Work to be done

And so another season comes to a close with another league Championship in the bag. Had it not been for Celtic’s unfortunate Scottish Cup exit all eyes could have been fixed on this Saturday’s final, but what’s done is done.

I do enjoy a day in May and Hampden in the sun, even if it’s not that good an atmosphere or venue for football any more. And there’s that feeling once more that our season dried up after European exit and the realisation thay nobody can possibly win the league other than Celtic.

That is the reality of Scottish football right now. And in many ways its good that Celtic don’t have a double or treble.

Good in that other Scottish clubs experience glory as they should. That they can claim the scalp that prevents them from winning the league.

An yet its  a bad thing because it can devalue the trophy. Not me of course, I’ve always been a huge fan of the Scottish Cup and I miss being involved.

Of course this year the final is at Celtic Park and not Hampden so I’m pleased with that for starters. The atmosphere generated is superior, the camera positioning for TV gives the viewer a better perspective of the matchplay and well… its Paradise.

That’s by the by though. The fact is Celtic won’t be there to compete.

Its fair to say that Neil Lennon has missed out on another treble opportunity but the heads are not down. Having said that, the finalists deserve to be there and Celtic don’t.

So what next for Celtic then? Well there will be exits this summer.

Sammy is the first confirmed departure, whether he wanted to go or not. If players are to be brought in then its likely more room will have to be made.

Other than the ongoing rumoured interest in Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk nobody else on the playing staff is a cert to leave. However, Celtic may decide to cut their losses with some under performers.

Amido Baldé, Teemu Pukki, Derk Boerrigter and Beram Kayal are all names on the lips of frustrated fans. Some have suggested all of these guys could go on the summer though I’m more realistic that it will amount to no more than two.

Pukki started off with a couple of goals this season and then faded faster than London Road School did. Typically, when the expectation and spotlight came off him, his performances eventually improved and unless he’s not enjoying life at Celtic, I think he’s got another chance at the club.

Still, he must improve further if he is to win over the fans or indeed the manager. If doesn’t, he’ll join the club of recently failed strikers that already include Morten Rasmussen, Mo Bangura and Daryl Murphy – not where you want to be.

Also in that category is Amido Baldé, who on arrival was pretty raw. The few opportunities he has had to prove himself have been inconclusive in my opinion, but Lennon sees him on the training ground so it’ll be interesting to find out if as he’s seen enough.

On the flank (or should that be the treatment table?) is Derk Boerrigter. He has had his injuries throughout the season, but lets be honest, when you come with the player nickname ‘sick note’, you’re a gamble.

Allegedly he didn’t cost the club as much as was first mentioned. Though that doesn’t excuse just how unimpressed we’ve all been.

When I saw him in the opening game of the season at Celtic Park I thought he looked well up for it. That was of course until he went off injured in the same match.

I reserved judgement until I’d seen more evidence but this had been a write off début season. Will he get another chance though?

Last on my list is Beram Kayal. In contrast to ‘sick note’ the, Israeli international had a fantastic start to his Celtic career.

Despite suffering injury in that first season, he had successfully established himself in the Celtic midfield and caused the media to report of imminent moves to Man U (we know how well that went for Liam Miller). Sadly, since then he has picked up further injuries and lacked the composure witnessed in his début season.

I’m sure many thought, as I did, he would stake his claim once more in the wake of Victor Wanyama’s departure last summer. To a certain extent he did only to endure further injury and poor form.

So a huge question mark hangs over Kayal’s future at Celtic. He is claimed to have bad mouthed Celtic and Scotland but the accuracy of those comments have never been verified.

Whatever the future of these guys, changes in the squad will be made. Some player’s might move up the ladder such as Friðjónsson and some may need a new challenge like Zaluska.

Whatever the comings and goings take place, one man who will not oversee it is Johan Mjallby. His imminent departure sparked not just rumours about the vacancy he would create but the future of Neil Lennon himself.

In Johan you have a man who served Celtic as a player and in a god-like manor. He played through the pain barrier for Martin O’Neill and was rightly credited by the Irishman as the type of player he could have done with having a whole team of.

As an assistant manager I don’t see that quality. That’s why I think he has to be his own man and I wish him all the best with that – a rare idol of mine, I must say.

So what about Lennon? Is this a prelude to his departure?

For me, not a chance. I know a few folk in the Celtic community might think so but I’m not convinced.

I’m fairly certain there’s a number of Scottish and Northern Irish folk who would like him to leave as well. But can I just remind all of you that this guy has stuck with this club through thick and thin please?

He’s battled the kind elements the majority of us have only dealt with, one at a time at the most and some not at all. Lennon has taken on physical violence, death threats, parcel bombs and depression.

Aside from family life itself, that’s just the personal check list. He still has to manage the media, the board, the owner, the players, the expectations of the fans, a tight budget and of course every team that wants to beat Glasgow Celtic at home and abroad.

Do you think he’s doing a good job? I do and I think it’s absurd to suggest that a man with such will and determination should or could you go.

For starters, he is still a young manager and probably not equipped for Premier League jobs. He has done well with what he has, but surviving the English Premier League is different territory altogether.

Also, it should not be forgotten that Scottish football is so transparent these days, Celtic would struggle to capture someone of sufficient quality to improve things with the same constraints a Celtic managerial role has. Celtic is a self sufficient club but Scottish football is as unstable as the Ibrox bank balance.

Lennon can and will achieve more at Celtic and is far from the finished article in coaching. A time will come when it is time for him to move on but that time is not now.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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Signing or appeasing?

If Celtic want to employ players to appease fans seeking transfer marker activity then I suggest they don’t go for Leigh Griffiths. As a fellow blogger has written today, “He has been in trouble with the police for assault, racist tweets and charged with shop lifting”.

What should be noted was that this was on a list of seven points on why Celtic should sign the Scotland striker. Talkingbaws.com were doing just that and I’m afraid that overlooking a players’ off field behaviour is not something that Celtic should be doing.

The fact that Celtic do not possess an proven goalscorer in their ranks right now remains a concern. Celtic have brought some good players in under Neil Lennon, but there have been some real muppets as well.

Teemu Pukki, not who I would consider a proper striker, has struggled. It’s only now, with the spotlight off him and the Champions League over for another year that fans have stopped talking about him though he may still improve.

Mo Bangura did anything but put the ball in the back of the net for the club. He subsequently burnt his bridges whilst playing on loan for Elfsborg against Celtic, though it is doubtful there were any bridges back to Celtic Park for him to cross other than to confirm that he would be exiting at the earliest possible time.

Amido Baldé has shown promise and is still young but he doesn’t get a look in. It may be Lennon’s choice to keep him under wraps for now and to develop him but that hasn’t helped the club in their most recent Champions League campaign and there are no assurance it will do so in the next, should that goal be achieved next season.

Georgios Samaras has been a hero for Celtic in Europe but he was nowhere near as effective this season as the previous. Though to be fair the same can be said about the team as a whole.

It was a very unconvincing European campaign in 2013. You can argue about the amount of qualifiers and early summer timing for a team in preparation but Celtic were seriously lacking in attack.

Kris Common’s has carried the team this year and he isn’t even a striker. We were desperate to see his form return this season and it has in abundance but he needs others to weigh in.

Anthony Stokes, a second pick against former Celtic striker Gary Hooper in the Champions League last season, has great ability. Is he really an out and out striker though? No, he is not.

I like Stokes, I like his style but he still needs someone in front of him doing the business with or without his help. There doesn’t appear to be someone getting matches at Celtic that can do that right now.

Samaras plays out wide and rarely sees domestic opportunities. I’m not complaining about that because it is obvious not just to fans but to opponents in Europe of how big a threat he is.

That does Lennon no favours though. What he requires is a goal seeker.

Someone who is quick, eager and deadly in front of goal. We’ve not seen that of late.

Hólmbert Friðjónsson is an under-21 international, who comes with a reasonable amount of promise. Though that merely puts him the same camp as Baldé because its unlikely that he’s the one to get thrown into first team action.

Still, it remains a good move to employ a number one striker now. Before the Champions League qualifying stages come along in July, Celtic will want, sorry will need to have someone who has already gotten to know his surroundings.

Bedding in time comes easier to some more than others but its still a complex situation. The players, the coaching, the fans that stadium and the expectation that comes along with wearing the Hoops.

Yet, it may still transpire that Lennon does sign Griffiths. He may even have grown up and put his off field misdemeanors to bed, but could he do a job in Europe?

Well, I am no seer that’s for sure.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

A Conflict of Interests?

Celtic have a bad record when it comes to former players coming back to play against them. They generally come in the form of strikers as well.

After poor form and injury Bangura went on loan to his old club AIK last summer. He is now on a loan spell with Celtic’s opponent’s tomorrow night, Elfsborg.

It is understandable why Mo Bangura playing tomorrow night, whilst he is still a Celtic player, would be an issue for the Neil Lennon. On a professional level it seems unprofessional but for me it’s more of the jinx issue that is of concern.

I’m sure there are quite a few people thinking “what if?” It’s for that reason alone that there is concern.

The likelihood of Bangura playing against Celtic would have been so slim that you wouldn’t have though about putting a clause in his loan deal. Though it does make you wonder if it should be a mandatory clause.

Elfsborg have been making sounds that they will play Bangura and probably will. On this side of the North Sea, there has been friendly advice from Celtic that this is unwise particularly where his Celtic career lies.

The Swedish club are perfectly within their rights to play him. You can also see why they would want to play him.

However, if Bangura were to say miss a penalty against Celtic or even score an own goal, there would be more than a few eyebrows raised. I’m not suggesting that this is some sinister plan of course but you can imagine how this might go down with the media and even UEFA nevermind  getting the conspiracy theory badge.

With Bangura likely to face Celtic tomorrow night, as well as the second leg, there is no doubt that these fixtures now have a little bit more of an edge them. It’s not the kind of edge I particularly like though.

European matches are edgy enough as it is without one of your own players playing against you. If I was Lennon I would be fuming but perhaps this situation is something that the club will need to put down to experience.

It’s different when a player leaves a club permanently and comes back as an opponent. That is something out with your control.

It just doesnt’ feel right and that some lines are being crossed. If I were the man that agreed the terms of that loan, I would be thinking “I won’t make that mistake again.”

All we can hope for is for Celtic to go out and smash Elfsborg and put the fixture to bed. As for Bangura, he may never play for Celtic again.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie