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

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Çiftçi and McGeady?

I don’t know what I am more alarmed about. That Celtic have reportedly made a bid for Nadir Çiftçi or that Aiden McGeady is rumoured to be returning to Paradise.

Firsty, lets talk about Nadir Çiftçi. On the face of things it looks like a mediocre move for Celtic.

The Turkish striker has made a name for himself at Dundee United and in Scottish football, particularly against Celtic. I’d say he is a key player for McNamara’s team but is he really up to the job at Celtic or in Europe?

Well, lets go a wee bit deeper. At 23 years old, this is a young striker playing regular football in Scotland for the last two seasons.

Prior to his arrival in Scotland Çiftçi had spells with Portsmouth, Kayserispor and NAC Breda. He has also been capped at under-17 level by the Netherlands and under-19 level by Turkey, the latter being his actual place of birth.

Ironically, he was convinced to switch allegiances to Turkey by Guus Hiddink, a Dutchman. He was Turkey manager at the time and evidently liked what he saw.

In my total ignorance before today’s blog, I thought Çiftçi was an older player but that may just be the beard! That got me thinking – does Ronny see this guy with greater potential?

Well, it still sounds like another gamble, something Celtic have done a lot with strikers these last few years. However, he does have good experience playing in Scotland which is one less risk.

Does this guy have more to offer? Are Celtic going to raise the bid?

Elsewhere, rumours have begun to circulate about Aiden McGeady. He left Celtic five years ago for a whopping fee of £9.5M.

At the time I thought this was superb business by the club. Many saw it as Celtic cashing and I had no argument about that then or now.

For me McGeady was a one trick pony who had one amazing season at the club. Despite his flare, it rarely had an end product and his place in the team was always under scrutiny.

Crossing the ball was not his thing either despite it actually being his job on matchdays. In fact, I think his best position may have been playing off the front man but I didn’t see him given that role too often.

In the back of my mind, yes it would be interesting to see him play in the Hoops again. On the other hand, has he actually improved since leaving Celtic in 2010?

As I said in a forum thread last night, if his career had blossomed since leaving would we even be talking about a potential move back to Celtic? I doubt it because he would be priced out of such a move whereas now, people think he might have to lower his demands such is his career dip.

Now after a three-and-a-half year spell in Moscow and just over a year with Everton he has apparently put in a transfer request. Given that his appearances have been limited at Everton I’d say he’s done the right thing for himself but is Celtic really on the radar or is this pure speculation?

I think McGeady will have matured in his five years since leaving Celtic. I know many would like to see him back, but there’s an equal amount (if not more) who wouldn’t.

Fancy tricks aren’t everything in this game and it doesn’t win you matches. You need to be able to deliver and that is where my frustration with McGeady lies.

Throw in the fact that coming back is rarely, if ever, a good thing and I think you have your answer. The way forward for Aiden is not the way back so perhaps this should remain a rumour.

Tomorrow Celtic take on FC Den Bosch at St Mirren Park. I’m desperate to see the Hoops play again.

I’m also looking forward to seeing some fringe players getting a chance to shine. For some players, it may be the last or close to last time we see them don the Hoops as Ronny aims to trim the squad so I’ll be tuning in for sure.

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

Back in training, back in Iceland.

Celtic will return to Iceland next month to face Stjarnan F.C. The draw for the second qualifying round of the UEFA Champions League has paired Ronny Deila with Icelandic opposition for the second year running.

With neither team having faced each other before, both will be doing their homework with European football at stake. Many will feel this is a tie Celtic are more than capable of winning comfortably but Stjarnan will be using last seasons Europa League qualifiers as a base to progress.

Stjarnan F.C. overcame Bangor City, Motherwell and Lech Poznań only to exit at the hands of Celtic’s Europa League victors Inter Milan in the play off round. However, Celtic swept aside KR Reykjavík at the same stage of Champions League qualifying last season and will feel confident they can do the same to the current Icelandic champions.

The Icelandic season runs from May to September and as a result, Stjarnan have already played 8 league matches. They are currently sitting in sixth place having won 3, drawn 2, lost 2 with 10 goals for 10 goals against.

Despite winning the Úrvalsdeild title for the first time in 2014 their league form won’t be of too much interest to Celtic. It is the fact that they will have better match fitness by the time they face Ronny Deila’s side.

As for Celtic, they will be looking to be more convincing in qualifying than they were last year. Despite winning by a 5-0 aggregate score over KR Reykjavík last summer, Celtic were beaten comfortably 6-1 by Legia Warsaw in the round that followed.

It was only the incompetence of the Polish champions fielding an ineligible player that bought Celtic another crack at qualifying for the Champions League. Even that wasn’t enough, as Ronny Deila’s side lost out in the second leg at home 0-1 after completing a respectable 1-1 draw in the first leg away to Maribor.

As disappointing as that was, there was still Europa League football to be had. This was also a much more suited tournament for Celtic at this point as much as it may have been hard to admit at the time.

With a change of manager and a serious modification to the way players trained, ate and slept, the Champions League could have been a total disaster. One year on, I think both Ronny and the players are now ready to field last seasons progress against the best.

I will highlight the fact that Celtic are not the finished article and still require a handful of players to make the team a solid force. These players now have a season under their belts though and have made some headway.

We’re all desperate to hear that music again. There can be no doubt it is what the Celtic family want to be involved in every season.

The challenge is to face the best and match them on the night. Special things can happen on the Champions League nights, especially at Paradise.

A solid qualifying campaign and a few extra signings before deadline day will be most welcome. As the players were back in training today they will be thinking about that.

Before that we will have the chance to see the Bhoy’s in action against FC Den Bosch, FK Dukla Prague and Real Sociedad de Fútbol. All ties are to played at St Mirren Park whilst Celtic Park has some stadium work carried out.

The most important thing is that Celtic will be back at Paradise for any of the home legs in the qualifying rounds. Although it wasn’t the reason behind last years dismal showing, I think many would agree that they’d rather have seen Celtic stage a revival at Celtic Park than Murrayfield.

So now it is down to the Bhoy’s to get stuck in at training and get some practice in these upcoming friendlies. There’s a pot of gold waiting for the club in September but they’ll have to work hard to get there.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie