Friday night lights

rugby-park-kilmarnock-general-view_3453658Celtic are back in action tonight in a rare live broadcast for Hoops fans on a Friday evening. However, it’s been another disappointing international break for Scotland fans like myself.

Gordon Strachan may have got a half-decent performance from of his players against England. That amounted to nothing though with three goals being conceded at Wembley.

Thankfully, I have Celtic to lift my spirits tonight. An away encounter with Kilmarnock to watch on a Friday evening is most welcome.

Mind you, there have been plenty of other football stories circulating to attract our attention this week. Aside from the Steven Gerrard rumour, the meltdown continues over at Snake Mountain.

With the strength and variety of damaging storylines coming out of Mordor these days, it has gone from tribute act comedy to a sporting embarrassment waiting to crumble die. I honestly cannot keep up with the plethora of threads that emanate from the other side of Glasgow not that the Scottish media report much of this.

On top of that shambles, the SFA are a hot topic once more. The Resolution 12 story is back in the fold after getting an airing at Celtic’s AGM during the week.

With FIFA already looking at the SFA (as well as the English FA) over Poppygate, UEFA are coming in at another angle. The latter is with thanks to the truth seekers who have fought hard for justice and transparency over rule breaches in Scottish and European football by the governing body of our game and their now deceased pet team.

There will be lots more to come from this. There will also be a lot more to come from Ibrox unless the establishment’s new puppy team implode before the shit really hits the fan.

Meanwhile back at the Rodgers Ranch, Brendan is tending to his flock of warriors. Tonight we can turn our minds back to the progress Celtic are making.

The league title is the theme for tonight and obtaining more goals and points to make that happen on the agenda. With 10 points between Celtic and Aberdeen, the Hoops are looking comfortable.

Hard work continues behind the scenes and that means fine tuning the talent currently at the club. There are still several fringe players whose futures will be decided throughout the remainder of this season, if not by January.

Might there be the possibility of one or two coming in? I’m not sure that is something Celtic are in desperate need of to see us through this campaign unless there are departures.

One player who has been mentioned as coming in is Steven Gerrard. Personally, I can’t see any advantage to bringing him to Celtic at this stage.

We have a midfield more than capable of winning the title, double and treble. Had European football been on the cards after Christmas I might have understood, but that remains an unlikely possibility.

Right now Celtic need to carry on the charge with the team we do have. As I said before, we have a lot of fringe players who will need to either need to get an opportunity or move on temporarily or permanently.

This size of squad is not sustainable particularly if you want youth to flourish. So expect some exits as this team continues to grow.

As for Rugby Park tonight? Three points please Bhoys.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Advertisements

No slips-ups in Slovakia

Tonight, Gordon Strachan must get the World Cup qualifying campaign back on track in Slovakia. The draw on Saturday at home to Lithuania hampered Scotland’s qualification chances.

Whether Gordon is still up for the challenge anymore or not doesn’t matter. He is the man charged with getting Scotland to Russia in 2018.

This is the second campaign he has begun after picking up the remnants of a disastrous one from Craig Levein in 2013. If he fails in this quest, I don’t imagine he will stick around for another shot.

Despite my conviction that Strachan was the right choice, he may not have the same desire next time. That may all hinge of course on whether he qualify’s for Russia or not.

He would just have to qualify for Russia though. I think he would need to have a good tournament to convince himself of another, but that’s just my opinion.

The Euro 2016 faltered towards the end after a bright start. This one hasn’t started as well as it could have though there is a long way to go yet.

Right now he has to grab this qualifying campaign by the scruff of the neck and step it up. This is Scotland’s last chance to qualify for a tournament under his charge in my view so he might as well just go for it.

After Strachan I’m not sure who the SFA would be looking at. That is another discussion for another time.

So it is time to put out Scotland’s best combination of players that will get a result. A win in Slovakia would lay to rest that poor result at Hampden, a draw would be better than a loss but that’s it.

I’ll prepare myself for the worst though. Just in case.

Stevie Mac

Scotland the brave?

On Saturday night I sat down and watched the Scotland v Lithuania game on TV. Once again I put myself through the kind of torture that can only mirror what it’s like to follow a lower league club.

That hopeless desire that one day you might just experience something wonderful with that inevitability that you never will. In that respect, Scotland are a lower league international side. 

International football, of course, is a different beast to club football altogether. The analogy is pretty close though.

The qualifying campaigns are long, drawn out affairs and in Scotland’s case unfulfilling. Having failed to reach a finals since 1998, the national side remain way off the pace.

After Saturday’s lucky draw at Hampden there appears to be no sign of that changing. Scotland always seem to come up short when they need exactly the opposite.

Gordon Strachan was a good appointment for the national side. He’s a good coach and was an iconic player so he fits the bill in terms of an international leader in my view.

The trouble is, Scotland were lack some exciting players on Saturday night. They have a good variety of talent playing at a decent level in England but there weren’t many on the park that I would have considered as star players.

Robert Snodgrass was probably the only guy I’d put in that category that started the match at Hampden. There might be a few who have moved with rather large price tags or command larte salaries but nobody got my heart racing against the Lithuanians. 

Lithuania are ranked around 70 places below Scotland, but Strachan’s players struggled to create chances let alone score goals. There is the basis of a good Scotland squad,but you need players out there providing a bit of inspiriation.

There are plenty of guys out there who haven’t even been capped and could do a very good job. When their time will come remains to he seen.

I might be slightly biased in my analysis,but not one Celtic player started. Leigh Griffiths, James Forrest and Kieran Tierney were all on the bench.

Are we really saying none of these guys were good enough to start against Lithuania at Hampden? And what about the other Celtic players yet to get a sniff at a Scotland squad such as Stuart Armstrong and Callum McGregor?

Of the Celtic outfield trio, one, two or all three should have started given their form this season. Coming off the bench is all well and good but I think Gordon set up wrong for this match.

Scotland should have hammered out a solid home win at Hampden. With a more attack minded team, Scotland could have ended this game early.

Intead they were chasing an equaliser. Had they gone on the front foot sooner, Strachan could have switched things and rested players for the next game.

Away points will be hard to come by in England, Slovenia and in Slovakia on Tuesday. We can add Lithuania to that list if Saturday’s match is anything to go by.

Winning home games is essential. Scotland won’t win the group, but they should be doing everything to ensure they amass the highest amount of points possible to see them into a play off position.

Realistcally, that is Scotland’s best hope. Just managing a draw against Lithuania was lucky, but it was also damaging to our campaign.

You don’t get much of a chance to recover in qualification. There are few games in which to make your mark and Scotland always seem to be dragging their heels.

The qualification process is far from decided. At this stage though, it was a blip that Gordon Strachan could have done without.

There will be more dramas ahead. As a Scotland fan of many years, I know that all too well.

Stevie Mac

Welcome to Paradise, Brendan

Back in May 2012 I began this blog as a personal pastime. I had contributed to a few other Celtic websites before and after this, but I decided to go it alone.

Celtic had won the SPL and the landscape of Scottish Football was in the middle of a saga. To escape said saga, I wrote about two football managers ascending in the game south of the border.

Brendan Rodgers and Paul Lambert had each taken ‘bigger’ jobs within a day of each other. Their stock was on the rise so Liverpool came swooping in to take Rodgers from Swansea and Villa took Lambert from Norwich.

They had both managed to survive their promotion seasons with their Championship clubs finishing. They even finished next to each other on the same points separated purely by goal difference.

Despite having a similar path and success with each of those Championship clubs, it was not so fortunate following their moves. Neither achieved the goal of winning trophies and both were sacked, albeit in different seasons.

One of those men I have retained my admiration for. The other, not so much.

And whad’ya know? That man, Brendan Rodgers, is now in the Celtic hot seat.

Now, play this down all you like. This is by no means a minor appointment – it’s a bit of a coup!

In the days and weeks leading up to this announcement, there have been a several favourites. Getting Rodgers was seen as impossible.

The fact that he has signed on speaks volumes about Celtic’s ambitions. It is also a credit to the new manager and his interest in this club.

Celtic and Rodgers are in a similar place right now. The club require upgrading for Europe, a voice in the dressing room and a plan on match days.

The new head coach needs a club to repair his managerial wounds and a platform to rebuild his reputation. This could be the beginning of something beautiful for both parties.

As I said to a couple of friends, Rodgers should be aiming for somewhere on the scale between Gordon Strachan (WGS) and Martin O’Neill (MON). That means bums on seats, Champions League football and entertaining the fans again.

Now before someone bashes me and points out the differences between the two previous Celtic managers, let me explain something. We had no idea what MON would do but it changed the club forever.

WGS took things one step further in the Champions League. What Rodgers needs to do is pin the tail on the donkey somewhere between those two men and make his own story.

I think he is the man to take Celtic forward right now and I’m confident in his ability. He may well emerge as a man we cannot retain the services of further down the line, but right now Rodgers can do a job at Celtic and that is why Dermot Desmond has made this happen.

Like him or loathe him, we’ve snared a guy who two seasons ago was out of our league. Since being sacked by Liverpool, he has become more attainable.

To ensure his signature though, Celtic have had to invest. That means settling financial terms, projecting expectations and demonstrating what you are offering to make that happen.

In Scotland, money will always be the Achilles heel of the game. There isn’t the customer base, stadia or media that can flog this league to the outside world nor is there a significant TV deal.

So for Celtic to draw in Rodgers is quite something. Whatever terms he is on, Brendan is here and I am hopeful he will bring success to Celtic Park.

The club need someone to man manage, lead, make effective decisions and with any luck get the best out of this group of players we have accrued over a few seasons. It isn’t an easy task, particularly with sort of attention this job comes with and the limited resources to do it with but that is why Celtic have had to aim higher.

Celtic have significantly more funding than the rest of Scottish clubs. It isn’t nearly as much as some of these clubs in Europe though.

Still, Celtic have exited Europe against teams with smaller finances recently so it isn’t just about the money. This is about motivation, tactics, team selection and recruitment.

It is worth mentioning that of all the men mentioned for this role, Rodgers is by far the outstanding candidate. Furthermore, he was the man fans felt least likely to accept an offer given his growth in the game.

There aren’t too many men out there to have managed two of the world’s greatest clubs. Whilst Liverpool wasn’t an overwhelming success, Brendan came very close to winning the Premier League.

Celtic have shown their intent here and the timing is perfect. It isn’t even June and we’ve installed a big name.

Roy Keane was said to have turned the job down two years ago due to lack of transfer funds. If there is more on offer this time it is evident that whilst he may have been more interested this time around, he wasn’t number one choice as he was in 2014.

Does Brendan have the qualities we desire? I think so.

Can he do great things? We’ll find out.

Was there a better, more viable candidate out there? Not in my opinion.

So we are in for an interesting journey. I’ll say it again, I think this could be the best appointment since MON.

Welcome to Paradise, Brendan.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

After the international break

Who’d have thought it eh? Scotland record back to back wins over higher ranking teams.

We know international friendlies are meaningless but it was a bit of a surprise to see 2 wins out of 2 for the Scottish national side. Gordon Strachan remains focussed on the next qualifying campaign and he has a decent team but Scotland still lack that standout player for me.

There are some important individuals but they aren’t always available or on form. In the past there has been at least one player you might look to change your fortunes or influence the team.

Right now I’d say we benefit more from a stronger squad. The door remains open for someone to make a name for themselves on the international scene and there is nothing to suggest one of the current crop make stake that claim.

With no European Championships for Scotland though, we Scots will have to look on as all other “home nations” take part in this summer’s tournament. It is yet another opportunity missed for Scotland.

I’m pretty sure that if Strachan can’t get Scotland to Russia in 2018 he’ll move on. If he succeeds, he might just stay beyond that tournament.

There’s no doubting Strachan’s managerial ability. We saw that with Celtic.

Even though Scotland won’t be in France this summer, it will be a motivator that England, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland and Wales are. We’re used to not being at tournaments since missing out at Euro 2000 but to be the only country on these isles to be staying on these isles is already a disappointment so god knows what it’s going to be like when the coverage begins.

So with that in mind, I’m glad to be getting back to club football this weekend with Celtic. The internationals have merely been a distraction this week.

On the subject of club v country interest I thought it was interesting to hear Scott Brown defend Liam Bridcutt’s tackle on Celtic team-mate, Erik Sviatchenko.

I realise that Broony is taking a Scotland captain stance and defending his international team-mate. However, the challenge was reckless and in a competitive game Bridcutt would have walked.

Sviatchenko played down the debate which was pretty decent of him. To be honest though, Bridcutt and Brown were both in the wrong.

As long as Brown and Sviatchenko are on the same page this Saturday at Celtic Park, that’s all that matters. Celtic host 3rd placed Hearts who are only 9 points behind 2nd placed Aberdeen.

Both the Hoops and the Jambos have a game at hand over the Dons. There is every chance the pecking order could change in these last 8 games (7 for Aberdeen).

Ronny Deila will be targeting maximum points. The same can be said of Derek McInnes and Robbie Neilson.

You can be sure points will be dropped by all three clubs before the end of the season though. History tells you as much.

So Celtic fans beware. We may draw or lose in these last eight games but it doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll lose the league.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Get behind him

Rumours play a huge part of what we read in the sports news. Sometimes it is pure speculation or a fabrication of the facts, thrown together to produce a ‘story’.

Occasionally something sticks. Most of the time it’s self-serving though and purely to do a bit of headline grabbing, but there’s no real journalism in there.

That’s the media for you but I have to say that these very recent stories circulating about Ronny Deila’s replacement are nothing short of appalling. I can blame the media for writing the stories, but our own fan base have contributed to this trash as well.

At a time where trophies remain up for grabs there should be universal backing for the Celtic manager. I don’t expect it from the media, just from our own fans.

I’m not going to start rhyming off the names that are getting banded about. You can read that wherever you look right now.

What I find disrespectful is that Ronny Deila, who is still fighting for two trophies, is being ejected from Celtic Park already. Yes, it hasn’t been the smoothest of tenures but this season isn’t over and there hasn’t been any mention of him leaving the club.

If there was nothing to compete for this season and he’d blown it then yes, I would get the speculation. Now in his second season at the club he could potentially grab another double.

And yet he’s already got the media and the fans lining up potential successors without a hint of a departure from him or the club. What chance do you stand of winning when you’re already being shown the door by your ‘supporters’ and a preying media?

If Ronny chalks up another double he can quite proudly present the double-fingered salute to everyone. Quite frankly, I look forward to seeing that.

There are shades of him being unwanted that bear a similarity to Gordon Strachan. The current Scottish national coach left after his 4th season in charge to the applause of many.

What followed was hailed as fantastic but turned out to be drastic. It’s worth valuing what you have before moving on and I don’t think many valued the success Strachan achieved until he left.

Whilst Ronny has yet to make inroads in Europe its worth remembering that it’s only his second season. In the long-term we may well get that, but patience doesn’t appear to exist among our more fickle supporters.

I’m keen to see out this season and hopefully a league and cup double. If Ronny can achieve that, I think he deserves another crack at the Champions League.

Then and only then will I be satisfied that we have exhausted that avenue. Right now there is still a lot to play for so for the good of the club, back the guy, not the media.

Tomorrow it’s onto Kilmarnock. Your support is greatly needed.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to support Deila, not sack him.

Ronny Deila’s presence at Celtic Football Club continues to divide the Celtic fan base. Meantime in the dressing room, he has received vocal support once more from club captain Scott Brown and not for the first time.

He has also had backing from Leigh Griffiths and Charlie Mulgrew in his time at the club. How united that backing is throughout the dressing room is a topic of its own.

Elsewhere, the media and pundits continue to have their say on TV and in the newspapers. The comments which gained a reaction from Scott Brown recently came from the one and only Andy Walker.

Now 99% of the time you’ll find that 99% of the Celtic support don’t agree with what Walker says or thinks. In fact that goes for pretty much any pundit, particularly when they are ex-Celts bashing Celtic.

On this occasion Walker called for Deila to get the sack following two bad results against Ross County and Aberdeen. This is despite the fact Celtic still sit top of the league with a game at hand and also compete in the Scottish Cup today against East Kilbride.

It’s true that Ronny Deila has not taken Celtic to glorious heights in Europe. In fact it has been his least successful area since arriving at Celtic and progress has not been made over two seasons.

I say “least successful” but that still includes qualifying for two group phases of the Europa League. One which he qualified from and one which was completely underwhelming.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it once more. He isn’t the first Celtic manager to falter in Europe.

Deila himself has mentioned this on a couple of occasions himself. This still appears to fly in the face of what supporters expect – instant success.

Martin O’Neill, Celtic’s first modern-day manager to make inroads on the European scene, didn’t get past Bordeaux or Christmas in his first season. He had a formidable team as well with the UEFA Cup Final in 2003 the pinnacle of his era but he too experienced disappointment such as that season which ended trophyless.

For Gordon Strachan it was reaching the last 16 of the Champions League twice and trouncing the league by winning it in record time in 2006. Like O’Neill, he experienced disappointment though unlike his predecessor he was NOT the messiah to the supporters and found himself departing to the applause of many.

Tony Mowbray, a poor appointment from the beginning was widely supported by the fans, myself being one of the exceptions. If anyone dragged Celtic down it was him and he was shown the door for achieving nothing.

Then came Neil Lennon, a rookie, but also the only real option at the time, who did a fantastic job and probably should have stuck around beyond 2014 in my opinion. With one great Champions League campaign to his credit, a win over Barcelona being the standout, this was not achieved without experiencing two difficult first seasons and personal death threats.

His departure was a surprise but he’d endured a lot in his time. He had also lost some of his best players and bought some donkeys at the same time.

In step Ronny Deila, wins a double in his first season and reaches the last 32 of the Europa League. Not a bad start but two failed attempts at the Champions League in his 20 months in charge are at the forefront of most Celtic supporter’s thoughts.

Along with that, two treble opportunities gone, but with a second domestic double still very much on the cards. Is that enough for Celtic fans though?

Many don’t appear to think so and yet, Celtic are still the best team in Scotland. And that’s in a league which is more closely competed these days than in the recent past.

Isn’t that what we wanted? A competitive league that wasn’t a forgone conclusion every season?

Celtic have and always will make mistakes along the way. A flawless season is a rare thing, particularly when your current head coach is trying to execute a long-term plan.

Ronny Deila may never see his vision come to fruition especially if not given that time. I never expected great things immediately because greatness takes time.

I don’t think Ronny Deila is as clueless as people say he is. He’s making mistakes like any other coach does and working toward something we all want.

We didn’t recruit Pep Guardiola and land £50M to spend on players courtesy of the Kaiser. We plucked a young relatively unknown manager from Norway with a vision that suited Celtic’s situation.

Overnight success is not a realistic target, particularly in Europe. At Celtic, European success is a tall order even for the best manager available to us but it is still how we measure progress and success at the club.

What is being attempted under Deila is a different path but one that fits the club’s financial situation. I back the left field approach and how bold it has been but it remains to be seen if Ronny will be given another shot at Europe like Neil Lennon was.

Winning the league is essential and that remains within our grasp. So too does a domestic double.

Surely that is worth backing until we are in jeopardy of losing it? This is not the time for change, this is a time to stick by ans support Ronny Deila.

In my view we should not be hitting the panic button. You have to see it through the tough times, you don’t just throw in the towel.

I’m going to stick my neck out and continue back Ronny even if I am a minority. If he throws away the league this season or fails badly in Europe next season then we are looking at re-assessing the situation but only then.

I’m not 100% happy with the way things are, how some players are performing and have my own questions but I’m not calling time just yet. There is room and time for things to take shape.

Right now I think too many are being too fickle. Time to tough it out folks, because our support is required.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac