Ronny’s Final Stop

Today, the Deila bus will make its final stop. It has been a two-year journey with mixed success.

On the one hand there has been a League Cup and two League titles, the second of which will be presented today at Celtic Park. The overriding factor is of course the lack of progress this season and in particular, in Europe.

To win support from the majority you will be measured by your efforts in Europe. It is a money spinner for the club and an essential part of the season for the support.

Last season things turned around as Christmas approached. There was also a decent inning in the Europa League to speak of.

This season the football has been dire and many, many players have let themselves and the club down on the park. Having said that, there have been a handful of players who have turned in a fine season.

To progress and succeed though, you need you whole team doing it and they haven’t as a collective. Too many areas on the field of play have been an empty jersey.

A hollow central defence has only recently seen any stability thanks to the January signing of Erik Sviatchenko. By then Europe was already a distant memory but he did make things look more assured at the back.

He is captain material and so long as he has the right partner next season things should start to stabilise at the back. Hopefully an injury free Jozo Šimunović can restart his Celtic career next season alongside him.

At left back Kieran Tierney has been a joy to watch. For his age and experience he has done remarkably well and his presence in the team has been a breath of fresh air.

His attitude is perfect and should mature into a fine player. He has the classic full back style and it is good to know that left-back berth is in good hands with the expected departure of Emilio Izaguirre in the summer.

In the midfield, it has been one of Celtic’s worst seasons for a while. I don’t dare to mention Nir Bitton (who I don’t think has done as bad as some make out this season) but Tom Rogic certainly deserves some recognition.

At one stage his Celtic career looked to be in jeopardy. Having sustained injury and a loan spell back in his homeland he made it back to Celtic and in to the first team.

Not many Celtic players manage that and to his credit, he made his mark when given the chance. He displaced Stefan Johansen in the midfield attack role that the Norwegian made his own last season and was rightly awarded for.

The only thing Rogic may have been missing this season were more starts. He came off the bench and missed some games but I there were games where he wasn’t picked when I think we needed him.

Still, he got goal of the season award for all of his efforts. And in all honesty, there were some great goals from him this season.

Callum McGregor has proved that his efforts from early last season were not a one-off. Since his return from injury he has made another impact on the team.

He is versatile and has an eye for goal. Much as he may not be player of the season, his efforts have not gone unnoticed.

On the subject of goals, Leigh Griffiths has been a lone striker all season. I personally wasn’t sure whether he had the ability in Europe but he still managed to score 4 times in 11 appearances.

The most impressive part of his season is of course reaching the 40 goal mark. Never since the days of Henrik Larsson has this ever been achieved by a Celtic player and Griffiths becomes only the 8th Celt ever to do so.

It is fine company and he has earned it. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, Leigh Griffiths has proven me wrong.

I was sceptical about his transfer to Celtic and his off the field behaviour. If Ronny has anything to be proud of it is his work with Griffiths.

A late addition to the plaudits for this season is Patrick Roberts. Signed on an 18 month loan deal from Manchester City, he has scored 5 goals in 12 games.

Today, he could well add to that tally as Celtic host Motherwell. With Griffiths suspended Colin Kazim-Richards will step into the strikers role but the goals could well come from the winger rather than the seldom seen striker.

So to Ronny Deila and his final appearance in the dug out. For many he should have gone long before now but I don’t agree.

Yes, we lost out in two cup semi-finals but changes before then would not have guaranteed anything better. He was entitled to finish the season and I am glad he has.

This way, he gets to say goodbye in his own way rather than being pushed out the door mid-season with failure rubber stamped on his CV. He can lift the Scottish Premiership trophy for the second successive time and walk away respectfully.

I liked the guy. I liked him a lot.

Perhaps the job was too big for him. Maybe he didn’t impose himself enough earlier as he mentioned in the media.

Life is about making mistakes and learning from them. To say Ronny was a failure would be wrong.

It was an experiment and one that I backed. We now know what we must do in the aftermath of this venture.

There is a decent team at Celtic right now. The next man needs to get the best out of them and move on those who don’t fit the bill.

Today we may be seeing some Celtic players for the last time in the Hoops. Let’s celebrate Five-In-Row with a Ronny Roar and a farewell to those departing after today’s celebrations.

Here’s to the future.

Hail! Hail! Ronny and all the best.

Stevie Mac

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Best of the best

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After reading Ramon Vega’s recent comments on his regret about leaving Celtic, albeit fifteen years ago, it got me thinking about former Celtic players in a similar position. When it comes to leaving Celtic prematurely, he is not alone, even if some players have failed to acknowledge it.

Vega is but one example of a player drafted in in the short term with little expected of him. Yet he turned out to be an influential player during a very brief period under Martin O’Neill.

Apparently Celtic had tried to procure his services prior to that season but Vega turned down the opportunity. He later accepted a loan move midway through season 2000-2001.

In 26 appearances he scored 4 goals for the club and picked up a treble into the bargain. This still wasn’t enough to convince him to stay on though.

Instead he followed the money and went to Gianluca Vialli’s Watford, opting for cash over trophies. That move lasted one season and eventually he was shipped out.

He found himself playing for Ligue 2 French side Créteil, where he would end his career at the age of 33. Fairly early by even by standards back then.

In some ways, getting a large payday in his second last season wasn’t such a bad move financially. The fact that he regrets leaving Celtic though suggests what many fans though at the time.

He could have had another shot at glory the following year and maybe even retired with Celtic. The decision he eventually made he regrets, but he isn’t the first ex-Celtic player to do this.

For other former Celts it’s been a mixed bag of success. Many have come through the ranks and at the first sign of progress, headed for so called greener pastures.

Historically, Celtic have been criticised for not stumping up the cash. When you go back to the era when the club was run by the Kelly’s and co, that isn’t much of a surprise.

Having said that, the way business was conducted back then, I wouldn’t know who to believe. I mean in those days you had the Kelly, White, Grant, McGinn and Farrell stronghold in one corner and in the other you had jokers like Charlie Nicholas or Frank McAvennie.

In the era of change for Celtic, i.e. Fergus McCann onwards, club business was moving into new territory. McCann was a tough and shrewd businessman who generally did it his way or not at all but he had a plan.

He encountered the infamous “three amigos” during that period and stood for none of their nonsense. Whilst the fans were in their debt to Fergus for saving the club, they idolised Pierre van Hooijdonk, Jorge Cadete and Paulo Di Canio at the same time.

This was a forward line to get your juices flowing if every there was one. They all left within months of one another with money at the heart of most of it.

They each had different experiences following those moves. Van Hooijdonk (money demands) moved to Nottingham Forrest in March of his final season and ended up getting relegated but he experienced an upwards turn in his career with a moves to Vitesse, Benfica, Feyenoord, Fenerbahçe, NAC Breda and back to Feyenoord once again.

Di Canio (also money demands) went to Sheffield Wednesday in a swap deal with Regi Blinker coming in the opposite direction. Di Canio carved out a relatively successful career following that move to England, moving onward to West Ham and Charlton Athletic before winding up his playing days back home in Italy with Lazio, his first club, and then minnows Cisco Roma.

As for Cadete, well his so called ‘mental state’ didn’t really wash with many Celtic fans. Devastated as we were, it was clear that he wanted to move, whether that motive was money or adjusting to life in Scotland.

For a free transfer, he certainly gave Celtic a shot in the arm with his goal return even if it resulted in no trophies. I don’t even think Jorge would argue that Celtic was a career peak for him.

Had he or any of the other ‘amigos’ stayed on for the season that followed, who knows what devastation they would have unleashed. Perhaps if they had we may never have seen Henrik Larsson in the Hoops.

Whilst each of those players left on bad terms they had their own post-Celtic story to tell. They netted Celtic on average about £4m each in transfer fees which 20 years ago was pretty good money for the club.

Let’s not forget about the goal tally these players amassed in a short space of time. Van Hooijdink – 52 goals in 96 appearances; Di Canio – 15 goals in 37 appearances; Cadete – 33 goals in 44 appearances.

Cadete easily had the worst career path following his Celtic exit, whilst Di Canio and Van Hooijdonk had positive experiences right up until the end of their playing days.

These guys were markers for the future. Lessons learned, money earned.

Celtic would still fumble matters with players though. Though let’s face it, footballers aren’t the easiest of ‘personalities’ to deal with in business.

Another player who left Celtic that summer was none other than current assistant coach at the club, John Collins. He became Celtic’s first Bosman departure in 1996.

That took him to AS Monaco, a European force at the time. After two years there, he moved on to Everton and later, Fulham.

To be fair to Collins, he was a fantastic player at Celtic and had earned his free transfer. After six gruelling years at a the club, mostly bad years, he deserved more from his career.

In the years that followed, Mark Viduka would become the another player to make a name for himself at Celtic only to exit when he had had enough. His arrival was surrounded with controversy following a messy departure form Croatia Zagreb and a move that had looked to have collapsed.

Still, he made a valuable contribution in a season and a half at the club. He scored 27 goals in 37 appearances at Celtic but before too long he would be plying his trade with money laden Leeds United.

Once more, Celtic had lost a marvellous player to a higher paying employer. In the midst of all this, a new era was taking shape with higher valued players filling the ranks at Celtic Park.

New management began to reshape what was already in place. There would also be key additions to the team as Celtic went from manager to manager over a short time.

The club needed stability and they had one player whose loyality, relationship and professionalism will never ever be questioned. If ever there was a model professional it was Henrik Larsson.

Either side of his 7 years at the club, as well as during, there were players coming and going which have never equalled what he did. A few have come close, but it just goes to show it is more than ability that makes a player special.

You must have that rapport with the fans. The style of play that wins you praise from around the globe and earns you the kind love you can only get from a particular kind of club and fan base.

When guys like Simon Donnelly, Mark Burchill and Liam Miller were playing with Larsson, they were looking for more money as well. Larsson was rewarded more than any other Celt in history.

The difference is that he had earned it through more than just one good goal, one good match or one good season. He did it across the board like a true professional which is something of a rareity in the modern day.

Of those players who have come and gone at Celtic, undervalued what they were part of at the time and later moved on to bleaker times, take note. The grass is not always greener.

Now James Forrest looks set to go the way players such as Shaun Maloney and Stylian Petrov did. The deal offered to him has been rejected and now he is prepared to join the list of players who probably have it made at Celtic but see bright lights in the distance.

To be the best of the best you must evaluate what you have before you consider what’s on offer and where that might lead. If your desire lies elsewhere get good advice or you too might be sharing the regret that Ramon Vega has come to know.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Comfortably Thumb

Celtic turned in a comfortable performance yesterday at home to Ross County. After a spate of bad form, Ronny Deila got a decent response from his players.

Leigh Griffiths, a recent victim of social media abuse, notched up goal number 30 of the season. He’d been denied by the post earlier in the match which could easily have turned out to be the story of the game but it wasn’t.

Instead, the timing of Celtic’s opening goal was ideal with it coming in injury time in the first half. Kieran Tierney crossed the ball into the Ross County box which their defence failed to clear sufficiently thanks to pressure from Stefan Johansen.

The ball dropped to Griffiths who smashed it home from close range. This made him the fastest Celtic player to reach the 30 goal mark since Henrik Larsson.

Dedryck Boyata doubled Celtic’s lead in the 57th minute with a great header. With a deep cross coming in from Stuart Armstrong, Boyata leapt to nod it in at the back post.

It helped settle things down but results are rarely settled with a two goal lead. Craig Gordon demonstrated a fine save late in the game to deny County an equaliser.

He’s not been in his best form this season but that save showed he still has the ability and focus. This was a steady performance by Celtic who have now won their last two game’s 2-0.

Ronny Deila needs to rebuild the confidence that the team were displaying throughout January. The League Cup exit remains a scar on the season but the focus remains on the League and Scottish Cup.

Now it is over to Aberdeen who face Inverness tomorrow night at the Caledonian Stadium. Both sides have only lost 1 of their last five matches but with 26 points separating each side, Aberdeen are the favourites for this match.

Though it is worth remembering that Derek McInnes’ side have not beaten Inverness in their last two league meetings. They drew the last match 2-2 at Pittodrie on Boxing Day and Inverness won 2-1 at the Caledonian Stadium back in late September.

The Dons are on form though and in pursuit of Celtic who despite a difficult period, remain 3 points at the top of the league. Win, lose or draw tomorrow night, Celtic will still have a game at hand.

Congratulations to Leigh Griffiths this weekend for reaching that milestone. Even greater credit for enduring the internet trolls.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic in Europe: a trip down memory lane

With Celtic’s first Europa League tie coming up on Thursday away to Ajax, many of the club’s fans are hoping for the best but preparing the worst. The club’s Champions League exit and away defeat to ten man Aberdeen at the weekend has caused ill feeling to resurface against Ronny Deila and his back room staff.

‘Clueless’ and ‘naive’ are two of the kinder words expressed to characterise his squad selection and tactics of late. Criticism has, and not for the first time, also been levelled at the boardroom and more specifically Peter Lawwell on several matters including player purchases and finances.

As one fellow blogger wrote, this is exactly the kind of supporter reaction you tend to see when the chips are down. I’ve omitted some of the more absurd gestures and comments I’ve read as they don’t deserve an airing on here.

Little blame has been directed toward the playing squad. In fact many supporters have even chosen to lay off the referees.

Player and officials have not been completely overlooked though. They’ve just slid down the pecking order behind coaching staff and the men in suits.

Losing is part of the game. Without it, there would be no glory in winning.

Win all the time? Predictable.

Where would we be without the highs ‘n’ lows of football? Sitting in domestic bliss for an unchallenged eternity no doubt.

Celtic and their deceased rivals have done enough of that between themselves. With Celtic the key player in a leanly contested league, losing isn’t a disaster – it’s good for the game.

The Champions League was what we all craved this season and missing out on this is a different story altogether. Winning that competition is out of reach but that goal coupled with the revenue and media exposure is what motivates everyone and drives us forward.

So the disappointment at not being in the group phase is something we all share and suffer from – club, coach, player and boardroom member. Before the Champions League ship had even sailed for Celtic, some people asked the question that if Deila should fail at the second time of asking, would he deserve a third?

In answer to that I would say that all depends on how this season goes. I’m still opposed to ousting the Norwegian coach and more interested in seeing how Celtic respond between now and Christmas, particularly in the Europa League.

We should remember that despite two failed attempts at reaching the Champions League group phase we are still in Europe. It may not be the Champions League but we have now been in the Europa League for two years running now.

Every Celtic manager in the past has had mixed fortunes in Europe. For a look at those stuttered beginnings, lets take a trip down memory lane.

Martin O’Neill made it through to the second round of the UEFA Cup in his first season at Celtic having played three rounds in total. The following season he would fair better by taking the club into the Champions League group stage for the first time in their history.

A 3-1 win for O’Neill in Amsterdam took everyone by surprise. Losing the home leg 1-0 was of little consequence.

Despite winning all three group phase home matches that season, no points were picked up on the road. Celtic finished third and parachuted into the UEFA Cup where after an aggregate score of 1-1 with Valencia, lost 5-4 on penalties at Celtic Park, denying them a place in the fourth round.

Unlike today’s set-up, all of those fixtures took place before Christmas so Celtic were out of Europe by December. I can’t imagine cramming all of that in these days!

In the season that followed, O’Neill exited the Champions League qualification campaign at the hands of Basel. That twist of fate would set Celtic on the memorable UEFA Cup run taking the club to the final in Seville in 2003.

Like Lisbon and Milan before, these are memorable achievements which the club’s history is built upon, even if they were not all winning finals. Seville in particular helped put Celtic back on the European map and would be Martin’s legacy.

In the aftermath of that defeat at the hands of Mourinho’s cheating Porto, O’Neill would have another crack at the Champions League. Despite some thrilling encounters in the group phase of the 2003-2004 Champions League, Celtic came up short and parachuted into the UEFA Cup once more.

After successfully navigating two rounds of that competition, including an aggregate 1-0 win over Barcelona, Celtic faced Villarreal in the Quarter Final. Sadly, they lost out to the Spanish side who would then be ousted themselves by another Spanish team in the shape of Valencia who would eventually go on to win the tournament.

In Martin O’Neill’s final season, he would make the group phase of the Champions League one more time. With legend Henrik Larsson having said his farewells to the club, it was somewhat ironic and painful that he would face Celtic in a Barcelona jersey and score against us at Celtic Park.

That was the low point in what was a poor European campaign that saw Celtic finish fourth in the group with one win and five points. It was the end of an era for Celtic and for Martin O’Neill.

Then came Gordon Strachan and a new wave of European drama. At the first time of asking Gordon exited Europe in big style.

Losing 5-0 away to Artmedia Bratislava was a devastating blow to winning over the fans. A 4-0 home win wasn’t enough to level the playing field or keep Celtic in Europe.

Strachan had already caused ripples amongst large sections of the support just by being the new manager. Some had it in for him from the beginning.

Having still managed to win the league that season though, Celtic entered the Champions League group phase without any qualifying rounds. Not only did Strachan turn over some great results, he took Celtic to the last sixteen of the tournament for the first time in their history.

He had succeeded where O’Neill had failed. Results had conspired against O’Neill but not for Strachan it seemed.

Celtic would eventually lose out against AC Milan 1-0 on aggregate after extra time in the round of sixteen. However, the Italian’s would go on to win the tournament for the seventh time by beating Liverpool.

When you look at it that way, that’s a damn good effort by Celtic and Strachan. The two teams would come to meet again the following season.

A memorable Champions League qualifying round against Spartak Moscow saw Celtic into the group phase again. There they would face Milan and in the dying moments of the Celtic Park tie, they beat the European Champions 2-1.

That difficult win was key in securing second spot and a place in the last sixteen for the second successive season. Celtic would face Barcelona in the knock-out round, a team they had beaten and been beaten by in recent times.

The Catalan giants were beginning to emerge as one of the best teams in Europe. They beat Celtic home and away 4-2 on aggregate but they themselves would exit the tournament in the Semi Finals at the hands of eventual Champions League winners, Manchester United.

Gordon Strachan would finish his third Champions League campaign and final season just as Martin O’Neill had. Celtic secured just 5 points and one win finishing fourth in their group.

Despite that humbling season, Strachan had taken Celtic a step forward in Europe. Many had despaired at the quality of football and I would to agree to a certain extent.

However, we had some great European nights under Gordon and some very respectable victories. The last sixteen was now the benchmark for the next manager and would be his legacy.

Unfortunately the Celtic challenge would now fall to Tony Mowbray. He managed to take down Dinamo Moscow 2-1 on aggregate in their first qualifying round but they would be comprehensively disposed of by Arsenal 5-1 on aggregate the next.

That meant a first time experience for Celtic in the Europa League. Celtic finished third in the group phase in a season which saw Mowbray sacked after a poor domestic campaign.

Then came Neil Lennon, like Mowbray a fans favourite as a player, but less experience in the dug out. First he was appointed as caretaker, then given the reigns that summer.

In his first full season, Lennon would exit both the Champions League (to SC Braga) and Europa League (to FC Utrecht) tournaments in the qualifying rounds. It was rather humbling but not a total surprise given his lack of experience as a coach.

The following season FC Sion stood in the way of Lennon and the Europa League group phase. He would have failed once more had it not been for a breach of a UEFA ruling by the Swiss club.

Having fielded ineligible players during the ties with Celtic, FC Sion were excluded from the tournament and Celtic were reinstated despite being beaten by the Swiss club. This allowed Lennon a crack at the group phase of a European tournament as a head coach.

It was a pivotal season for Lennon on home soil as well as on foreign. Celtic would eventually finish third in their group.

Although a largely disappointing campaign, the 1-1 match against Rennes over in France was one of two games that season that marked a turning point for Lennon’s Celtic career. The other game was a domestic match away to Kilmarnock which finished 3-3, five days earlier.

These games turned the tide for Lennon. In both matches Celtic were away from home and had to come from behind to earn a draw.

Lennon later stated that after being 3-0 down to Kilmarnock at half-time he seriously though about chucking in the towel. Having gone down 1-0 to Rennes, thanks to an audacious Cha Du-Ri own goal, the same thoughts must have been going through his head.

Celtic fought back to claim a draw in both matches though. They would go on to win the league that season having gone on an unbeaten run in the league beginning with that draw against Kilmarnock.

What would follow in season 2012-2013 was an excellent campaign in the Champions League. Having qualified via two rounds, Celtic were paired once more with Barcelona and Benfica in the group phase of this tournament with recent knock out phase opponents Spartak Moscow completing the list of opponents.

Before the group phase got under way, Celtic were given little chance of finishing third, let alone second by the critics. As it was they would beat the odds and finish second behind Barcelona having beaten the Catalan giants 2-1 at Celtic Park in one of the most memorable matches for Celtic in the modern-day.

Lennon had achieved the impossible. After two previously disappointing seasons in Europe, it was a real turnaround.

Celtic made the last sixteen of the Champions League for only the third time. Even though they would go down in the knock-out round to Juventus, it was against all odds that Celtic got their in the first place.

It was a testimony to the perseverance of the Northern Irishman after a long period where trouble off the field would dominate the headlines and threaten the life of himself and his family. Lennon showed great character and with the backing of the fans and the club beat the evil that has plagued football.

The next season would be tough on the park though. Despite three rounds of qualifiers, Celtic made the Champions League group phase but this was the group of death.

Ajax, Barcelona and Milan were the opponents. Celtic won one match losing the other five.

This would be the club’s worst Champions League tournament in history. In fairness to Neil Lennon, the club had sold three of their best players before the group phase got under way and were not suitably equipped with replacements.

And so Lennon left after that season and in came Ronny Deila. We know his story and this season Europe has been similar to the last with the exception of the Legia Warsaw fiasco of course.

Having looked at O’Neill, Strachan, Mowbray and Lennon’s experiences in Europe I don’t think Deila deserves to be shown the door. O’Neill and Strachan didn’t have a blistering start to their Celtic careers in Europe.

Mowbray’s didn’t cover himself in glory or have much of a legacy to speak of. Lennon’s had a very poor start but he came good even if he came up short in the end.

For Ronny Deila, missing out on the Champions League two season in a row has overshadowed making the Europa League group two years running. When you also consider he got to the last sixteen at the first time if asking, only losing out narrowly to Inter Milan in the end, I think it is harsh to be calling for his head.

In times like this when morale is low we should be supporting the team. Not slaying it from boardroom to dressing room.

Unlike many bloggers and forum frolickers, I choose to support Ronny and his back room team. I give me backing to the squad as well, even if I do have some criticisms I would like to share.

Let the players and coaching staff rectify the Champions League exit by giving them a chance in the Europa League. Similarly, let the domestic season unfold as it should.

A defeat on Thursday would not be game over. A win is not a guarantee of qualification either.

It’s all about the bigger picture and we must remain positive. There’s more hard work to be done so let’s not throw in the towel just yet.

Let’s see how things play out. We’ll have a better idea of where we are by Christmas.

If we’re still going strong then we’ll see how the season has gone come May. Should people still want to ask about that third chance base it on the two seasons that will hopefully then be completed by Deila.

Keep the faith.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

A hard graft for Griff

Winning on flag day at Celtic Park is always a good way to start the domestic season. The likelihood of a mishap is extremely slender.

There have been a few draws on the opening day of the season down the years. However, you would have to go back to the 1997-1998 season to find Celtic’s last opening day defeat.

Remarkably, it was one of most pivotal seasons in Celtic’s history for many reasons. Despite the disastrous opening day defeat at Easter Road, you may recall a Celtic debutant by the name of Henrik Larsson.

After replacing Andreas Thom in the 59th minute, the Swede earmarked his debut by supplying a misplaced pass to Chic Charnley who duly drove home a 20 yard winner. I recall watching the game live on TV whilst away for a weekend with friends.

One of those friends (a Rangers man) gleefully laughed his socks off whilst my other friend (a Celtic man) stared at me in disbelief. If any of the three of us sitting watching that knew then what we know now, all the roles would have been reversed quite severely that day.

Winning the league was our priority of course and this would be the season which would see the Celtic put a halt to their old rivals dominance on Scottish football. None of us had a scooby how good Henrik was going to be though, especially after that debut!

Unfortunately we don’t have anyone of his class banging in the goals for the Hoops these days. He was a one-off that served the club very well indeed and almost irreplaceable.

The task that Celtic’s current crop of strikers have is not to fill those shoes. It is merely to do a good job.

Having lost John Guidetti to greed, Celtic’s best striker right now is Leigh Griffiths. His maturity and application these past twelve months have been a central to his recent success.

n he came to the club with a troublesome tag.

Despite coming to the club with a troublesome tag, every man and their dog is fully aware of Griffiths’s ability but he is not an automatic pick for Ronny Deila. Since the arrival of Nadir Çiftçi, Griffiths has found himself playing second fiddle, in Europe anyway.

Much of that of course is be down to the fact that Çiftçi is banned for six Premiership matches. If you’re Griffiths, you would understand his frustration given that he has applied himself, done what was asked of him in training and scored goals.

What is even more impressive is how Leigh has handled all of that. His responses to criticism and disappointment are genuinely a big step up in maturity.

If he continues to deal with the knocks as he has of late he will grow into an even better player. In fact sometimes I think Ronny Deila is being harder on him to mould him into a better player.

I don’t have any evidence of that but we all know what the boy can do. Sure Çiftçi brings something else to the game, like Samaras used to, but the Turk is currently short of fitness, getting used to a new kind of set up and of course a totally different player to Griffiths.

If fit for Wednesday, I’m sure Leigh will be hoping to get chosen. The odds are that Çiftçi will get the nod as he needs games and at this point in the season is the only competition he’ll get them in.

You can expect Griffiths to be disappointment by that outcome but he continues to say and do the right things. His first ever goal in Europe came against Stjarnan in Iceland and his first league goal came against Ross County at the weekend.

Çiftçi can only dream of that right now. Just keep doing what you’re doing Leigh and your chance will come.

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

 

Forget the lying King…here’s the King of Kings

Whilst the comedy show at Ibrox continues to embarass Scottish football (I mean seriously sort yourselves out over there), the name ‘King’ has been embossed in the Scottish media almost daily. However, it was the return of the King that took my attention this week.

Henrik Larsson, the King of Kings made an appearance for Helsingborgs IF on Wednesday evening. As their current manager and experiencing player shortages, Henrik threw himself on as a substitute against Malmö FF.

As if that weren’t enough he helped himself to the last of the goals in a 7-1 mauling of their Swedish rival’s in a practice match. 43 years young and still doing the business.

We never tire of watching Henrik. It does make me wonder if I’ll ever see another player of his quality in the Hoops again during my lifetime.

Topically, a striker is one key position Ronny Deila needs to consider for next season. Leigh Griffiths has done a great job as a goal provider since his arrival in January 2014 but Celtic need something in addition.

Stefan Šćepović hasn’t lit up the forward line as we had all hoped. He didn’t even get near the brief achievements of the outgoing John Guidetti, but it remains to be seen how things will pan out for the Serbian at Celtic next season.

Celtic’s shape these days is completely different to the era when Henrik was the first name on the team sheet. Lone strikers are all the rage these days with support coming from the channels.

Ironically, Henrik used to work the channels himself (as well as other positions), particularly at Feyenoord before achieving legendary status at Celtic as a striker. Who will be our next star and is he already at the club?

When Henrik arrived we had no idea he would become the player he did. Especially after an abysmal debut against Hibs where he gifted them a goal resulting in a 2-1 defeat at Easter Road.

Some players can make that kind of error and be remembered for it for their whole career. Instead, Larsson carved out his own history at Celtic as well as Barcelona and Manchester United in the final years of his career.

To see him play is always a joy. A true legend.

Will we ever see his likes again? Well, we can dream.

Hail! Hail!