Celtic, Scotland and Andy Murray

I dunno. You go away for a few weeks and all your sporting interests lay in tatters.

Having spent the grand majority of my holiday in the wilderness of Canada, I’m just getting round to processing all that I’ve ‘missed’ over the last three weeks. It seems like the bottom has fell out of my world of sport.

This misery I speak of has a pecking order of course. With all of this bad news stacked up it makes it a little bit harder to digest.

In the grand scheme of things Andy Murray’s early exit from the US Open pales in comparison to my interests primarily in Celtic and secondly Scotland. All put together though it’s one big pot of pish.

Celtic’s exit from the Champions League play-offs was a sore one. I missed the first leg whilst on a flight but managed to tune in live for the second leg on TSN the following week.

Despite the sunshine, heat and humidity of that afternoon whilst on holiday, it turned out to be a dark and dismal day as the Champions League door closed on Celtic once more. In many ways being so far away helped me avoid the aftermath even if those in my immediate vicinity attempted to trivialise my pain.

So I ended up losing myself in a work of fiction called Ready Player One (recommended to me by a good friend, fellow geek and Hoops fan). In doing so I locked myself away from wife, child and in-laws simultaneously.

It offered a little escapism but my soul was hurting and my mind kept wandering back to the result. My next visit to planet Celtic came via my sister in law’s weak mobile signal just so I could check our Europa League fate.

I couldn’t stand not knowing our opponents. Group A will be a stern test for Celtic but I guess that’s what you want from European football right?

Having exited one European competition and parachuted into another it was inevitable that Virgil van Dijk would depart. Champions League football was the only ticket to keep him at Celtic Park this season or at the very least until January and as Ronny has said, Virgil unsurprisingly wanted to go last year.

Having played in 114 matches for Celtic and scored 15 goals his presence in the Celtic defence was significant and will be sorely missed. £13M is a good return and he has served Celtic well so I wish him all the very best with the rest of his career.

Staying with transfer news I was surprised by the amount of additional movement made by Celtic. More players out on loan and more players coming in.

Firstly was the acquisition of Jozo Šimunović. For an under-21 international defender £5.5M makes him either a signing coup or a modern day Rafael Scheidt.

I’m not trying to pre – judge the guy. I don’t know anything about him.

The price vs age bells are ringing in my head though. On the other hand it is good to see Celtic reinvesting some of the dough made from the sale of the Dutch player.

It is a positive sign from the board so hopefully this is money well spent. The club have shown further backing by bringing in two more defenders in Tyler Blackett and Ryan Christie.

The on loan Blackett will provide support to the defence and challenge for a spot next to Dedryck Boyata. With Christie being loaned back to Inverness he will not have a say any time soon.

Although not a total surprise, I thought loaning of Stefan Šćepović was questionable. Despite misfiring for Celtic no replacement has been acquired.

With Anthony Stokes staying put for now, Celtic have three active forwards. My issue with Stokes is that he’s been frozen out and more importantly not an out and out striker.

I consider him more of a wide player or playing off the front man. Therefore Leigh Griffiths and Nadir Çiftçi must bear the responsibility as the club’s only strikers.

Young Eoghan O’Connell’s loan to Oldham will do him the world of good. A chance at regular football and still a very good prospect for Celtic.

I was a bit disappointed with Darnell Fisher going on loan to St Johnstone though. I rate the guy and he has done a good job when called upon so not to see him challenging for the first team this season is a bit of let down given the work he’s put in these last few years.

Dylan McGeouch’s permanent switch to Hibs was no surprise though. His loan spell was relatively successful and he will be pleased to be able to focus his career after not really getting an opportunity at Celtic.

He began his career at Celtic, left for Rangers then was brought back by Neil Lennon. You can decide whether he was barely given a chance or wasn’t good enough but I though the guy had talent.

So now Celtic are now set up for the next few months with a fairly solid squad. What of Scotland and their quest for France 2016?

Well that’s hit the skids hasn’t it? I haven’t seen any footage, just heard the backlash.

It was all going so well but that Georgia result was a shocker. The Germany game can be forgiven being that they are World Champions.

In order to remain in with chance of a play off spot, Scotland need to close a gap of four points. Republic of Ireland stand in their way and have the tougher games but this is an all too familiar scenario for Scotland fans.

We’ve been in this situation as far back as I watched the games with my dad. I still think Gordon Strachan is the man to get us to a finals but we shot ourselves in the foot with this campaign after doing so well.

It ain’t over till it’s over the say. Well, I won’t get my scants in a twist if we don’t make a play-off spot but I’ll be presently surprised if it does go wee Gordon’s way.

Back to the here and now though ad tomorrow’s game against Aberdeen. We’ll be able to see how far Derek McInnes and his squad have come from last season.

The Dons ran with Celtic most of the way in the Scottish Premiership which was good for the league. However, they failed to beat Ronny Deila’s side on four meetings, having lost all four to the Hoops.

We’ll see just how far they’ve come since then. Most of all, I’m looking forward to casting my eyes over our new players.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Competition for places in Paisley

Celtic got their preseason underway at St Mirren Park last night. The result is often not an immediate concern in these games but it was still good to end the match with a clean sheet and two goals in the bag.

Paisley was the location for these first of three warm up matches, with FC Den Bosch the first opponent. The Dutch second division club were overawed by Celtic dominance in the first half which featured both goals for the Hoops.

The first came from Gary Mackay-Steven in the early minutes of the match. The second also came via the former Dundee United player though the Den Bosch keeper saved the effort only for it to be bundled into the net by his own player.

Cruel, but fair because it was one way traffic by Celtic. In truth it could have been much more in that first half alone.

Gary Mackay-Steven was at the heart of most moves showing great energy with every run. There were plenty of other notable performances into the bargain.

Boyata looked comfortable to the point he van Dijk were mainly just feeding the ball forward whilst Lustig (C) and youngster Kieran Tierney filled the full back berths. They were rarely called into to defend much but a valuable run out in the Hoops for Boyata, a development squad player in Tierney and of course a very much missed Lustig.

Young Luke Donnelly took up the midfield attack role between Mackay-Steven and Armstrong. He turned in a good performance and looked comfortable in the role.

Tom Rogić was among a midfield holding two along with Liam Henderson. Both were close to matching energy of Mackay-Steven and is encouraging news for Ronny Deila that they both looked so capable together.

Many fans have been keen to see Rogić back in the Hoops, myself included. With Henderson back from a brief, but worth while loan spell at Rosenberg its like having two new players.

That can only be good news for Celtic. Knowing that Scott Brown and Nir Bitton have back up means there is cover as well pressure.

In fact Celtic have an abundance of wealth in the midfield. The question is who will be shed by the club to trim down to Ronny Deila’s ideal squad size?

So far Celtic have moved on four players and acquired two. Over the next two months I would expect to see more exits.

I was surprised to see Dylan McGeouch and Jackson Irvine (you have to check out his squad picture on the official website) among the recently updated squad list. Both have been on the books for a while and out on loan recently so what of their futures?

McGeouch has had a good season with Hibs and Alan Stubbs looked keen to have him stay but I believe Celtic activated an extra year on his contract. As for Irvine, he’s had good run in the Ross County side.

Despite both having a good season I was a little surprised to see them back. Not because I don’t rate them but because Ronny is trying to trim the squad.

Perhaps it is part of some bigger plan. Pool all of your talent throughout this summer and have them all competing for a place to stay?

Well I’m not sure but Ronny is intent in blooding youngsters as part of using the talent the club rear. With that in mind these friendlies are as much of a shop window as they are a warm up for the Champions League qualifiers.

Then second half of last night’s match saw the manager throw on eight players on for the last 30 mins. Though mostly players from the academy, one of those was the not so young Derk Boerrigter.

He turned in a decent 30 mins to be fair and even recovered from an injury during play. If there was one player who is on that list to exit though it is Boerrigter and he did his chances no harm if any prospective buyers were watching.

One player keen to ensure he stays will be Stefan Šćepović. After a season of woe, he will be aiming to up his game this summer.

Recently he openly admitted to struggling to adapt to the Scottish game. This season the gauntlet has been thrown down for him to perform because I doubt he will be on the snip list.

Next up is Dukla Prague where we’ll see further outings by from the whole squad. One of those could be new signing Saidy Janko from Manchester United.

His role has yet to be established but it could spell the end for someone in that right side of the park. The club cannot sustain Lustig, Fisher, Matthews, Ambrose and Saidy for that right back/wing back role so something will have to give.

It’s interesting times with competition for places are fierce. With the young talent that took to the field last night the future looks bright for Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The madness of the media

Transfer windows are laced with enough drama and rumour to fill a holiday paperback. And when you have the media spinning tales of a “Celtic and Rangers target”, you know who the media are working for.

Not that this is much of a surprise. The Scottish media were wrapped around Oldco’s former owner Sir David “Moonbeams” Murray so much he’s never even been held accountable for the mess he left the now deceased club in.

With Newco failing to escape the Championship, it seems the Scottish media have stepped up their support campaign to help out Dave King. As well as failing to report on meetings between King and Ashley in London the other week (thanks Phil), the Scottish media have paired multiple transfer rumours as “Celtic and Rangers” targets.

Sound familiar? It should do because it’s the same shit, different era.

Danny Wilson has been rumoured to be joining Celtic for a while now. The fact that this story trundled on should have set alarm bells ringing.

With the swiftness in which he moved to Ibrox though tells its own story. You can only imagine the groundwork that was laid to include Celtic in this tale to allow the Ibrox charter flight to say “get it right up ye”.

Why circulate a rumour that Celtic wanted him? Because it makes his eventual and only move look like Newco got one over Celtic.

Wilson is guaranteed first team football at Newco, particularly as they are a Championship side. Had he even been on Celtic’s radar, he’d struggle to get a game.

The fact is Celtic have signed a replacement for Jason Denayer in the form of a maturer Man City and Belgian team mate. Dedryck Boyata will fill the void at the heart of the defence and look to form a partnership with Virgil van Dijk.

In reality, I don’t think Danny Wilson was ever going to be that man. Ronny Deila has a good channel of communication with Man City already which is why he has returned to the same talent pool.

No disrespect to Wilson, he’s turned in what I hear was a good season with Hearts but was not for Celtic as the club have already stated. The fact that he has returned to Ibrox for a go with Newco suggests he has found his level in football.

As if that unfounded rumour wasn’t enough to contend with, the media have Celtic players leaving and old ones coming back. Georgios Samaras and Gary Hooper are amongst those said to be coming back whilst James Forrest and Virgil van Dijk are on their way out.

Crazy stuff but the kind of stories that get folk talking (and writing). What else would I blog about I ask you?

Well there’s been little mention of those who actually have or will leave. They are too minor for the headlines.

Teemu Pukki made his loan move to Brøndby IF permanent for a cut price which was the only notable story to make the headlines. Meantime, John Herron (to Blackpool), Dylan McGeouch (possibly to Hibs), Jackson Irvine (back home?), Joe Chalmers (to Motherwell) and Lukasz Zaluska (he won’t be short of offers) are all out of contract.

I would be very surprised if there aren’t further exits from the club as well. Amido Baldé (Hapoel Tel Aviv) and Hólmbert Friðjónsson (Brøndby IF) are still out on loan and I’m sure Celtic would like to make these moves permanent.

Also out on loan is Liam Henderson but he is likely to remain at Rosenborg until Celtic recall the young midfielder. He hasn’t looked out of place when playing for the Celtic first team and he has the potential to hold down a place but he is having a fine time out in Norway scoring 4 goals in 13 appearances so far.

Whilst trimming down the squad is on the forefront of Ronny Deila’s mind, I can think of a couple of players that may be on that list that I haven’t already been mentioned. Anthony Stokes and Derk Boerrigter are two players who Celtic may look to move on this summer.

Stokes’s Celtic career has been decent since signing five years ago. He is a player with a lot of talent but he hasn’t always had the consistency or the professional attitude off the field and not really the ‘big game’ player you want him to be.

Last season under Deila, he carved out a partnership with Emilio Izaguirre on the left flank. This was a good spell for Stokes and was influential in the first half of the season even if his goal tally wasn’t as great as it had been in previous years.

The question is, have Celtic weighed up his personal life against his contribution to the team and made a decision on his future? That’s one to ponder but Derk Boerrigter is the one most would like to see go without hesitation.

A very poor gamble by the club and a player who has no future at the club in most peoples opinion. His injuries have been his primary omission from first team football but he also received heavy criticism and punishment for diving in a league match last August.

Despite any ill-feeling toward thge SFA’s ruking on that, “sick-note’s” tenure at Celtic has not been a good one for him, the fans or the club. Celtic may cut their losses with him because he will find it difficult to get back into the team with his injury woes and the talent that is in front of him.

Then it is just a matter of who else Ronny Deila will decide to bring in. His angling for a smaller squad suggests that he is happy with what he has currently.

Personally, I’d still like to see another striker but he may feel he has enough in Leigh Griffiths and Stefan Šćepović even though the latter has yet to do the business and the former needs to demonstrate his ability in Europe. There is also the question of a back up keeper though, I personally would be happy to see the young Leo Fasan take that role.

Defensively Celtic don’t need any more defenders unless they really do succumb to rumours and sell Virgil van Dijk. The midfield has plenty of options as well especially with the Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven arriving in January rather that June this year.

With training under way and the first preseason friendly less than a week away, the excitement draws nearer.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Øde to a Celtic move?

Few first team coaches know Martin Ødegaard better than Ronny Deila. The young player made his competitive debut under his former manager at Strømsgodset at the tender age of 15, just over a year ago.

He was clearly making an impression before that because he was training with the first team from the age of 13. In 2012 he made his first senior team appearance in a midseason friendly match against Mjøndalen IF.

Within two years of that he would find himself listed in the first team squad. With his then manager Ronny Deila departing for Celtic in June 2014, the relationship would be severed.

Going by recent reports, that coach and player relationship could be rekindled. Is this a move Celtic can really benefit from though?

I’ve never seen the boy kick a ball but it’s obvious he’s got talent. He’s been playing football at levels above his own age group long before he even moved to Strømsgodset.

Whilst a loan move would provide him with the first team football he currently isn’t getting at Real Madrid it’s hard to see who he is going to displace in the Celtic midfield. I’m not suggesting Ødegaard isn’t good enough, but this is not a position Celtic are short of options for right now.

Scott Brown, Nir Bitton, Kris Commons, and his former Strømsgodset colleague, Stefan Johansen are the current central mainstays of the Celtic engine room. Whilst freshness is always welcome, you have to question the validity of a 16 year old coming in temporarily and upsetting the balance that has been achieved over a season.

Celtic must also consider players on their books waiting in the wings and itching to get a game. Young guys like Liam Henderson, Tom Rogić, Dylan McGeouch, John Herron and Jackson Irvine will all be wondering about their own futures as Celtic midfielder’s if 16 year old Ødegaard rocks up at Paradise this summer.

Used sparingly, he might get the experience he needs without disrupting the current midfield too much. If the reports are true though, is Ronny Deila prepared to make sacrifices in his current midfield because of one golden opportunity or is it that this player is actually seen as a key asset for the forthcoming season at home and abroad?

As you might expect, Celtic will not be alone with their interest in the young Norwegian international. Having been courted with other potential suitors before his move to Real Madrid in January, several clubs will now be vying for a season long loan of Martin Ødegaard.

Wherever he ends up, Celtic have a chip in the game. With Ødegaard’s former mentor Ronny Deila at the club and the possibility of Champions League or Europa League football, their is plenty of attraction.

You should never look a gift horse in the mouth but there are other positions to consider filling first for the forthcoming season. If those priorities can be met satisfactorily, I’ll be glad to see this talented young Norwegian don the Hoops, for one season at least.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

A season gone and a season to come

On Sunday afternoon, Celtic put Inverness Caledonian Thistle to the sword. It was a fine way to bring the curtain down on a season which has seen Ronny Deila’s team bond and progress.

At first, most people were open minded about Deila and the swiftness of his appointment. Then a failed Champions League campaign changed that.

Some unconvincing domestic displays in the early part of the season added to the Deila doubter’s list of dissatisfaction. If that wasn’t enough, you had the media, including ex-Celtic players, weighing in with their own tuppence worth of bile.

The breakthrough for Ronny was of course the Europa League. It was an ideal competition for a team in transition and kept both the club’s and the fan’s interests in the European scene.

Good performances home and away were encouraging, even if all results weren’t perfect. It was enough to build confidence though and there were signs that some players were beginning to respond to Ronny Deila’s methods.

That kind of positivity started to populate and by November, Celtic finally reached the summit of the Scottish Premiership. Having endured several months of negative media and a portion of the team not performing well enough, the tide was beginning to turn.

There was still a lot of work to be done though. Celtic were under pressure from a few teams and that kept them on their toes throughout the winter.

It was in this period that Celtic really started to gather momentum. Finally, the team was beginning to play like a unit.

Those players who had been out of sorts were emerging from the shadows. Griffith’s, Commons and Bitton were staking a claim and it was a real shot in the arm.

The arrival of Mackay-Steven and Armstrong not only boosted Celtic’s campaign, it ended Dundee United’s. They both slotted into the squad like it was meant to be.

For some Celtic players though, their own personal situations were beginning to look bleak. Guidetti, Tonev, Wakaso and Boerrigter were all fading with varying degrees.

Šćepović was also well out of the picture but his case was somewhat isolated from the rest. He may still have a chance as Sunday’s finale demonstrated.

Later on in the season Forrest emerged from the shadows and made a good contribution to the second half of the season. His injury problems are his only hindrance and only time will tell if he has overcome these.

Another player with injury hell is Lustig. A fine player if ever there is one.

His cameo appearance against Motherwell in January where he scored an amazing double after coming off the bench remains his primary contribution to the season. Deila knows as we all do just how good a player Lustig is and he will want him available for the early Champions League campaign, particularly if he is looking to bolster the back line.

There is still cover there with Ambrose, Matthews, Fisher and Izaguirre. The central defence is the main area of concern though.

If Celtic were to lose both Denayer and van Dijk, they also lose the meanest defence in Scottish Premiership history. Having conceded only 17 goals, that is a huge void to fill.

Part of that defensive success comes down to Gordon’s amazing return to the game as well. If he was considered a gamble when drafted in after years out injured then the pay out has been massive.

Despite the ability to get a bit lonely as a Celtic goalkeeper in some domestic games, like Foster before him, he has pulled off some magnificent saves to keep the Hoops in the game. That ability was on display Europe as well as in the domestic game and it has been a fine season for the big man.

Long-term injured Mulgrew made a late return this season and despite links with clubs in the south, I doubt he’ll be heading for the exit door. He may not be a first pick, but he is a good utility player.

It will be hard to break up the current midfield but he is a big enough character to stay on. Even if Johansen and Brown are the mainstay’s of the midfield there will always be opportunities for Mulgrew to step in there or in the back line.

So where do Celtic need to strengthen? Well that all depends on movements in the current squad.

Should Zaluska go as expected, a backup will be needed. Fasan is as yet untested and it remains to be seen if Deila would be prepared to rely upon the Italian as a suitable stand in.

Central defence is top of the list. If one or both of the current pairing go, the standards will slip so rebuilding that wall and the understanding they created will be a priority, particularly in Europe.

The midfield has a wealth of options. The choices are vast and if anything, Ronny may look at the wide men.

Mackay-Steven is terrific as is Forrest so long as the latter avoids injury. If you are relying upon Forrest as a regular and then gets a bad one, you need a similar outlet.

McGregor was one of Deila’s best players at the beginning of the season and filled the Forrest void for a short time. However, he burned out before Christmas and is currently on the injury list but I don’t know if his purple patch was a flash in the pan.

Stokes, who featured on the left flank and forged a good partnership with Izaguirre earlier in the season is a potential leaver. His off the field story has kept him in the sidelines and his time could be up.

Up front Griffith’s is hit man number one. When he arrived over a year ago, I questioned the validity of his signature.

Despite one or two infractions in his time at the club, he has made me eat my words. His prowess in front of goal has earned him the right to start every game but Ronny will need someone to put pressure on him as well as being able to step in and do the same job.

Šćepović may or may not be that guy but I can’t see the summer passing by without the procurement of another striker. Be that on loan or a permanent deal, you need options in Europe.

The clear out list for Celtic is pretty big and I expect the transfer window to be a busy one. At a glance I expect to see Zaluska, Pukki, Baldé, Boerrigter, Stokes and Friðjónsson to leave.

On loan we’ve had Tonev, Wakaso, Guidetti and Denayer. All four will be gone though I wish Denayer was staying on for another season.

Loaned players McGeouch, Irvine, Henderson, Herron and Findlay are certain to be assessed as the team moves forward. McGeouch is still young but at 22 will want more games and that may only happen away from Celtic.

He has ability, no arguments there but a decision is sure to come over Celtic career. Personally, I can’t see him forcing his way into Ronny’s plans though.

As for the others on that list, I can imagine them on further loan deals. Henderson may be the only one who is retained for squad duty back at Celtic.

One player I’m keen to see more of is Rogić. The Australian joined just over two years ago and showed a lot of promise in those rare appearances.

His loan spell back in his homeland in 2014 did not offer the expected aim. He has had injury to contend with as well but there is every chance he will wear the Hoops next season.

So for Ronny Deila and his back room team, there is further assessment and decision making to be done with the current squad. Some of those decision will already have been made whilst some await the transfer window to open to have their futures decided.

After a short break, it will be back to pre season training for the Hoops. With the Champions League qualifying just seven weeks away the team will be back before your know it.

For now its been a fantastic season for Ronny and the Bhoys. Looking forward to the next one already.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie