t so much about his managerial credentials (whatever they amount to these days), but it is a blatant two finger salute to those still seeking justice in the Scottish game for the actions at Ibrox and Hampden.

Our governing bodies in Scottish football are up to their knees in cheating blood. McLeish has no shame and any respect I may have had for him disappeared a long, long time ago.

Because of this I am resigned to hoping that McLeish has a short reign through a continual lack of success or an accumulation of fan disapproval. Some people may be looking to move on, but I and many others are not.

Reform is the only way out of this and that must begin and end with defeat for Scotland. I don’t want cheats running our game or even managing our national side.

It only goes to show just how much the SFA does not respect the fans of the clubs or the country. There is no commentary or dialogue on the SFA’s involvement or knowledge with the EBT scandal except for the so called internet bampots.

What chance do you stand in getting a fair hearing when a story such as this has the SFA with full knowledge of the matter and now even to this day employs people who were involved in it as well? There really is no hope for Scottish football that I can see.

I’ve long wished for change but there is no sign of it materialising. I won’t watch another Scotland game as long as McLeish is in charge.

To dismiss fans’ contempt for this issue purely as bitterness only defelcts from the truth. We’re on a road to nowhere.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Brown: Doing his talking on the park

On Sunday Celtic extended their lead in the Scottish Premiership to ten points. A 0-0 draw at Fir Park was the best they could muster after failing to convert any of their chances.

The key talking point was the red car shown to Cedric Kipre. The second time he has been sent off against Celtic this season by referee Craig Thomson.

Now we can talk about the laws of the game, but I like many others thought it was a bad decision which also ruined a potentially good game. Thomson saw what he saw, but this could have been settled amicably and maintained the integrity of the match.

Both players were committed and there was an exchange. I didn’t think it warranted any sort of card though if he wanted to, have a word and book the next one step out of line.

Broony shoved Kipre off and Kipre returned the gesture by moving his leg into him backwards. Thomson produced the red card with decent sight of the incident.

Did Broony try to con the ref? Only he knows the answer to that.

I can see why Thomson has given it, but he didn’t have to. I’ve seen moments like this through the years.

David Beckham on Diego Simeone and Scott Brown himself on Neymar. Neither of which I felt were red cards, but the laws of the game say otherwise.

So was this red card down to Scott Brown? No it wasn’t.

Andy Walker was adamant that it was. Well, firstly his opinion doesn’t count.

He’s a bitter wee man who says the first thing that comes into his head. Never a good word to say about Celtic.

Walker instantly blamed Scott Brown. Nobody else.

Did Kipre use his leg like Brown did on Neymar or Beckham did on Simeone? Yes he did.

So who is to blame? Kipre or perhaps even Thomson?

Not if you’re Sky Sport’s very own Andy Walker. His judgement call was as reactionary as the incident itself.

His focus was on a “pathetic” Broony. As though the Celtic captain had instigated the entire incident himself.

Brown is a professional player who would walk into any team. He’s currently playing some the best football of his career.

There’s a whiff of envy from some of his critics. Craig Levein had a bit of a thing for Broony recently and made himself look completely unprofessional in the process.

How does Broony deal with this? He does his talking on the park.

He is our captain, our leader and he is probably our best player right now. I’ve got nothing but admiration for the guy.

If I thought he was dirty or a cheat I’d be one of the first to say so, but he isn’t. Instead he has a target painted on his back by opposition managers who will have some players under orders to go into battle with him.

That’s where they go wrong. You’ve seen what has happened in games against Aberdeen and Motherwell as recent examples when players have gone into challenges with Brown and seen red.

Brown doesn’t send these guys off. The referee does that.

It sounds to me like Scott Brown is getting to the opposition and winning before a ball is even kicked. Their reactions on the field of play support that.

What about the referee though? Sending off the same man against the same team twice in four months?

It should be mentioned that I felt Scott Sinclair made the most of what happened in the League Cup Final. Regardless of the contact, it was poor play by the Celtic winger with the slightest (if any) contact.

Perhaps Thomson isn’t that sharp on these incidents though? Or perhaps tge 21-year-old Kipre needs to reign it in a bit?

Whichever way you look at it, Scott Brown wasn’t the offender on Sunday. This air of negativity against him needs to stop.

Not sure if it’s part of the operation to stop Celtic or just a vendetta about one player. All Broony needs to do is just keep doing his talking on the park.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to close the door

It’s been a funny old week on planet Celtic. Sandwiched inbetween two weekends of Ibrox trauma.

I’d be lying if I said I’m not enjoying the hurt that the blue half of the city are enduring right now. More pleasurable because every time someone opens their mouth they make it worse for themselves and more entertaining for people like me.

Up until last Sunday’s delightful win at Ibrox we’d been getting spit roasted by the SMSM and the Ibrox loyal about a title race. In less than seven days they’re flutes are playing a different tune.

Graeme Murty, mastermind of six straight wins over weaker opposition has felt the reality of defeat against Celtic and Kilmarnock at Ibrox. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy, but his fan base voted with their feet yesterday after walking out with 20 minutes left.

In a week that saw Barry Ferguson come out with the most imbalanced piece of sporting drivel, we’ve now seen the true nature of this ‘title race’. Aberdeen are closing in on second spot and Celtic can increase their lead today if they beat Motherwell.

Kieran Tierney is out for this one and the pointless international friendlies thankfully. Tactical plot by Brendan methinks…or is it is luck, Barry?

I digress…Celtic go into this game with players coming back into contention. A win today would shut the door to anyone supposedly mounting a challenge.

Motherwell have a very slim chance of a top six finish. In order to do that they’d need to win all their remaining games before the split and hope Hearts falter.

Not an impossibility but they’d also need to start by beating Celtic today. That’s no easy task so I expect both teams to be well up for this today.

Defensively Celtic need to be more resolute. Last week was an abysmal performance at the back, gifting two goals in the process.

Such errors need to be stamped out by Brendan Rodgers. I don’t expect too many changes at the back but there’s a chance Marvin Compper or Calvin Miller could come in for this one.

In the midfield Tom Rogic and Stuart Armstrong are back in contention. So too is Patrick Roberts but he also has to challenge James Forrest for a spot.

Charly Musonda will also be looking for more game time. And with Moussa Dembele rediscovering his form and Odsonne Edouard proving his worth, Celtic are looking stronger.

It’s not a position we’ve really been in the entire season. The timing is good.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Title Race?

Well that’s how the SMSM have been selling it. And they’re loving it over at Mordor as well.

Today is of course the third meeting between Celtic and our ‘rivals’ across the city this season. The build up has all been about a “title race” and a rich vein of form by the Ibrox club.

The SMSM have crammed the headlines with material in favour of Glasgow’s newest club. It’s an addiction for these storytellers to spin shit on a daily basis to the gullabillies.

If this was in the pre-2012 collapse days, the cliche would always be that form goes out the window. In football that can be true just as much as it can be false.

There’s no doubt that Graeme Murty has had a good run of late. As the boys on the Twenty Minute Tims pointed out in their podcast this week though, it’s all been against weaker teams.

Murty has won his last six games on the trot. Only one of those victories was over a top six club – Hearts.

Two were against lower division clubs in the Scottish Cup. The remaining three were against bottom six clubs in the Scottish Premiership.

Because of their winning run compared to Celtic’s mixed form of late, the Ibrox hordes and the SMSM are already convinced that it will be a home win. I’m not going suggest that Celtic will walk this one or that the home side won’t be up for it because they will be.

So too will Celtic though. This season’s form has not been consistent but does that mean the Hoops are on the slide?

No. In fact I think the exact opposite.

Celtic are slowly getting back to full strength. A position they have not been in all season.

They have also been preoccupied with European fixtures up until recently. With that now gone they can focus purely on the domestic front as every other Scottish club has this season.

So is this a title race or is it pie in the sky? Well if you look at the gap you would probably think yes because Murty’s mob are sniffing around.

The gap is six points and Celtic have a game at hand. Aberdeen are five points behind in third spot also with a game at hand.

So with their last four matches against top six opposition before the split, the Ibrox club have their work cut out for them. The Scottish Premiership landscape could look very different come the split when Murty’s mob will also play five games against top six opposition.

Time will tell if they can handle that. Come 1.45pm today we’ll see who comes out on top – if at all.

The SMSM are clearly expecting an upset. The bookies aren’t.

I don’t make predictions for these games. I am looking forward to it though.

Turn up, do your job and get out again Bhoys. Glasgow will be a war zone so stay safe out there folks.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac