Commons sense

So far this season, the Champions League has not been an easy ride for English clubs. With all of match day two fixtures of the competition done, there will be more relief than joy, particularly down Manchester way.

Despite both Mancunian clubs obtaining wins last night, they both lost their opening Champions League matches. Although they got their first points on the board last night, these were narrow victories.

Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were overcome by his former club Porto. It’s a similar story to City and United with one win and one defeat so far.

Worst still is Arsenal’s campaign. After two games they have yet to get any points on the board.

What I find staggering is that all these clubs have excellent funding but star signings don’t always seem to buy them success. Is there some sort of complacency amongst the Premier League’s super clubs in Europe or are they just badly managed?

Anything Celtic can do in Europe I hold in high esteem because it is generally a bloody hard task. Celtic may be above all other Scottish clubs but in Europe it’s a different ball game.

Any club that wins their domestic league should go straight into the Champions League, end of story. Unfortunately there are more represented countries than places in the current set up but I do think this competition requires serious revision.

The Champions League continually undermines the smaller teams and leagues whilst ensuring the bigger clubs with more than sufficient funds stay on top. Celtic, whilst having a reasonable reputation in European competition, are well short of the income to compete at the top and hindered even more by going through three qualifying rounds just to get into a group phase every summer.

And yet, Celtic continue to “punch above” their weight as Martin O’Neill once said. That has continued with the managers that succeeded him.

For Ronny Deila it is still coming together. Though despite two failed attempts at entering the Champions League, he has ensured Europa League status for two years running.

We shouldn’t sniff at that. It doesn’t have the glory of the Champions League, but the tournament should still be treated with respect.

Celtic got off to a flyer two weeks ago with a near victory. That draw in Amsterdam got us our first point away from home.

When you consider points on the road are not always guaranteed, that’s a damn good start. Tonight, Fenerbahçe will be a different prospect.

Whilst playing at home in front of your own audience has its advantages, Fenerbahçe are a different opponent. They lost their opening Europa League match a staggering 3-1 at home to Molde.

Turkey is renowned for its hostile atmosphere at matches. You might have read one or two opposing players from tonight’s match stating as much.

The Norwegians didn’t appear to be too intimidated though. So credit to them for axing the Turkish runners up and their team of ‘stars’.

Amongst those plying their trade in Istanbul are former Manchester United players Robin van Persie and Nani. Both have a wealth of experience on the European stage but it doesn’t stop there.

Their team also boast international players such as Raul Meireles, Bruno Alves, former Celtic target Michal Kadlec and Simon Kjær who all have between 50 and 99 caps each. That’s without mentioning the the home grown Turkish players, four Brazilians and a Senegalese international on-loan from Porto.

One on-loan player who will miss out tonight is Serbian, Lazar Marković. The Liverpool winger is out injured but as you can see, the Turkish side have plenty to choose from.

For Ronny Deila, it’s about creating the right blend again. We have a lot of players to choose from but it is about being effective.

With home advantage, he is likely to be more adventurous. However, caution needs to be paid to the experienced players amongst the Fenerbahçe ranks.

Their European and international careers are to be respected. This will be no easy task.

One area Deila needs to consider is who fills in for the suspended Emilio Izaguirre at left back. He has several options but it all depends on how defensive or offensive he wants that role to be.

Kieran Tierney has been getting some game time lately and done well when called upon. However, Deila may feel throwing him into his first European match is a tad risky.

Saidy Janko is another option but he too has yet to play in Europe. So it is likely that he will go with Tyler Blackett given that he has more senior experience over all and has played in one Europa League match already.

The rest of the defence is likely to consist of Lustig, Ambrose and Boyata with Gordon in goal as usual. Šimunović is a doubt for this match and with Mulgrew out injured the defence has more or less picked itself.

Brown and Bitton are certain to start this one but who do you surround them with? A few players have been off the boil recently such as Johansen and Mackay-Steven.

Forrest could be given the chance to turn on the home crowd on the right and if Armstrong is fit a place on the left. That leaves the attacking midfield role.

With Johansen off the boil I think we would all agree Commons is the man for this game. He’s earned his chance and could light things up tonight.

You have to feel sorry for Rogić though. He’s likely to be on the bench for this one but he has been superb this season so far so I expect an appearance at some stage.

The strikers role should go to Griffiths as he is our best option. You can probably expect Çiftçi to be given a chance against the Turkish side at some point though.

Elsewhere in the Europa League Spurs are away to Monaco whilst Liverpool are at home to FC Sion (remember them?). I’m sure with two English heavy weights in the same competition Celtic coverage will be kept to a minimum but with maximum criticism.

Celtic made a good start against Ajax. Let’s hope we see that continue tonight at Paradise.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac


Celtic’s first Bosman comes home.

Earlier this week, Celtic appointed former midfielder John Collins as assistant to new manager, Ronny Delia. Collins returns to Celtic Park 18 years after he left the club for AS Monaco.

He was the first Celtic player to leave under the Bosman ruling. During his time at the club, he was a key part of a Celtic midfield which included club legend, Paul McStay.

Collins’s had an influential role for Celtic and was a key ingredient to the attack. In addition to his good all round game, he had a tremendous ability to strike free kicks with his left foot.

In his six years at the club he was a stand out performer despite not being the best years for Celtic it has to be said. Yet he stayed and he performed so it was no surprise that when he left in 1996 with only one trophy to his name that Celtic fans accepted he wanted to move on, despite feeling the loss of a quality player.

There was no doubting the calibre of Collins and he could have played in most teams in Europe. That (and possibly the fact he was free) was enough to attract the attention of Monaco in the first place.

His playing career would eventually go from the shores of southern France to the banks of the Mersey with Everton and then alongside the Thames with Fulham. Beyond the domestic scene, Collins was an important player for the Scotland international team as well.

Although an ageing international squad, it was players like Collins who could breathe life into a starting eleven. Scoring in the opening game of the World Cup at France 1998 against Brazil from the penalty spot was one of his most significant goals in his international career.

That was is 11th goal for Scotland and in total he scored 12 goals in 58 appearances. He would eventually retire from international football after being pipped to a place at Euro 2000, losing out on aggregate to England in a two match play off.

However, it was those six years of dedication to Celtic that stand out for me. Like Paul McStay, Collins was an important part of Celtic during an unbearable trophy-less period.

It was players like Collins who kept the hearts and minds of the Celtic fans going at a time when all was not well at the club. Winning the Scottish Cup in 1995 would be the only honour he would pick up at Celtic having made 223 competitive appearances and scoring scoring 48 goals.

After departing in the summer of 1996, he would go on to win the league with Monaco in his first season in France. Ten years later, having moved into coaching, he picked up his third honour winning the League Cup as manager of former club, Hibernian.

It was a short spell there with the relationship lasting only fourteen months. He endured a player dispute, received an apology from the players in return and delivered Hibs first top flight trophy since 1991.

A year after resigning from Hibs over separate dispute with the board, he spent less than a season with Belgian club Charleroi. He also had s short spell as Director of football at Livingston.

For some, these brief interactions with clubs might ring alarm bells but many like myself have only never heard positive things about Collins’s knowledge of football. Like the appointment of Ronny Deila, the vibe regarding Collins’s return to Celtic is generally positive with the fans.

When working with the media, he has always expressed himself well as a football pundit. Alongside Gordon Strachan, he is one of the few Scot’s who actually comes across well and demonstrates a deeper understanding of the the game.

Of course, its making sure things happen on the field of play that counts when you are on the management team. In John Collins, I feel Ronny Delia has a good sidekick to enter the Scottish football arena with.

As we all know, the Celtic job comes with a certain degree of baggage. Collins know the club, the league, country and of course, the media (Gerry McNee take note).

Many fans are intrigued and indeed excited to see how this all plays out. Despite the World Cup keeping most of us preoccupied, its hard to ignore what’s going on at Celtic right now.

With just under four weeks until Celtic’s initial Second qualifying round of the Champions League, Deila and Collins have their work cut out for them already. Its a gruelling task they have ahead of them but one which this group of players have already been through together and a challenge that the management team are certain to embrace.

What remains to be seen is how Delia and Collins approach it. And will there be any moves and changes in the playing staff before then?

Well, one thing at a time I suppose. Until Monday’s draw then…

Hail! Hail!