Number 5…honoured

On Saturday, Celtic payed tribute to club legend, Billy McNeill. The laying of wreaths took place pre-match in front of the former club captain’s statue and an emotional rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone rang around Celtic Park before kick-off.

The players and coaching staff all wore armbands with a “5” on it, in recognition of the man who wore the number with such distinction and success. The match itself was no different to any of the other performances we’ve seen of late, that was until something poignant and spectacular occurred.

With an eighth title in sight, Celtic have continued with laboured performances home and away. Goals have not come easy and sometimes not at all, but domestically we remain unbeaten in 2019.

Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock made Celtic’s struggle more uphill, as well as looking the more likely team to score. At half time it remained 0-0 and as the second half wore on, our patience and hope of a win was wearing thin.

Then came the moment in the match that got everyone. A goal scored by number 5 with 67 minutes on the clock.

There aren’t two numbers with greater significance that could’ve summed up Billy McNeill’s career and relationship with Celtic. As the realisation filtered amongst the onlookers, it’s fair to say the Celtic community was awash with emotional delight.

Jozo Simunovic’s header at the rear post was reminiscent of the type Billy was known for. There was a eeriness in the celebration because of that.

Whilst Jozo is not renowned for scoring goals, he will no doubt remember this one for the rest of his days. His presentation of his shirt to the McNeill family was a nice touch from the defender who himself appeared to be overcome with emotion.

With Billy’s funeral this Friday and the death of his former team mate Stevie Chalmers today, the Celtic community continues to mourn. It is a tragic time for the McNeill and Chalmers families and we grieve with them.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Farewell Stevie Chalmers

I was in the process of preparing my blog this morning, prior to posting about the weekend, when the news of Stevie Chalmers’ passing flashed up on my phone. I could barely believe it and decided to stop writing.

It hasn’t even been a week since fellow Lion, Billy McNeill, passed away. Both men, sufferers of dementia.

Stevie was of course Celtic’s hero amongst heroes on that day in Lisbon when he scored the winning goal against Inter Milan. Though it may have been a personal high point in his career, he served Celtic for a dozen years to equal stature.

In that time, he became one of Celtic’s all time top scorers. Today he remains in the top five along with Jimmy McGrory, Bobby Lennox, Henrik Larsson and Jimmy Quinn.

I doubt there are many words that can express the widespread grief that has engulfed the Celtic families these past seven days. The Celtic community mourns with the families as we say goodbye to yet another legend.

Though death is the sad reality of life, it is nonetheless difficult to process. Losing two stars so close to one another and from the same group of legends, is beyond comprehension.

Like Billy, I never met Stevie, nor did I see him play as I was born after his career had finished. The one story I can recall was one my dad recounted to me.

He told a younger version of me that Stevie Chalmers and his wife had sat in our living room one time many years ago. My dad had ended up filming his daughter Carol’s wedding because he happened to have the equipment at home.

At a later date, Stevie and his wife came round to our house to preview their daughter’s wedding video. My dad was pretty modest about it, but equally proud to tell me, his youngest son, that the man that won the European Cup for Celtic once sat in our living room.

The story never died with my dad and my mum said today they were a really nice couple. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on here before, but happy to tell it now.

Farewell Stevie. You are a legend

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Hail, Cesar!

This morning’s news that Billy McNeill passed away has saddened many people across the footballing world. There are few bigger Celtic men than the man his team mates called “Cesar.”

By the time I came into this world, Billy had already retired from playing football, but his historical status was already woven into the fabric of Celtic Football Club. As club captain he won nine championships, seven Scottish Cups, six League Cups and of course became a Lisbon Lion by winning the European Cup.

With a career in management under way in 1977 with Clyde then Aberdeen, Billy found himself succeeding former manager, mentor and legend in his own right, Jock Stein, in 1978. Could there have been a better person to take over from Jock?

In a five-year spell as Celtic manager, he won three championships, one Scottish Cup and one League Cup. A breakdown with the club’s owners prompted Billy to move on and took up the reins at Manchester City.

He experienced highs and lows at City then toiled with a struggling Aston Villa before returning to Celtic for the club’s centenary season. In his second spell at the club he won one championship and two Scottish Cups in four seasons.

By this point, things were changing in the Scottish game and the mismanagement by Celtic’s owners was leading to the club’s demise. They weren’t just falling behind Rangers, they found themselves behind Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee United.

Money was changing matters, particularly at Ibrox and Celtic were being run into the ground by the families who had been involved at the club for so many years. As a result of that, McNeill became one of many fall guys.

It didn’t change the supporters’ view of him though. As a right of passage you learn about the Celtic history and Billy was at the core of that history.

A player, a manager, a captain, a Lisbon Lion and an all round gentleman. He will be missed by everyone.

A club icon and legend. Forever in our hearts and minds.

Hail, Cesar!

Stevie Mac

Easter Road Sunday

Craig Levein’s Hearts side capitulated at home to their Glasgow brethren yesterday in what was a one sided affair. The Scottish Cup Finalists had no answer to any of the Ibrox club’s goals until the game was dead and buried.

The 1-3 win for Steven Gerrard means Neil Lennon must wait until next week at the earliest to secure eight-in-a-row. Today at Easter Road is the first hurdle though.

Hibs go into this game in a rich vein of form under Neil Lennon’s successor, Paul Heckingbottom. Celtic beat Hibs 0-2 in the Scottish Cup in Lennon’s second game in charge, but ever since that cup exit Hibs have not lost a single match.

Celtic haven’t lost under Lennon either, but some of the displays by the team have lacked conviction, particularly in the second halves. There is plenty of incentive for Lennon going up against his old club.

Though with the style and tactics very much still in the Brendan Rodgers mould, it is up to the players to find their best form. As Neil has said they are still playing in a way he is not accustomed to, but for the players it has been the way these last three seasons.

This is match day one of the post-split fixtures. There are no easy games left.

Four points are required from the next two games for Celtic to clinch the title. Doing that could mean winning the title at Celtic Park next Saturday against Kilmarnock.

Injuries and absences are having an impact on the Celtic squad once again. Ryan Christie, Nir Bitton, Dedryck Boyata, Jack Hendry, Daniel Arzani and Leigh Griffiths are all on the sidelines, but Celtic are not short of talent.

We’ve seen Tom Rogic and Filip Benkovic return to the fold recently and they’ll need to be sharper for the run in of games.

Kieran Tierney could see some rest time as the team gets rotated. Many of us want to see more of Timo Weah and I’m not averse to Oliver Burke either.

This title is in our own hands and we have the players to win it. The players know it and they have to earn it starting today in Edinburgh.

There can be no complacency in these next six games. Another treble is on the horizon.

How much do you want it Bhoys?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The SFA’s competence is as questionable as McLeish’s appointment.

The SFA’s decision to sack Alex McLeish after 14 months in charge, means the search for new leadership is under way. However, it isn’t just the coaching team that needs looking at – it’s the whole circus act at Hampden.

The Scottish Football Association represents the national game. They also govern the sport and yet they have failed year on year for too many years.

Poor appointments rarely elude national teams or club football. The catastrophe that was Alex McLeish though should never have been sanctioned and those behind it should follow the two time Scotland manager.

I haven’t always disliked McLeish. As a player he forged a memorable partnership with Willie Miller for Aberdeen and Scotland and became one of the most stable pairings in Scottish football history.

McLeish’s managerial career saw a steady rise from player-manager at Motherwell where he achieved a second place league finish behind Rangers. The Lanarkshire club struggled after that and McLeish jumped ship to a struggling Hibs side.

They ended up being relegated but he won the First Division in his first attempt, bringing Hibs back up the the topflight. After a few decent seasons with Hibs, Rangers came calling.

McLeish enjoyed success in a four-and-a-half year stint at Ibrox. As we know, much of that came about as a result of the large scale tax fraud going on at the club, something which McLeish himself openly admitted in interview.

After leaving Rangers in 2006 and a brief spell out of the game, McLeish took the managerial reins of the Scottish national side. At the time, his stock was good and he was a choice even I as a Scotland fan was happy with, but it wasn’t long before he would walk away.

Less than a year after joining Scotland he was attracted by the bright lights of Birmingham City and Premiership football. Many Scotland fans felt betrayed by this with a feeling that Scotland were in a good vein of form.

McLeish’s departure tore that apart and Scotland limped on. Birmingham wasn’t a bad move for his career as it offered a huge challenge.

Whilst he failed to save them from relegation that season, he did bring the back up at the first time of asking by finishing runner up in the Championship the following season. City’s good form on return to the Premiership won him a new contract and in the season that followed even won the League Cup.

Once again though, Birmingham found themselves relegated and Mcleish walked away. He made the short journey to Aston Villa amid major controversy and thus began the decline of McLeish’s managerial career.

You could argue that the wheels of decline were already in motion when left Scotland whilst things were going well. If you don’t agree with that then it was definitely in decline following his ill fated move to Villa which ended with him being sacked after one season in charge.

Beyond that nothing good ever came of McLeish. His managerial career was on the rocks.

He lasted less than two months at Nottingham Forest, one season at Genk and less than three months at Egyptian club Zamalek. So why the SFA would choose to appointment someone for a second time who not only left them in the lurch more than ten years previous, but whose career was in free fall is beyond comprehension.

McLeish is not too old to manage, but he was not fit for this job second time around. I don’t know anyone who supports Scotland that thought this was a good move.

Now the SFA are left licking their wounds. With yet another campaign hanging in the balance who can you possibly recruit to save it?

The correct appointment last year might have prevented this predicament. Either a better candidate should have been recruited or Gordon Strachan should have stayed on.

Instead the SFA made a disastrous appointment. This campaign can only be saved by an outstanding candidate and I fear that ship has already sailed.

The continual failings of the SFA demand change. Everyone is accountable at this stage.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

That’s a few rumours put to bed then…

Yesterday, Marco Rose was finally announced as the man to take over at Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer, ending any rumours that he could join Celtic. Whilst many will be disappointed at this rumour being killed, there was no evidence to suggest that he was interested or even on Celtic’s radar.

The German coach would have been a great fit for Celtic, particularly in Europe. One issue is that it could have been viewed as a sideways move for Rose.

Salzburg and Celtic have similarities in that they are both big clubs in weak leagues. So when it comes to playing in European competition, they each have to punch above their weight.

However, despite being a selling club, Salzburg benefit hugely from the Red Bull ownership and association with the franchise. That involves income from many areas as well as player movement between themselves and RB Leipzig, New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Brasil, Red Bull Ghana and even FC Liefering.

There are obvious benefits here and many have questioned the ethics of it. To date these associations have managed to circumvent any rules.

What stands out for Salzburg though are the efforts of Marco Rose. There’s no doubt he is a very good coach.

I’m surprised he wasn’t earmarked for the Leipzig job. He beat them home and away in the group stages of the Europa League this season, proving he did better with fewer resources.

In general, Marco Rose has had notable success in Europe. Salzburg made the semi-final of the Europa League last season and the last 16 this season.

There’s no doubt that this would have been beneficial for Celtic and their budget. When you look at the transfer activity at Salzburg, they did not spend a great deal of money despite making a decent profit.

In Rose’s first season, spending came to just over £2M whilst players sales amounted to just over £15M. In the current season, his second, outgoings amounted to just over £11M with players sales at over £50M.

So unlike an “underdog” such as Ajax, who have spent a lot of money and are receiving wide praise this season, Salzburg have not. In the transfer market, Ajax have spent over £100M in the last three seasons whilst generating over £160M during the same period and that will continue next season when they sell two players for a combined total of over £75M.

The four-time European Champions are getting back to the days when they were the benchmark for generating talent, but they are without a trophy since 2014. Their transfer market activity is beginning to pay off in European football but they need trophies too.

It doesn’t seem that long ago that Celtic were on an even keel as them on the park. I dread to think what they’d do to a Celtic team right now.

However well Celtic do in the business world, it just goes to show how far off the pace we are in the transfer market. Celtic have done pretty well from the odd standout player sale in recent years and it is a revenue stream for the club, but scouting has been a let down recently.

This is an area Celtic need to improve on and soon. Our youth set up isn’t too bad and we are seeing talent coming through from time-to-time, but we need to be just as good when drafting in talent from other sources.

There needs to be a balance in business on and off the pitch. When one area of the club suffers, so too does the other and we end up reeling things in.

Celtic have spent around £32M in the last three seasons on players. They’ve made the same amount in player sales.

There isn’t any profit there unless we are making progress in Europe or selling the crown jewels, but certainly not in the amounts that Ajax are dealing with. To do so the club need to ensure that the wheels within the club are well oiled.

From the youth teams, to the scouting network and the transfer market comings and goings. Season tickets, TV revenue, retail and progress in Europe.

That is why Celtic need to appoint the right people. Not just to be better than their closest domestic rival.

We need to be building for the future. Greater work must be done and within the climate we operate.

It is not impossible to make inroads in Europe, as other teams have shown, but we must improve our infrastructure. No quick fixes or cheap moves.

Rose coming to Celtic could have been great for us, but a move to a bigger league was probably going to be of more interest to him, especially back in his native land. And given the progress he made in European competition, Celtic would have had a battle on their hands to get him, if there was ever any truth to it in the first place.

I don’t think it is fair to say Celtic haven’t moved quickly enough, because the truth is, we don’t know who is on their candidate list and what groundwork they have done already. We’ve been critical of the board in the past and been proven correct at times, but when they brought in Brendan Rodgers, we were all stunned.

Neil Lennon is probably going to be the man to get the job unless the board have an ace up their sleeve. There is no evidence to suggest Rose was one of those aces or any of the other bookies favourites for that matter.

Today, Roberto Martinez’s agent killed any suggestion that the Belgium manager was even remotely interested. So that will generate further disappointment for some I am sure.

Similarly, Andre Villas-Boas agent made it clear his client would not be working in Scotland. He went on to say he would not be available for comment either.

We cannot rule out any candidate of course, but nobody knows who the candidates are other than what the bookies and the media speculate upon. Right now we need to back this management team to get us another treble.

The next hurdle is on Sunday at Hampden against Aberdeen in the Scottish Cup semifinal. By the time that match is over we will know if another piece of history is in our hands.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

These second half performances are killing me, but how much of it is actually down to Neil Lennon?

I’ll be the first to admit that in order for Celtic to maintain progress, Neil Lennon would not be my primary candidate for the permanent vacancy. However, should our supporters be apportioning blame to the interim manager with the way Celtic are playing right now?

Firstly, unless I’m reading things differently, Lennon has been very open about Celtic’s current style of play. He has continually commented on wanting to change things and more recently said:

“It’s a style of play that they are used to and it’s a different style of play from what I’ve been used to.”

“However, it works and you can’t change it overnight, anyway.”

Those quotes were in the aftermath of the 2-1 win over Rangers at Celtic Park. In his post match comments he also went on to share his thoughts during that game:

“If this ends up 1-1, I am going to be changing a lot of things. Or doing a lot more things my way.”

So if Lennon hasn’t changed anything, is it fair to criticise him for these performances? He’s the manager, no arguments there, but he’s said on several occasions about his desire to change things, not that he has.

We’re all in agreement that watching these dismal second halves are depressing and frustrating. These were also abundant under Brendan Rodgers.

If the matchday plan and training is the same, then I’d argue that this is not a Lennon Celtic team. We haven’t seen that yet.

He’s been tasked with seeing out the season with the team in its current form with the assistance of John Kennedy, who was first team coach under Brendan Rodgers and Damien Duff who has stepped up as well. I don’t believe Neil is meddling too much, merely steering the ship and being a figurehead for the team.

Many interim appointments are brought in to improve struggling teams. This team was not in that position, they just lost their leader of almost three years, so major surgery was not required.

Now they have a temporary leader who does not appear to have authorisation to change things. So all the routines are the same from training to tactics.

I’m not making a case for Neil Lennon, just the situation we are in. Because of that, I think fans need to lay off because he hasn’t altered the script and won’t get that opportunity until the summer, if he does get the full-time position.

John Kennedy has backed Neil’s arrival and his presence. He knows they both need to deliver, but it is equally clear that the game plan will not be changed before the season is out.

Despite our frustration, there is total logic in this approach. If Neil had come in and changed everything it could have had a detrimental effect on the team.

Some may argue that he is having a detrimental effect on things. There is no evidence of that though.

Changing a winning formula would not be wise at a stage in the season when you are on the cusp of another treble. You might even suggest it would be career suicide.

I’ve watched Celtic falter toward the finishing line in many a season. No matter the manager.

If Neil is telling us he intends to change things from how they are now, then that means nothing has changed. It is only the absence of Brendan Rodgers and Chris Davies that has changed.

This is another reason why I think Neil will get the job permanently. He will have outlined his ideas and plans and the board will be considering if that is the best way forward.

Would I like to see someone else get the job? I would certainly like to see someone who can perhaps improve our chances in Europe, yes.

Is Neil Lennon that person? I don’t feel that he is, but perhaps we’ll only find out when and if he gets another crack at it.

Can he deliver 10-in-a-row? Probably, but there’s the bigger picture to consider.

The odds keep shifting on other potential suitors, but Neil remains the bookies favourite. The latest to join the list with Roberto Martinez (still with Belgium), Rafa Benitez (out of contract with Newcastle in the summer) and Marco Rose (tipped to join Borussia Monchengladbach from Salzburg) is former Premier League manager, Andre Villas-Boas.

He is currently out of work having left Shanghai SIPG toward the end of 2017. I don’t think he would be a bad acquisition for Celtic to be honest.

The question for the Celtic board is what are the club’s aspirations? Domestic domination or European income?

You would assume both and they can have both so long as we aren’t just taking the easy route and opting to keep Rangers at arm’s length. That isn’t a challenge, merely an exercise.

Brendan Rodgers didn’t have the impact on Europe that we had hoped. He did boss matters in Scotland though.

I don’t know what the future holds for Celtic in this season or the next. You can probably bet it will involve Neil Lennon and John Kennedy though.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac