Duff’s pending exit opens the door for a new first team coach

Neil Lennon announced yesterday that Damien Duff would be leaving Celtic next month. The former Republic of Ireland and Premier League winger will join the international set up back in his homeland.

Lennon stated that Duff would leave a void that would be hard to fill after a short stay in Glasgow. Based upon the level of praise by the Celtic head coach he may struggle to find a similar replacement anytime soon.

Duff will be probably be around until the end of June to assist with first team matters in the mean time. However, that may not be long enough to procure someone from out with the current set up.

Promoting from within was mentioned by Lennon as an option. That may be the most likely course of action though I’d like to see someone with Duff’s top level playing experience in the fold.

Although it has just been announced, Celtic are likely to have known for longer. Speculation on his replacement will no doubt increase now that people are aware.

With John Kennedy already the assistant manager, I wouldn’t imagine Johan Mjallby to be interested in a lesser role despite stating in the recent past that he would welcome a return to the club. He worked successfully with old teammate Lennon in a his previous tenure as his assistant at Celtic and later at Bolton Wanderers.

Similarly, Garry Parker was Lennon’s assistant at Hibs as well as a coach at Celtic and Bolton. He is currently a performance analyst at Oxford United.

Alan Thompson was one of Lennon’s first team coaches in his first two years as Celtic head coach. Thompson, also a former Celtic player, was dismissed by Lennon after his off the pitch lifestyle began to become problematic and would not be in contention.

So whoever fills Duff’s shoes, it is unlikely to be any of Lennon’s past coaching team. If he was to promote from within there are a few options, but whether they are able to provide the same level of experience and influence as Duff we will have to wait and see.

Stephen McManus and Darren O’Dea are both coaching in the reserves and under-18’s respectively. They also came through the academy themselves and played a part in first team matters having played alongside and coached by Neil Lennon.

McManus began his first team career under Martin O’Neill and went on the captain the club under Gordon Strachan after Neil Lennon departed for Nottingham Forest. He remained captain under Tony Mowbray before being moved on to Middlesbrough.

Funnily enough O’Dea became stand-in captain in the absence of McManus and Caldwell after Mowbray shipped both defenders out in Janaury 2010. O’Dea played under Strachan, Mowbray and was ever present under Neil Lennon in the remaining games of the campaign that saw Monday sacked and Lennon as caretaker.

Beyond that summer, O’Dea’s career would lie elswhere as Lennon’s permanent appointment began with a clear out. Now, both O’Dea and McManus find themselves back where it all started, nurturing the next generation of Celtic hopefuls.

There’s no doubt that both players have demonstrated contrasting career paths starting at Celtic and then moving on to newer pastures. Whilst their experience will be great for Celtic’s youth players, first team coaching may require something more.

However, it may also come down to who is available and what time scale the club have to recruit a new coach. With 10IAR on the minds of everyone they’ll want the right person for the job.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The last dance?

Earlier this week I finished watching The Last Dance, a ten part documentary on Netflix. It centred around the successful Chicago Bulls NBA team of the 90’s that coveted great success.

Not only was this a brilliant sports documentary, it also featured an amazing team including Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and head coach Phil Jackson – all NBA Hall of Famers. It was a real insight into the game and the many layers that go into running a sports team and the politics within the business.

As the title suggests, it focuses on the final season of this great team, but also detailing the years before, that brought them to this “last dance”, as it was titled by coach Jackson. Whilst successful, this team also had its moments of drama, failure and disruption.

Upon their second three-peat, head coach, Phil Jackson and the majority of their stars were either traded or not re-signed after winning their sixth championship. It was the end of an era that even I, not a basketball fan at all, but followed Channel 4’s coverage of the Bulls in the 90’s, was disappointed to see come to an end.

Jordan iterated that had he and others been asked to go one more season they would have done it. The general manager of that time had other ideas though and was a divisive figure in a successful team.

That was the end of the journey for Chicago’s success. After two decades, similar feats have yet to be seen.

When Martin O’Neill’s team of the early 2000’s broke up it, began with our very own Jordan – Henrik Larsson. In Martin’s final season, others team members would soon follow as Gordon Strachan began to mould his own team.

Initially, it was not a smooth transition as the club moved on a large proportion of O’Neills well salaried squad. Eventually, success would soon follow in Strachan’s first season though.

Previous transitions at Celtic coupled with the story of the Bulls, got me thinking about this current record breaking Celtic squad. For many, next season could be their last dance.

With the 2019/2020 season officially over, Celtic declared Champions, though the Scottish Cup yet to be decided, Neil Lennon is planning for the future. Now in his second spell as manager, he has already made it known that he wants to keep THIS squad together for the march towards 10IAR.

Some of the current team are at the end of their loan deals from English Premier League clubs and some Celtic owned players are out of contract too. There are also players entering the final year of their contracts with the 9IAR champions.

Rather than make wholesale changes now, particularly in the middle of a global pandemic, the focus is about keeping momentum and togetherness. It is therefore likely that Celtic will do their utmost to retain the shape of this squad.

Lennon has already made it known to the media that the club will speak to the representatives of Jonny Hayes and Craig Gordon about extending their stay. He has also stated his wish to retain the services of Fraser Forster and Mohamed Elyounoussi, though in the current financial climate that may only be further loan deals.

Personally, I think the club should push the boat out for Forster. He loves Celtic, knows the team and has years left in the game.

Celtic do have a ceiling on wages and that won’t be broken, but there doesn’t appear to be a future for Forster in Southampton. Unless another club valued his services like we do there is only one sensible choice for The Wall and it is a marriage made in Paradise.

If Celtic only sign one player this summer I would want it to be Fraser. At the same time, I don’t want to see anyone leave.

I can understand the insistence on retaining this group when in the hunt for more glory. 10IAR would break all current records, but I also expect to see this group break up in the summer of 2021.

I think that is inevitable. Some will stay for sure and possibly even finish their career at Celtic, but this squad will evolve into the next generation soon enough.

The Last Dance was a documentary about the success and ending of a great team. It will be the end of an era in some respects for Celtic next season, but I’ve come to recognise that we also have a bright future.

A future which appears to have been ta blueprint beginning last summer. How we evolve from this era to the next is already underway.

We have some really good young players both in the squad and on the periphery of the first team. This emerging talent, some of which are already seeing their contracts extended, will form, in part, the next generation at Celtic.

We continue to source equally good young potential out with the club to compliment and strengthen what we already have. This approach gives me great hope for the future.

In a market which we cannot compete financially, our alternative approach of procuring and eventually moving on has worked well. It is a market we play well and allows us to grow and succeed both at home and in Europe.

This is how we can continue to build upon our success and work within our means. At the core of every young generation you must also have experience though.

Whether that means generating our own leaders or drafting them in is dependent on retention of what we already have. Scott Brown has been at the club for thirteen seasons and this is set to be his last.

He has been a fabulous character and leader. Is Callum McGregor the man to take over?

Who knows? That will depend on his own intentions next summer.

Beyond next season I would still expect to have Neil Lennon at the helm. His return as a much more mature leader, coupled with Celtic’s focus on upgrading training behind the scenes has been greatly beneficial to first team success.

We will see some changes and introductions this coming season amidst our current record breakers for sure. When we finally embark upon this next journey, it will be the last dance for some, but there is an equally bright future beyond.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Nine-in-a-row shows that this continues to be Celtic’s era

With the season officially called by the SPFL another title has landed at Parkhead. Celtic have claimed nine-in-a-row for the second time in their unbroken history.

Without checking facts I can’t say that any professional club has ever managed such a feat twice. What I do know that some clubs have succeeded in performing title runs as many as 10-in-a-row through to 14-in-a-row.

That is some achievement regardless of which league you are in. What Celtic have done though is repeating their success in another era.

Some of us will have been around for that first occasion during the Jock Stein era and now witnessing it once again. For me, it is the first in my lifetime and a joyous occasion.

10IAR will remain an objective as will the the quadruple treble when the four semi-finalists resume the Scottish Cup competition. That may not happen for months yet, but it will be played out.

You cannot fail to recognise Celtic’s strength despite the season ending early. Our domination since the turn of the year has been brutal on opponents.

We have played like champions and seen pretenders put to bed again. I’d happily have seen the season played because we have missed a chance to put the sword in to our “rivals.”

They should count themselves lucky. We spared them humiliation by not being able to widening the gap!

Tremendous praise must go to Neil Lennon and his coaching staff. The players have put in a fine season and responded when it mattered.

It hasn’t been the usual fan fare, given the current pandemic situation, but I am certain that at some point we will get a proper chance to celebrate. Right now though we will revel in the success of another well deserved title for Celtic Football Club.

We can savour the tears of joy in our own domains whilst enjoying the tears of dismay evident on all the phone-ins and across social media. This is our time and we have shown our strength when it mattered most.

Mathematics may tell us the season was not over. Realistically, we were never going to be caught.

There was zero sense of a revival across the city. Celtic were in astounding form and even now as we think the future, we will only get better.

Here’s to 9IAR. We look forward to the 10IAR.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

What a difference a day makes…

On Monday, Celtic were awarded their ninth SPFL trophy in a row. By Tuesday, whilst Celtic fans were looking the other way, the SFA released an out-of-the-blue statement that they would no longer be pursuing the case with Rangers’ UEFA licence back in 2011.

It was set to go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) following the Ibrox club’s challenge that it be referred to the Swiss court. Two years on and with legal advice, the SFA Board unanimously voted not to pursue and the matter now closed.

I can’t help think that on the back of the current SPFL season being ended and awarded to Celtic that the timing of the SFA’s announcement was some kind of trade off. For a matter that cause such a stir, everything appears to have gone rather quiet, rather quickly.

The Ibrox club were at the forefront of the argument over the SPFL vote weeks ago. They threatened to have a whistle-blower and a dossier to present the SPFL members.

As it turned out, there was very little substance to the dossier when it came out. Anything that was contained within it did no match up to the initial call for certain individuals to be shown the door and failed to get enough votes.

The aftermath of the vote demonstrated that the majority of the clubs saw nothing of any great significance. Some clubs even made statements as to why they had made certain votes, citing historical failings rather than current ones.

So some were voting for an in an independent inquiry because it suit a previous agenda. Even so, the SPFL made it clear that many of the arguments were based on a their accusers misinterpretation of events.

It has been a rather quick turnaround though, that a call for job suspensions and to declare the season null and void has now developed into a unanimous view that the season ended and Celtic awarded the SPFL trophy. To go along with that, the SFA Board have taken a unanimous vote not to pursue a valid notice of complaint against the Ibrox club which of course benefits them greatly.

Many people felt that this dossier must have some hidden agenda given that it failed to gain any signification support after all clubs got eyes on it. Now it seems to make sense that they are happy to lower their tone, now that they have seen Resolution 12 thrown out once and for all.

Neil Doncaster, one of the Ibrox club’s key suspects, is also on the SFA Board. Was there some kind deal struck here to cease the case with CAS as long as they went along with ending the season and allowing their rivals to lift their ninth title?

If they did it must have hurt, but it also means they have seen a valid case against them written off for good. That will have eased their pain a lot and sounds very much like a trade-off.

Of course, these are my own ramblings, but given that the Ibrox club were like a dog with a bone, they appear to have gone quiet all of a sudden. I wonder why?

Is this really the end of Resolution 12? We’ll have to wait and see.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

From universal acceptance to universal slating…this is Scottish Football!

EBT recipient of £485,000 and former Rangers 1872 player Steven Thompson now spends his time as an impartial football pundit for the BBC. His well reported comments yesterday about the yet-to-be-decided Scottish Premiership title aren’t in any way inflammatory, but rather contradictory and a tad ironic.

Every headline covering the story, as stated by Thompson, carried a variant that Celtic wouldn’t be recognised as champions without playing out the entire season. However, he also goes on to say that Celtic would win the title without a shadow of a doubt.

Furthermore he points out that anyone who doesn’t think that is lying. Even his “Rangers friends” are of the same opinion.

That pretty much ties up the majority about where the title was going then. So why then did Thompson take the stance that Celtic can’t be title winners without playing out the season first?

On the one hand he is admitting the truth about where the title is going to go with eight games left. Whilst on the other hand he is supporting those (the peepul) who aren’t happy if Celtic get crowned, having failed to play the remaining fixtures, two of which were against Gerrard’s 2020 flops.

Well, it’s pretty simple, Steven. IF the league cannot be played out then it must be decided now as it has been with the rest of the country AND in other countries.

The null and void option is off the table and quite frankly I agree. If the league was much closer then I would understand the lack of universal acceptance, but the league was over before the lock down.

Talking of universal acceptance, Steven Thompson should be mindful of titles and trophies won when he was a player across the city. How much domestic silverware was won during the EBT years over at Ibrox, Stevo?

Are we just pandering to the peepul whilst stating the obvious simultaneously? You can’t have it both ways buddy so you best make your mind up and dispense with making yourself look like the amateur you are.

Whilst his former club may have played out entire seasons during his time in Glasgow, they did so with a sporting advantage over a long period of time. I’m not going to trawl through that in any detail because we’ve had that chapter and verse over the years and the record books still haven’t been corrected.

If Steven Thompson has any problems with Celtic being award the title when it was already conceded by a self-imploding Ibrox team after the winter break, then he should re-examine his own time at Rangers 1872. As a winner of four trophies, including two titles whilst playing there, I think a lot of people would happily discuss universal acceptance by a cheating club with him on a one-to- one any time.

Today, the long awaited dossier compiled by the Ibrox Board of Laughter was presented. It will come as no surprise to anyone outside of Ibrox that it contained nothing of substance.

The most excitement I have gotten out of this document is the universal slating it has been getting across the internet all day. From Chris Sutton to Jim Spence and even Steven Thompson’s Sportscene sofa counterpart, Michael Stewart, this is the gift that keeps on giving.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

There’s only one possible ending to this season…

I thought I’d dust off my keyboard and start writing again. Football has been on hold for over a month now, but with the immediate future of the game in debate, the drama is just beginning.

With the exception of the few, every nation has been affected by coronavirus. It has devastated the world.

The reality of the pandemic has altered our outlook on life. I have to admit that whilst Celtic and football are amongst my greatest passions, I have not been able to concern myself with anything other than welfare of my family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.

My profession as a keyworker has been equal to family in that I have had to balance both areas. So there has been little breathing space for creativity with the exception of educating and entertaining my children at home.

Lately, talk of how to resolve matters in the domestic game in Scotland have come to a head. Sport seems minor against the canvas of a pandemic crisis, but football is also a business and the business world is suffering too.

The global economy is in a boxing ring with coronavirus and it cannot get back to its corner. It’s bleeding and we won’t know just how bad the injuries are until the final round has gone and we assess the long term damage.

Scottish football, like many other busineses across the world is trying to find a resolution to this limbo state. A lot of idle talk has been spouted across social media as well as in the media and it’s only now after a period of dealing with lockdown that people are beginning to think about the future again.

We are far from being out of the woods with this pandemic, but I think people have become accustomed to the way they have had to live their lives of late. A little bit more attention on dealing with matters that have been on hold is both constructive and necessary.

Of course when it comes to Scottish football, things are never straightforward. With or without a pandemic going on there is no panacea when it comes the game in Scotland.

In an ideal world we would love to see the season out. No team more than Celtic in fact.

With 9IAR and a quadruple treble on the table Celtic are the only Scottish team in a position continue to makimg history right now. There isn’t one fan or player at the club who wouldn’t want to see this season through, but it appears matters are shifting towards ending the season as it stands.

The divisions below the Scottish Premiership have already awarded the titles to Dundee United, Raith Rovers and Cove Rangers. The newly crowned Scottish Championship and League One winners each had a convincing points lead over their nearest challenger as well as a superior goal difference.

Does that remind you of another league in Scottish football? Seems very familiar to me.

With eight games remaining for most clubs, I think the only league championship that was realistically still in a race was Scottish League One. Celtic, Dundee United and Cove Rangers all shared similar standings that put them way out in front of their nearest rivals.

Whilst every SPFL division remained mathematically open to two clubs each at the very least, it was extremely unlikely that those in top spot would throw it away. However, there was a very strong and obvious case that Scottish League One was going down to the wire.

Raith Rovers were only 1 point ahead of Falkirk with the latter in possession of a far superior goal difference. They were just 4 points ahead of Aidrieonians, who were a single point ahead of Montrose and with East Fife only 2 points behind in fifth place, this Championship was wide open with only 8 points separating 1st and 5th place.

There are a few clubs that can rightly feel aggrieved about these developments and League One should be one of them, though with complete professionalism Falkirk accepted this albeit reluctantly. I take my hat off to them and the top five of that league for doing so.

Clubs suffering relegation, when there was still a possibility of surviving the drop is a tough deal. With talk of restructuring the leagues as a potential solution, the majority have accepted the situation.

I don’t see how Rangers, Inverness Caledonian Thistle or Edinburgh City would have made up the ground or the goal difference in their respective leagues. You would get great odds though it would be a wasted bet.

In the case of the Scottish Premiership, a title race was alive as 2019 drew to a close. Though by the time the season restarted after the winter break, the Ibrox club had all but thrown in the towel.

There was no way they were catching Celtic as the games rolled by. Between late January and early March of this year, respective results by each club in the league were night and day as you can see from the illustration at the top.

The only competition Rangers had a slender chance of progress in was the Europa League. Yet winning that is as much a fantasy as it would have been catching Celtic which is why all we’ve heard from the Ibrox hordes are the null and void cries.

Put simply, it’s their only hope of halting Celtic’s march towards a ninth successive title and it’s not even on the table. After the winter break Celtic came back all guns blazing and Rangers didn’t have the answers.

The truth is Celtic won the title before the league was suspended having earned an extra 11 points and scored an extra 23 goals this year alone. That isn’t a title race, that’s a Celtic masterclass.

Not one sane person believed the title race was still on. If you believe Rangers’ 1872 and 2012 are one and the same then you might be one of the few that did.

We can talk mathematics until we’re royal blue in the face. The key fact is that Steven Gerrard’s second season was over before coronavirus gripped the nation.

Rangers never returned from their winter break. Celtic did and with real conviction.

9IAR was only a few games away for Neil Lennon officially. It wouldn’t have gone down to the last game especially with two games against Rangers.

With a semi final against Aberdeen on the horizon, Celtic were 90 minutes from the Scottish Cup Final and a quadruple treble. More history in the making.

These are all things that are real. Everything at Ibrox of late is fantasy.

I’ll give them full credit for pushing us at Christmas. The warning signs were there in the League Cup Final when we probably should have lost, but after defeat at Celtic Park in the last game of 2019 we came back strong in 2020.

They made a good bit of progress in the Europa League, making it one round beyond us. After one leg though that looks dead too having succumbed to defeat on home soil.

There is nothing left on the table for them. Two seasons under Gerrard and no trophies.

It was our title to throw away and that’s what Rangers required. That and for them to stop haemorrhaging points too and that showed no signs of abating judging by their form.

Celtic will be crowned Champions and deservedly so. The Scottish Cup may eventually get played over the summer behind closed doors as it’s only three fixtures and four teams.

Until anything official is announced, it’s all just conjecture of course. There is however only one outcome to this and it involves Celtic as justifiable Champions once again.

Stay safe and stay home.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Over to you, Celtic…

When I posted yesterday’s blog, so far only Hibs had qualified for the Scottish Cup Quarter Finals after playing on the Friday night. Edinburgh rivals and bottom of the Scottish Premiership Hearts were the next team to join them in the pot at the expense of Rangers yesterday, whilst later that evening Aberdeen walked away from St Mirren Park with a victory.

Today, the final Scottish Cup place will be decided when St Johnstone host Celtic. The draw for semi finals will take place after the match live on TV.

Hibs’ 5-2 win over Championship side Inverness and Aberdeen’s 0-2 win over St Mirren were kind of the expected outcomes. With Hearts beating Rangers just five weeks ago, I wondered if that victory had been a fluke, but as it turned out it wasn’t.

Hearts were the better team. No doubt about it.

They should have had a penalty and both teams should have been reduced to ten men in the first half. Referee Steven McLean had a howler of a game into the bargain.

It was a good game to watch though. Not just because it eased my pain of our European woes, but because it had enough drama to make it a good cup tie.

Alfredo Morelos had been disciplined for his late return to training and left out of the squad entirely. Some cited that as playing into the hands of Hearts, but given how utterly garbage Steven Gerrard’s side have been in domestic football in 2020 leaves me in no doubt that Morelos was not as big a miss as some have suggested.

If he was, Gerrard wouldn’t have risked leaving him out for such a vital game. Realistically, this was his only remaining chance of silverware this season so as a manager he was taking a massive gamble leaving him out.

Should Bayer Leverkusen fail to dispose of them, the next team will. However, Gerrard might even be gone by then himself.

His post match interviews yesterday evening collectively signalled that he hadn’t even gone into the dressing room to talk with his players after the final whistle. Instead he had been talking with his coaching staff and when talking to the media stated that he was at his lowest point since arriving at the club and would be taking the next 48 hours to give serious thought to his future.

The one interview I saw was probably the best interview I’ve seen him give in his time in Glasgow to be honest. It also sounded like a farewell speech.

Some folk think he wouldn’t walk away whilst the club are still in Europe. However, they have absolutely no chance of winning the Europa League so walking away, having taken them to that stage in the first place, would mean he wouldn’t have to preside over another competition exit.

If he doesn’t leave now, he’ll leave at the end of the season because that’s two seasons with not a single trophy and as a club they are already spending out with their means. Granted, he has improved them over all, but they are still way off the pace and power of a fully functioning Celtic side.

What did hit me yesterday was, how bad were Braga to lose home and away to a side who have now lost to the worst team in the Scottish Premiership twice in five weeks? It does make you think.

Should Celtic have been feeling any pressure from their rivals’ progress in Europe upon facing FC Copenhagen midweek, then they should feel a huge lift with their closest domestic rivals now out of the Scottish Cup picture altogether. I am not dismissing Hibs, Hearts or Aberdeen because they will all be excellent competition should today’s result go the way I want it to.

Celtic must respond by dusting themselves off and walk out onto that McDiarmid Park turf this afternoon with some conviction. There is no better cure from the hurt of exiting one competition by ensuring you forge ahead in another.

Victory would take Celtic one step closer to another piece of history. They have to earn it though and everyone in the squad will be keen to put right the wrongs of Thursday night.

I have total faith in this squad and in Neil Lennon. Thursday was a bitter disappointment, but it’s gone and we have a chance to win another treble.

Celtic aren’t talking about it, but they will be thinking about it. St Johnstone stand in the way of progress.

Are you ready to respond, Bhoys? Over to you, Celtic…

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac