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

One game

Defeat can bring out the worst in people, particularly in football. In the aftermath of a humbling European result for Celtic the post mortem has been in full swing.

Having not watched the match live, I was not in the company of my usual crew. I watched the match very late last night having avoided the score all evening to “enjoy” in my own time.

I thought Celtic started well enough even if the team selection was different to what I would have expected. Certainly it was as best a start as I could have expected going into a match of this kind in late July.

Last night the debate was under way with analysis of players, tactics, coaching and of course Celtic not spending cash on the agenda. This is what I’ve come to expect when the proverbial hits the fan, though Celtic didn’t exactly help themselves.

A bright start coupled with a sublime opener by Callum McGregor was short lived following Miroslav Radovic’s equaliser. That was a real slap in the face but that agony was further compounded by another goal by Radovic.

To say both of these goals were defensive brain farts is an understatement. The space gifted to opposition in and around the box was almost gift wrapped.

If Virgil van Dyke and Efe Ambrose built up an understanding last season then that is where it remained last night. Whether it was a communication or purely a positioning issue I am uncertain, but basically the defence didn’t do their job.

Any communication they did possess ceased when Ambrose was sent off. A mistimed tackle was Efe’s last participation in the match due to being the last man.

At 2-1 down and showing signs of fragility, half time couldn’t come quick enough. The chance to regroup was much needed but to be honest any opportunity Deila and his players had to resolve their mistakes ended when Celtic went down to ten men.

The second half was hard to watch. The failure to snub out Legia Warsaw left Celtic riding their luck for 45 minutes.

Charlie Mulgrew, captain in the absence of Scott Brown, stepped into the central defence. His contribution to defensive calamity was as much a surprise as it was a disaster.

In midfield, Celtic lacked the steel and courage to dominate. Moving the ball about at high tempo merely impacted the rate of complete passes.

I also questioned the decision to play Adam Matthews in place of Emilio Izaguirre. I know he has played at left back before but was it necessary?

Many brought up the inclusion of the loaned, Jo Inge Berger. Given that he hasn’t trained to the same degree, it is a valid question.

I’m not judging the player, just the fact that Leigh Griffith’s might have been the better choice. Given that Teemu Pukki knows the players better, hooking him instead of the new boy was another error.

Beram Kayal didn’t bring much to the game as his replacement. By the time he came on, the game was already an uphill struggle and moving players around as we did failed to help matters.

There were too many risks and changes made for this game. It was always going to be a step up from KR Reykjavik.

Under the circumstances the final result of 4-1 could have been much more and some have said that the scoreline flattered Celtic. Then again, perhaps Legia Warsaw aren’t as good as a “could have been 8-1” suggests and that Celtic capitulated?

Come what may its early days for Ronny Deila and his coaching team. They’ve had the instant pressure and expectation of qualifying for European competition.

The departure of Neil Lennon severed the understanding between coaching staff and team, though he himself suggested that the relationship was waning in his final six months. The one thing that has remained in place is the same squad, minus of course the services of Georgios Samaras.

Last season saw this group of players plateau on the European stage. Deila’s outlook of high tempo football may be a long term vision but to expect this group of players to make that happen could be a big ask.

As yet, we have yet to discover whether any of the transfer speculation regarding some of our players yield any truth. If departures are imminent then Deila would need to be able to spend.

Youth will hopefully be given its chance, as McGregor and Henderson have. Should Deila’s vision be realised, the team will need enhancing but possibly not before departure of one or two.

With all of this in mind, the tie is still open. A three goal deficit is far from encouraging but Deila should at least be afforded the courtesy to put it right with eleven players rather than ten he had for the second half.

We can analyse the damage as I have myself and we know the mistakes that were made but I think many have been too on quick to condemn Deila. Strachan and Lennon didn’t exactly have the best start to their Celtic management careers in Europe, but they did alright in the end.

Murrayfield may not be Celtic Park but it is still home territory for us and the chance remains to turn things around. A tougher opponent would surely await in that next round so its worth remembering when you look at last seasons Champions League performances with this squad, the Europa League could be better value for a team in transition.

We all want the Champions League, but it might be too soon for Deila. A week from now we’ll know where we stand on that matter.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Georgios, Humam and assembly of a new era.

Celtic kick off the second of their preseason friendlies in Austria this evening against old foes Rapid Vienna. I’ll avoid the usual historical reference to this fixture and instead focus on the present.

More of Celtic’s current squad will see some match time against the Austrian side, but one player mentioned by Ronny Deila recently  is no longer at the club. The manager was quoted by various media outlets stating:

“Samaras had a great career at Celtic but we’ll see. We’ll look at the whole picture. I have not decided yet and there are many players on our list. I’ll never close the door on anything. I haven’t spoken to Samaras because he has been in Brazil.”

Its fair to say that most if not all Celtic fans accepted Sammy moving on. If however Ronny feels the Greek striker has something to offer then I am not opposed to it.

Neil Lennon was the man keeping him at the club but even under his management he saw limited appearances. Deila may see the same type of role for Samaras if he did indeed want to bring him back to the club but only as long as he wanted to bring him back for the right reasons.

Another player linked with the club and mentioned in the media these last 24 hours is young Iraqi international, Humam Tariq. I think most of us will acknowledge that we’ve never heard of this kid but his name has sparked some attention unlike other young talent.

If his ability can match the few plaudits I’ve read about he could be an interesting acquisition. Young talent appears to be something Ronny is keen on so I’m hopeful this could be a positive move.

Back to today thought and with any luck another victory. Keep it coming Bhoy’s.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The Celtic Roadshow

Celtic will face KR Reykjavik in the Second Qualifying round of the Champions League. After today’s draw in Nyon, Ronny Deila discovered who he will be up against in first competitive game in charge of Celtic.

In between now and then, he and assistant John Collins will be preparing the squad for that first of six possible matches that they would need to overcome in order to emulate those achievements of Celtic’s past two seasons in Europe. The Champions League group phase is undoubtedly the aim for the club but it will be a stern test for the management team at their first attempt.

The Icelandic champions aren’t the worst selection but also not to be taken lightly. KR Reykjavik have been involved in the qualifying rounds for European competition consecutively the for the past five seasons.

However, they have never made it past the Second qualifying round of the Champions League or Third qualifying round of the Europa League. Their conqueror’s in those last five attempts coming in the form of FC Basel, FC Karpaty Lviv, FC Dinamo Tbilisi, HJK Helsinki (who Celtic later beat) and last season Standard Liege.

These losses should not be overlooked or underestimated. Even though Celtic are deemed a bigger club by history, experience and size its all about doing your home work and getting it right on the day.

Last season was by no means a convincing path to the group phase for Neil Lennon. There is nothing to suggest this will be any easier particularly that Deila will be using the same group of players as Neil Lennon did, minus Joe Ledley, Georgios Samaras and Kelvin Wilson.

On the subject players, one man Celtic will face is former youth hopeful, Kjartan Finnbogason. He was recruited by Celtic as a highly rated 18 year old but in his time at the club he never featured in a first team game.

He endured injury and loan spells during a three year spell before seeking opportunities away from Celtic. Having scored 31 goals in 67 matches for KR Reykjavik, he’ll be looking to prove a point against Celtic.

Preparations will be begin on the training ground for Celtic and decisions will be made on who take up key roles in defence, midfield and attack. There will be friendlies against Russian team FK Krasnodar, Rapid Vienna and LSK Linz of Austria and Dukla Prague of the Czech Republic to help make those decisions as well as a friendly against Dynamo Dresden in between first and second leg of the Second Qualifying round.

Although Celtic will play these friendlies on away or neutral territory, they will not play their first competitive match at Celtic Park, despite the home tie being first. With Paradise being used for the Commonwealth Games, Murrayfield will be home for Celtic’s first Champions League qualifying match.

Should Celtic advance from that round, it is likely that the home leg of the Third Qualifying round will also be played at Murrayfield. The closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games is on Saturday 3rd August and it will take a while to prepare it for football once again.

So Celtic will remain nomadic until mid-August. With European football on the menu, it may even work in the Ronny and Johnny’s favour.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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

A Languid Ending?

He’s been at Celtic for just over six years, made 253 appearances and scored 74 goals for the club. He’s also frustrated Celtic coaches and fans throughout that time, yes its Georgios Samaras.

It was long rumoured that the Greek international would leave the club at the end of the season. That was confirmed by his comments in the media that the club never offered him a deal.

In the statement he points the finger at Peter Lawwell, the fall guy for many of Celtic’s negative stories. He is also quoted as saying that he wanted to stay and that Neil Lennon was of the same opinion.

Whatever the truth of the situation, I don’t think its a bad thing that Sammy is going. He’s had highs and lows and Lennon got the best of him but its time to move on.

Personally, I think Samaras will do well wherever he ends up. Gordon Strachan brought him to Celtic on loan and performed fairly well scoring 6 times in 21 matches, but it wasn’t all plain sailing after that.

He began to wander around the park aimlessly. Good ball control, just no direction.

Meandering out wide when he was supposed to be playing up front, tested the patience of many a supporter. Confidence never seemed to be his ally either but he would still weigh in with goals, 17 in his first full season.

Was it enough though and would it get any better? Well, he went on to score 12 goals the following season and under short reign Tony Mowbray.

It was Neil Lennon who would see the ‘best’ of Samaras though. He kept faith in the big guy despite stating that he as the type of player who could get a manager the sack.

On a number of occasions Samaras was instrumental in Europe and had some moments against the clubs former rivals across the city. Ultimately, his on and off form coupled with limited use domestically was a sign of his limitations as a player.

He was not so effective this season in Europe, though neither were Celtic. It may have been borne out of the fact that he knew he was never going to get a new deal and lets be honest, Sammy is the kind of guy who looks like he needs to be loved.

In the six plus years at the club he’s partnered various players in attack, played wide on the left and even been the lone striker. He’s scored some important goals for the club and against some of the best teams in Europe.

It’ll be those goals that I’ll remember him for. He now has the World Cup to look forward to and with it and opportunity to sell himself to a good club.

In his final appearance for the club he netted a penalty and can leave with his head held high, even if it was a rather flat ending to his Celtic career. Still, I will look forward to watching him play for Greece next month.

Thanks for the memories Sammy.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie