Celtic board draw the line

I didn’t follow Celtic’s AGM today as I have done in the past. Instead, I just read the aftermath of events.

With the same board of directors in place, an intolerance to working class values will remain. The message from the board was clear: we’re not listening to you.

I wasn’t one to abuse Lord Livingston though I did sign and promote the petition to oust him. I do think that his obvious political association does undermine everything the club is supposed to stand for.

The values that I speak of don’t seem to resonate with the board though – these are financial guys. I get that football is a business and that as a club we must cut our cloth accordingly but as fans our opinion appears to count less and less.

For the most part, I can’t argue with the business end of things. Having said that, I don’t exactly have the know how to challenge it either.

I have a passion for the club though and learnt the history and became a natural follower without being pushed. I’ve seen almost four decades of the club before my every eyes and as a business I don’t think we’ve ever been operated as well.

That’s it though. We’re a business.

In and ideal world the living wage would be an attraction of talent and a PR gold nugget. The board don’t see it that way and who am I to argue?

Well, you don’t have to be Sir Alan Sugar to know that a living wage would have some impact on the club finances. I don’t think this is the last we’ve heard of this one though so I’ll say no more.

On the park, Ronny Deila has been given a vote of confidence. In the old Championship Manager (long before I got married) that used to be the writing on the wall.

Ronny has had it from most angles of the support. What he gets though is time and I think that’s right.

Celtic are shopping in a tight market. Though I’d still rather see two or three £1-2M players sacrificed for one player at £4-6M who is of sufficient quality.

I would still go out and look for the Wanyama’s, Hooper’s, Forster’s and van Dijk’s in this world. Sometimes though, Celtic will only break through with an outstanding player to influence the team.

We have some great players in the team. There is something missing at times though.

Leadership, influence, motivation particularly when the heads are down. Where does that come from?

Bar one or two players, I love this team. They should be doing much better though.

Bitton, Tierney, Rogić, Griffiths (and at times Forrest) have all been great this season. That’s all individual performance though and is entertaining the fans but it isn’t carrying use forward with others in the team sitting back.

Does Ronny need to step up or is it the players? The players blame themselves and Ronny blames the players.

I recall Lennon bashing his players and rarely taking the blame. It isn’t uncommon in management I guess but it doesn’t solve matters either.

I’m not for Ronny getting the chop. I’d like to see him succeed. Equally, as a young manager almost halfway through his second season at his second club, it is time to think beyond now and take us there.

The board have drawn a line regarding everyone from the fans to the coaching team. Right now we’ll just have to get on with it and see where we are come May but the club as a whole must also realise that mistakes have been made and we expect accountability for that, not flippant and paltry excuses.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Advertisements

Getting back to where we belong

After winning “ugly” at the weekend, Celtic are back at the summit of the Scottish Premiership. Aberdeen’s early season form took everyone by storm but straight defeats in their last four matches has brought a wave of reality crashing down on their title challenge.

Considering the Hoops were said to be in crisis not so long ago by our friends in the media, I’d say that the club are doing better than the football we’re actually seeing suggests. After a 1-0 victory over Motherwell at Fir Park, Celtic are back where they belong.

Regardless of how good or bad things appear to fans or the media, Celtic are the best team in Scotland. I’m not getting carried away with myself or even delusional, it’s just a modern day fact.

Even with a reduction in fortunes, Celtic can still bully themselves into a strong position. For Ronny Deila there is still a lot of hard work to be done though and he knows it.

As well as ensuring Celtic stay top of the league, there are four more games in the Europa League group phase. At this point in the season I’d like to see all of the squad players begin to show their worth, even those who find themselves on the periphery of first team matters.

Some players come out of the traps at the beginning of the season whilst others take longer to find their feet or wait their turn. Now though the honeymoon period is over and there are games to be won and won convincingly.

It’s a marathon not a sprint comes to mind when approaching a football season. The idea behind having a squad is to keep momentum throughout.

With some key players missing for the Molde game this evening, Ronny Deila needs those players who are stepping in, to step up. I’m confident things will improve in this squad and there is more than enough capability in the team, but so far this season Deila has yet to find balance and flow.

There’s a mixture of youth and experience in the squad, but there are fewer stand out players than before. I think we’d all agree in saying that Kris Commons is probably the only guy capable of pulling something special off in a match.

His experience is not to be sniffed at but he is also the wrong side of 30 and not always selected. Of the more youthful breed, one has yet to emerge as ‘special’ but James Forrest has given us a few moments in matches recently so it’s a loss to be without his services this evening.

There are other contenders in the team but they must first find some form and maintain it in order to make a significant impact in the team week in week out. Stefan Johansen looked good when he came to the club in January 2014 and last season he was fantastic.

This season though has been a slow start for him and he puts that down to a back problem. Whether that is true or not, he is not alone in failing to hit the ground running so far.

Gary Mackay-Steven looked good pre-season but as the competitive matches came thick and fast he fell out of the picture. Stuart Armstrong, is another who has yet to emboss himself in the team properly, certainly in the way that many have expected he would.

Still, it is still very early in both ex-Dundee United players Celtic careers having only signed in January this year. The pursuit of both players in that transfer window was most likely to settle them for this season so it is time for them to start demonstrating their worth on the park.

I’d still rather have Celtic investing in proven Scottish players such like Zig and Zag than spending £2M+ on garbage like Pukki and co. Guys like him were ill-advised gambles who we have had a history of under several managers.

The money wasted on these players is bad for business. When you’re stuck with these jokers on three or four year contracts the club end up having to loan them out, flog them for cut prices or just cut their losses.

Whatever claims the club has or had of a good scouting network, it has been tarnished by some atrocious purchases. Fair enough, you don’t always get your buys right and there are occasions when you cannot account for certain areas of a player’s characteristics, psyche etc.

However, some of Celtic’s acquisitions over the last few seasons have been so bad that heads should have rolled. I’d much rather see the club spend over £4-5M on one cracking player than buy some misfiring striker or injury prone winger for £2M.

We have youth in abundance, and can fill our squad with players just as good as some of these punts. Is Callum McGregor more effective in a Celtic jersey than Derk Boerrigter?

No question. That’s just one example though.

In fact I’d rather go out and buy a free scoring Scottish Championship striker than pay for a guy like Teemu Pukki. I mean, what would possess you to buy a player who did little up front in any of his previous clubs when we were crying out for a goalscorer to replace Gary Hooper?

Currently, there is a lot of potential in this squad but they need good motivation and solid tactics. Young managers and players deserve time though and I remain, as ever, faithful through and through.

One player who has had a long wait to show his worth is Tom Rogić. The Australian international’s injuries hampered his opportunities to make the first team but now he is emerging as a key player alongside Nir Bitton and Johansen having been given that chance this season.

It’s encouraging to see a player like him take his opportunity with both hands having had to wait so long. That should be an example to others when addressing their own Celtic careers, particularly tonight in Norway.

Molde will be a familiar foe for Ronny Deila and Stefan Johansen but it won’t be an easy game. Celtic need to get off to the right start and more importantly, take their chances.

The Hoops can keep the ball and move it around. The issue at the moment though has been concentration and focus for the entire match and more importantly, taking those chances when they come along.

Leigh Griffiths is doing a grand job up front but he’s doing it alone. I get that most teams play a lone striker these days but I’m old fashioned.

Two up front might not suit every game but there are times when it will and we need to establish that quicker in games. Play the channels by all means but do it effectively or don’t do it at all.

Molde are now under new, yet familiar management in Ole Gunnar Solskjær. He managed the club a for a few years before his brief stint at Cardiff and now he and Deila will go toe-to-toe once more albeit in a different competition.

Fenerbahçe were stunned in Turkey by Molde after being beaten 3-1 on home turf. That wee surprise has been the only victory in Group A so far.

If Molde were to notch up their second win this evening it would put them in a good position at the half way stage. On the other hand, if Celtic were to surprise us and win in Norway, they would be on level points with Molde.

A draw would not be a disaster but a defeat would allow Ajax or Fenerbahçe the chance to leapfrog Celtic. In terms of luck, Celtic have not had much this season so it would be a welcome boost to get that tonight.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Pressure from above and below

Saturday afternoon coughed up a few surprises in the Scottish Premiership. One of these would result in the first managerial casualty of the season.

Jackie McNamara has had a difficult start to the season. Yesterday’s defeat at the hands of 10 man St Johnstone appears to have marked the end his tenure at Dundee United.

Take nothing away from Tommy Wright’s players because they have shown some grit and determination when you least expect it. For Jackie, it has not been so productive on the pitch.

If only he could have pulled off the kind of result John Hughes did over Derek McInnes’s Aberdeen. That may have only delayed the inevitable because after nine games, one win, two draws and six defeats his time is up.

For a team who have sold quite a few of their best players in the last couple of years, it isn’t hard to work out what has gone wrong. It is one thing to sell your best players to bigger clubs, but you have to replace them as well.

Celtic are no different when they’ve sold Hooper, Foster, Wanyama and more recently van Dijk. These guys made a bigger name for themselves in Europe with Celtic and that bought them a ticket to England, but it is Celtic’s responsibility to bring in guys of the same potential.

You’d be better placed to ask a Dundee United fan if their club have done that. Personally I don’t think they have, but the difference between Dundee United this season compared to last is a whopping 14 points who were also sat at the top of the Scottish Premiership this time last year.

Since then, Celtic took three of their best players off them. How much of that was reinvested?

John Hughes pulled off the result of the day with a 2-1 win over Aberdeen. His Inverness side have also suffered a bad start to the season compared to last but Saturday’s result was a real shot in the arm.

Beating the unbeaten moved them up into eighth place in the Scottish Premiership on 10 points. However, they are still 7 points worse off from the same stage last season.

Elsewhere, Martin Canning’s Hamilton side got a win over Gary Locke’s Kilmarnock, pulling them up into fourth in the league on equal points with Hearts. Having had a couple of spells at the top of the league last season, it is familiar territory for Hamilton.

They should make use of the early misfortunes of Dundee United and Inverness. These were the three teams occupying the top three positions for the first quarter of last season.

Jim McIntyre’s Ross County and Paul Hartley’s Dundee played out a high scoring 3-3 draw. That result allowed Hamilton to skip into fourth so Ross County move down one place to fifth whilst Dundee remain in sixth.

Motherwell notched up only their third win of the season at home to Partick Thistle. That enabled Stephen Craigan’s side to move up to ninth but for Partick it is yet another day of woe.

Alan Archibald has yet to win a match this season. Having earned only three points via three draws, will he be next on the managerial casualty list?

For Celtic, they had a hard time trying to break down Hearts at Celtic Park. With home advantage and umpteen chances at goal, Neil Alexander and his defenders did their job well in earning a point.

Given that Hearts had three straight defeats going into this game, you can forgive them for not coming out to play. A more deadly Celtic attack may have broken through the barrier the Edinburgh club put up though.

Efe Ambrose’s red card at the end of the match was necessary. Anyone who has played the game will know that was the correct thing to do and I have no beef with him about it.

Sam Nicholson may have been able to score, he might not have. In those dying minutes though, it was a red card that saved a potential mishap.

Ronny Deila might be frustrated but with Aberdeen losing, Celtic still moved a point closer to top spot. With results like these, this makes the Scottish Premiership much more entertaining.

Many will still assume that Celtic will win the league. Even so, there is pressure from above and below.

Who says Scottish football is boring?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Arrivals & Departures

In preparation for Wednesday’s clash with Malmö FF in the Champions League play-off, Celtic took the initiative against Inverness at home. A 4-2 win was a good victory though shipping two goals later in the game, not so much.

As far as home matches go, Celtic went about their business with reasonable finesse. Chances were plentiful and the Bhoys were ticking along nicely.

Two late goals were a reasonable consolation for Inverness I’m sure. Even though Ronny Deila was not overly concerned given the broader picture, I’m afraid to point out once more than Dedryck Boyata was at the heart of both these mistakes.

After a solid innings away to Qarabağ two weeks ago, I took back all of my criticism of the Belgian centre half. He’d made two poor defensive errors in recent games but I wiped the slate clean after a very good performance in Azerbaijan.

If Celtic are to excel in Europe, these kind of blips need to been wiped out forever. In the bigger games, i.e. the Champions League, these mistake are very costly.

By all means, if these errors can be blotted out in the games that matter, I’ll take the domestic ones on the chin. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned though.

Considering that van Dijk is still a possibility to depart, depending on what you believe, leaving your central defence in the hands of Dedryck and Efe doesn’t make it any easier to fathom.

Should Celtic succeed in making the group phase of the Champions League then Virgil is likely to stick around for that. I don’t think I’d be comfortable without his presence.

So it was refreshing to read online, moments after I finished drafting this current blog, that Jason Denayer could be heading back to Celtic. The Belgian had a superb season at Celtic and would be welcomed back with open arms if another loan is secured.

Whether Virgil stays or goes I’d sleep a lot better with Denayer in the squad. Another rumour doing the rounds is the return of Gary Hooper.

It isn’t the first time his return has cropped up since leaving Celtic. This time there does appear to be some substance.

Despite any interest Celtic still have four strikers on their books. Griffiths and Çiftçi have a future at the club but Stokes and Šćepović are in a different situation.

Whilst Šćepović has failed to make a real breakthrough Stokes has fallen out of the picture. If Hooper was a serious target for Celtic then one or both of these outsiders would likely leave.

Deila’s pursuit of a smaller squad can only be achieved by shipping some players out. Particularly if he wants to keep drafting new blood (or old blood if there is any truth to Denayer and Hooper coming back).

Tomorrow though, Celtic will need to work with the current squad and that includes new Bhoy Scott Allan. In terms of strength Celtic have it in abundance, particularly in midfield, so these matches are about making the right selection and deploying the correct tactics.

By the time tomorrow nights match kicks off, I’ll be descending from the skies over North America for a well deserved break. That means missing out on first leg live, but I’m hopeful of seeing the highlights later on in the evening.

With any luck, I should see the second leg live despite being in the middle of nowhere. Let’s hope both matches are worth waiting for!

All the best for tomorrow. Mon the Hoops!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

The Celtic shirt does not shrink to fit inferior players

With the signing of Nadir Çiftçi from Dundee United many fans, including myself, have been asking can he do a job in Europe? That isn’t the only question though as many consider can he do a job at all?

As far as Scotland goes, Çiftçi has shown his capabilities at Dundee United. However, he will still need to fit into the Celtic team, the training set up and style of play, something you cannot expect of every new player.

There is also the question of his aggressive nature. We’ve seen it on display and he should know, it will not be tolerated by Celtic or the fans nevermind the football authorities.

On the matter of Europe though, is it essential for a striker to be able to score goals? Of course it is but in Europe, goal scoring chances are few and far between even for the best strikers but it is about being able to make or take opportunities when they come along.

Whether it’s the Champions League or Europa League, being able to put the ball in the net is crucial because it is a small amount of games over a season. Celtic are looking at around 12 matches in total, or more if the group phase works out.

That’s six qualifying games and six group matches. In high profile games though you need your whole team to weigh in with the goals, not just the strikers.

Over the last ten seasons for Celtic, it has been hard to find a prolific goal scorer in European competition. Nothing comes close to filling the shoes of Henrik, but then you knew that.

Striker StatsTaking the number 7 shirt as he has, Çiftçi has a lot to live up to. Like any new recruit he will get his chance and my backing.

I was happy to be proven wrong about Leigh Griffiths when I questioned his arrival 18 months ago. Although he has yet to hit the mark in Europe he has demonstrated his domestic prowess.

Now he has been rewarded with the number 9 shirt. He’s changed his attitude for the club, the fans and the coaching team.

Meantime, Stefan Šćepović will be fighting to earn a place nevermind a number. He admitted to adapting to life at Celtic being hard and that’s fine.

What he needs to do now is get his head down, put the last year behind him and play the way that is expected of him because “the Celtic jersey not shrink to fit inferior players”. You can see from the table adjacent (my apologies if it is slightly inaccurate) that he is currently only one of four strikers at the club with any European goals.

Anthony Stokes has the same amount, having played far more games. You can debate whether guys like him and Maloney are actually strikers, just don’t debate it with me.

The list has most if not all of our strikers involved in European competition with Celtic these past ten seasons. It includes their appearances and goals though some such as Sutton, Hartson (who both played in the first of these last ten seasons) and Larsson stem back beyond the ten year mark obviously.

I had to include Larsson even though its more than ten years since he wore the jersey. I felt it important to include his record as a modern day player though.

Çiftçi has yet to appear on that list and it will be interesting to see where he will slot in. Griffiths and Šćepović have their work cut out for them as well.

Tonight Deila goes head to head former Bhoy, David Moyes. Ronny will be looking to prepare for the forthcoming Champions League qualifier against FC Stjarnan.

It’s unclear what kind of lineup we can expect but the coaching team will be hoping to avoid any injuries. Remember, it’s just a friendly.

So welcome to Nadir Çiftçi and of course, Belgian goalkeeper, Logan Bailly. Logan will be a welcome addition to the squad and will keep Craig Gordon on his toes and hopefully help push Leo Fasan on as well.

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

Scouting and spending

The departure of Teemu Pukki to Brøndby IF for less than £500k should be a lesson learned for Celtic. For a forward with a fairly unimpressive record, the club have taken a hit on this player.

The Finnish international signed a four year contract in 2013 for a fee in the region of £2M-£3M. He scored on his début away to Hearts and then again on his home début and you can’t really ask for more than that from a new player.

However, things never really progressed for Pukki from those early days. Chances would go a miss, he fell out of the picture and the void left by Gary Hooper was never filled.

In fact if it wasn’t for the goal scoring prowess of Kris Commons, Celtic would have been well short of fire power that season. Celtic were still without a proven goalscorer.

What Pukki’s role was supposed to be when he was brought in I am uncertain of. He wasn’t exactly prolific at any of his previous clubs and Celtic were clearly in need of a striker hence the arrival of Leigh Griffiths in January 2014.

Despite all of this, I stuck by Pukki hoping that the scouting team had seen something to convince them to pluck him from FC Schalke 04 in the first place. The club have unearthed some gems in recent years but we’ve also seen some donkeys at the same time.

Amido Baldé, Mohamed Bangura and Derk Boerrigter are recent examples of such poor buys. Whilst Boerrigter had a good spell in his career, he had become prone to injury and as for the other two, they didn’t even come with a proven track record.

A couple of million pounds may not seem like a lot in the modern day when you consider Celtic were spending that kind of money in the mid 90’s. It’s still a waste of money though particularly when these guys have failed to produce the goods.

That has been a set back for Celtic because if you buy one player to do a job and wait another year to find out if he’s good enough or not, then you’ve lost some ground. Then you have the arduous task of trying to move that player on to recoup some of the money shelled out on fees and wages.

You can’t expect all signings to work out because there are a plethora of factors that can affect a player at a club. Some or most of these can be out of the club’s control but at the very least the player should have some solid statistics to back up your willingness to spend a few million quid on them.

Gary Hooper is an example of a good signing. He had a good goalscoring record in a competitive league and was worth every penny.

If Celtic are planning to purchase forwards in this price bracket again, I’d suggest that they come with a track record as Hooper did. Pukki, Bangura and Baldé did not come with that kind of background but each cost around the same.

They have been abject failures for Celtic Football Club. Both financially and on the field of play.

At least in the case of Stefan Šćepović, he was doing a job in Spain before setting foot on Scottish soil. There’s still a chance for him you might think but he has yet to kick-start his Celtic career.

Whoever is on the radar for Celtic this summer, we will want to see any money spent, spent well. I’d rather the club paid £1M for a young Scottish player or give one of their own youth players a chance than blow it on some journeyman with a poor CV.

Let’s see what the summer brings.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie