The wind of change

The significance of events between 2014-2015 at Celtic could turn out to be a pivotal time for the club. At the beginning of 2014, the league title looked destined for Celtic Park and fans were in for another anti-climatic finish for a second consecutive season.

There were many fixtures still to be played but Celtic would tie up the league the earliest it has been done since before World War II. Having exited Europe before Christmas 2013, Celtic had maintained an unbeaten run and record amount of shut-outs by Fraser Forster (setting a new record in the process), both of which would grind to a halt against Aberdeen, their closest rivals.

In the January transfer window, Celtic bought Leigh Griffiths, a player whose off-field antics did not resonate well among the fan base, mine in particular. The timing of the move seemed unnecessary given that the league looked to be coming Celtic’s way, but he was a relatively cheap acquisition for a proven goal scorer and Celtic had limited attacking options having already lost Gary Hooper the previous summer and still without an ample replacement.

He didn’t disappoint either and since then has proven himself valuable but I can’t change my disapproval of the time. In the same window, Stefan Johansen joined the ranks and displayed the kind of energy you expect from an attacking midfielder.

His ability was recognisable as soon as he set foot in the team but there would be more come from him in the season that followed. However, it was the announcement that Johan Mjallby would depart that summer that became the focal point of Celtic’s future.

This raised concern and speculation about Lennon’s situation. With his assistant coach eyeing the exit door some felt Lennon would follow Mjallby but I wasn’t totally convinced at the time.

Lennon later announced that he would also be leaving and I wondered how long this had been coming. He had endured the worst of times as a footballer and head coach whilst at Celtic.

Death threats, bomb threats and physical and verbal attacks by opposing fans surrounded the Northern Irishman because of his nationality, religion and club of choice. These acts remain a cancer in Scotland and also its greatest shame in the modern day.

It is therefore quite astounding that Lennon left having won the biggest of battle of all – over his oppressors. He overcame all of it but I am sure the pain inflicted upon him and his family will remain forever.

As it was Lennon departed on a high having secured the league title for a third consecutive season. In the wake of his exit, Celtic are said to have courted many names, but I saw most of them as pure speculation.

I don’t doubt that initial contact was made with some potential candidates but to what extent is anyone’s guess. The man they settled on in the end was supposedly not first choice.

Realistically, a club won’t always get their first choice so that never bothered me in the slightest. In fact, if Celtic’s first choice was Roy Keane, as many have said (including himself), then I think the club dodged a bullet.

Celtic cast a net knowing that they had limited funds to offer in terms of salary, as well as for purchases in the transfer market. Yet it is no surprise that so many names are banded about given the culture, history and fan base that Celtic Football Club possess.

I think most would agree that despite the lure of such a big name, Roy Keane could have been a disastrous choice. Outside of the “favourite”, Celtic were looking at young, up and coming coaches rather than older experienced ones.

Ex-Celts would top that list if course but the man they would go for was unknown to all. Ronny Deila was a young, up and coming coach for sure but nobody had heard of him.

Again, that didn’t concern me to be honest and I was intrigued and somewhat surprised by Celtic’s bold move. This was out of character for the club but the more I read about what Deila had done since he moved into coaching, the more interested I became in who he was and he could do.

As it turned out, it would be no easy ride as some Celtic managers have found out but I remained a supporter of Ronny and his plans. He came from left field and went about getting his plan up and running but he faced many challenges.

Despite losing one of the club’s best players in Fraser Forster, the club had acquired Craig Gordon as a replacement but having been out of the game for so long could he fill the shoes of his predecessor? Deila would seek further additions to aid his quest but he would largely be assessing the current squad including Stefan Johansen who had worked under him at Strømsgodset.

Now you can make your own deduction from this story but it was speculated that Deila had initially been earmarked as a coach to come in and work with Lennon. Whether there is any truth in that or not is immaterial because the one thing we can safely assume is that Celtic had done their homework on Deila.

With the first season not even over you just don’t know how far this relationship can go but so far he has weathered the storm and come out fighting. There is never any guarantee of success when you appoint a new head coach so there is always risk.

Celtic didn’t opt for this Norwegian coach as a stab in the dark, but because his methods were fresh and new. And having watched Deila endure a slow start with high expectations, disgruntled fans and a less than supportive media you would have to say the club have stuck by their man.

He has won over most of his opponents, if not all of them. Wth the possibility of a treble in one of the most competitive Scottish domestic seasons in recent years, it will put to bed all of those doubters should that dream come to fruition.

The expectations placed upon Deila have been huge but it is no different to any other manager before him. Europe was a steep learning curve and in reality, it turned out to be a fairly positive experience for himself and the players.

Despite missing out on the Champions League, a tournament Celtic were sure to have been slaughtered in, the Europa League was an opportunity for these players to bed in under a new regime on continental soil. Reaching the last 32 was a boost for Deila and the fans and it even served up an old Italian foe.

The tie with Inter Milan gave everyone a taste of what we could expect should Celtic reach the group stage of the Champions League next season. And that has to be a target for Deila and the club because a domestic treble this season would provide the kind of momentum required to lead the team into the early European qualification round in the summer.

That said this season isn’t over as it was by this time last year, despite Aberdeen losing their own momentum in recent weeks. A gap has opened up in the Scottish Premiership but Celtic are not at a safe distance just yet.

The last eight games for Celtic will be a test of their mental and physical strength at this stage of the season, continuing today at Inverness. The squad is extremely strong right now a competition for places remains tight.

Its a healthy situation for Celtic currently and when you cast your mind back to September and October, it serves as a reminder that success doesn’t come overnight. The efforts Ronny has put in this season can only blossom in the next.

He will want to ensure he is well equipped for a Champions League quest and there is no doubt he wants it as much as the board do for financial reasons and the fans do for entertainment value. Ronny himself knows the level each player must perform at to compete with the best in Europe and the world.

This is what he has spent all season trying to drill into the players he inherited and drafted in. The players have responded to him and will be ready to take the lessons from this season into the next one.

Keeping the squad together will be the priority but a few are certain to leave which is only natural. Four of the current crop at the club are on loan whilst seven of Celtic’s are also out on loan to other clubs so there will be some movement on that front for certain.

Deila would love to keep Jason Denayer and John Guidetti, both on loan from Manchester City, but they remain uncommitted. Denayer has put in a solid season and I’m sure another season long loan would be beneficial for all parties, but Denayer has not hidden his desire to return to City.

Guidetti on the other hand made a blistering start to his loan spell only to lose his way on the park amid speculation about a permanent move. Celtic brokered a deal with City but the Swede wasn’t on board and instead made umpteen references in the media about playing for other clubs in Europe.

This led to fans turning against him and gladly seeing him out of the team. He also spat the dummy out recently during the League Cup Final when after James Forrest won a penalty, he refused to hand Guidetti the ball.

At this level of football you don’t expect to see that kind of petulance but Guidetti capped it off by storming up the tunnel at full time only to be retrieved by Mikael Lustig. That memory is embedded in my mind and despite any desire Ronny still has of obtaining Guidetti’s signature, the Swede would have a lot of back pedalling to win over the fans once more.

The other two loanees, Mubarak Wakaso and Aleksandar Tonev are certain to return their parent clubs. Neither have held down a place this season.

Aside from Wakaso’s wonder goal against Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League, his appearances have been limited. Tonev has made even fewer appearances and became an outsider after being accused and banned for alleged racial abuse of a fellow professional despite any hard evidence.

That seven match ban pretty much put an end to his playing chances as other players were beginning to find form. Celtic stuck by the player but he effectively lost his battle in the first team.

Celtic still have to decide on the futures of their own players out on loan as well. Amido Baldé was signed as a young prospect in 2013 but has rarely been given a chance so Celtic may cut there losses with him given that his loan spells with Waasland-Beveren and Hapoel Tel Aviv have not been prosperous.

Teemo Pukki and Hólmbert Friðjónsson are currently both playing at Brøndby IF with the former doing a decent job and likely to get a permanent move. Friðjónsson may also get a deal if Celtic end their interest in him though he is still on the fringes of success.

The four remaining players out on loan are could also move on with the exception of Liam Henderson. The young midfielder has put in some notable performances this season and has been loaned out for the rest of the season for experience only I would assume.

He looks as though he can do a job for Celtic but with competition for places high, he needs games to develop. Rosenberg should give him a decent level of experience to help him compete further next season.

The only other matter are the futures of Celtic’s contracted players. Commons finally sorted out his future and Van Dijk is now displaying signs of staying for a other season at the very least.

Another player back in the fold is young Tom Rogić. He went out on loan in January 2014 to Australia hoping to imprive his international chances but injury has been a thorn in his side.

There remains a glimmer of hope for the Australian midfielder. I’m sure we’d all love to see what he has to offer if he can shrug off injuries.

I read somewhere recently (possibly just a rumour) that the club may try and move Anthony Stokes on. I’m not totally against the idea to be honest but I think I’d rather see the back of guys like Derk Boerrigter first.

“Sicknote'” has been a disastrous signing for Celtic. Whilst the club have been known for unearthing gems, he certainly hasn’t been one of them.

The very fact he came with an injury tag was a risk the club must be held accountable for. There have been too many risks and I’d hate to think that the rumoured fees for these guys were all met in full given what they have failed to do for the club.

Baldé, Pukki and Boerrigter all signed four year deals and each has failed to cut it. One man on the brink of going down the same road is Stefan Šćepović.

He too signed a four year deal with Celtic, after an on/off transfer that cast a minor shadow over the deal. He hasn’t held down a regular spot in the team or provided the fire power he demonstrated at Sporting de Gijón but there remains the possibility he may still make it as a Celtic player.

Celtic have decisions to make on all of these players and cut back on waste. When I think about the players in years gone by that Celtic failed to stump up the cash for i.e. James McFadden and Steven Fletcher, it irks me that they have spent more on players at a higher risk of failure.

Time to move on the morons and motivate the worthy. Only the best will make it in Ronny’s squad.

Eight games left and a treble is in our sights. Inverness here we come.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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Headhunting

Where do you begin when searching for a new manager? Well avoiding past mistakes would be beneficial to begin with.

Appointments aren’t always about replacing like for like. You have to look ahead and where you are as a business or in Celtic’s case, a club and a business.

The question the board must ask themselves is “what direction is the club going in?” The football climate in which Celtic exist is one with restrictions, that we are all well aware of.

There isn’t the kind of money flowing through Scottish football like there is in other leagues in Europe. I’m not just talking about the flagship leagues mind you, they are an inner circle that requires more money than sense.

I’m referring to countries elsewhere in Europe where there are league’s that fair better with TV revenue. Some of these countries appear to have better deals with similar or smaller audiences than Scotland and yet I’m not entirely convinced that the quality is substantially better.

Despite this, Celtic Football Club is set up well to survive the financial shortfall, even if the rest of the Scottish clubs are not. The financial backbone that is in place ensures stability which in this day and age is a saving grace.

On the playing field, the league is of course bread and butter for a club like Celtic. Currently, there is no opposition to threaten Celtic’s claim season after season.

Not even the emergence of Second Rangers can be considered a threat. They don’t play in the SPFL, are not guaranteed promotion after next season or to even exist long enough to get there.

So what is the attraction for a potential suitor to the Celtic throne? Well, should an appointment come from within the Scottish game, it will be a big step up by taking the reigns of a club like Celtic.

Winning the league would be a huge challenge for guys like Jackie McNamara or Paul Hartley whose names have been mentioned in the past few days. Europe would be considered an even greater task but Lennon was in that boat as well and proved the doubters wrong.

It took him a couple of years to get to grips with competing in Europe but he learned. The question is will Celtic go down the same route as they did with Lennon or pick someone with more experience?

Henrik Larsson has been talked about heavily, even before the departure of Lennon. As a club legend it is not surprising to hear his name every now and again.

Many fans would love be to see the return of the king and Larsson himself has hinted at a return some day. He has been busy coaching in his home country of Sweden for five years now and looks set to continue that unless matters change.

For some, it isn’t Henrik’s time and feel if he had to come now it might tarnish his legendary status. For me though it would be the board’s desire to capitalise on Larsson’s marketing value that is of concern.

PR stunts are not beyond Celtic and if Larsson’s attraction was purely a financial one I disapprove. Robbie Keane was drafted in at a time when Mowbray’s efforts to make Celtic success flopped.

Keane’s appearance in a Celtic shirt must have sold dozens of jerseys and put bums back on seats. In reality, getting rid of Mowbray was the best thing the club did that season, the worst being his appointment.

If the club are looking at managers from outside of Scotland then you are looking at someone who may have handled a larger spending budget or worked in a tougher league but probably not managed a big club. There are a number of candidates out of work right now and when a club with the stature of Celtic are headhunting, interest is most definitely going to be high.

For example, David Moyes, ex-Celt and long-term guardian of Everton, recently sacked by Manchester United. He might be out of Celtic’s league financially and not everyone’s cup of tea, but on the other hand Celtic could a be the perfect opportunity for him to rebuild his reputation.

After just ten months at Manchester United he could be considered tainted goods, but he didn’t get that job by chance. He earned the opportunity through hard work obtaining his coaching badges whilst still a young player and earning plaudits from his fellow professionals as he climbed the managerial ladder.

Promotion to the second tier of English football with Preston (and very nearly the Premier League) brought him to the attention of Everton. He maintained Everton’s status in the top half of the Premier League in all but two of his eleven years at the helm.

He brought some brilliant talent to Everton, though the money was there to do so. What goes against him is that he never won a trophy or made an impact in Europe despite getting some very respectable league positions and making a domestic final.

Also in the managerial wilderness right now is another former Celtic centre half, Malky Mackay. Disposed of by Cardiff in December, he is certain to be looking to get back into the game as soon as possible.

He first stepped into the management hot seat as caretaker at Watford. That role would become his own but only after Brendan Rodgers had failed to deliver first.

Cardiff then came calling for Malky and it was there that he made a name for himself. He made the play-off’s and the League Cup Final but would eventually see defeat in both challenges.

The following season he won the Championship title and earned automatic promotion to the Premier League but soon after a rift would materialise between the himself and the owner. There is no doubt that the souring of that relationship diluted Cardiff’s chances of staying up and that was ultimately the end of the road for Malky and Cardiff.

Would he be a good choice for Celtic? I think so, but the main question is, is he the kind of coach the club are interested in or could even persuade to come north of the border?

Paul Lambert, another former Celt, currently plying his trade in management at Aston Villa could be looking for a move. New ownership is on the cards at Villa and when that happens you tend to find that your face no longer fits.

At this stage new owner’s have not been acquired but Lambert may take this opportunity to move if he feels his role is under threat. He stepped away from relative safety with Norwich to take the job at Villa but it is a big ask to get success at that club these days.

Staying up isn’t generally a concern for Villa, its progressing that is the challenge. Lambert may well continue his career at there, but if Celtic do come calling and money was not a huge concern for either party, I think Lambert would find it hard to refuse.

Also on that list of rumoured candidates is Steve Clarke. He has carved out a very respectable career as an assistant manager for a Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool.

Clarke has also worked under some big names in management. Ruud Guillit, José Mourinho, Avram Grant, Gianfranco Zola and Kenny Dalglish have all utilised his services over the years but he would eventually venture out on his own.

That came in the form of Head Coach at West Bromwich Albion. His first season there was a huge success finishing eighth in the league.

Sadly for Clarke, that success would not be mirrored the following season and he was axed before Christmas. Whether he returns to management or not only time will tell but the one fact that is unquestionable is his ability as a firsf teamm coach.

Then there is Owen Coyle, a man formerly linked with the job at Celtic. On that occasion he was said to have been offered the role before Tony Mowbray but turned it down.

His managerial career was on the up with Burnley and he chose to stay in England. It could have been a good appointment for Celtic at the time but my feelings on that have changed.

As much as I understood his decision to make a name for himself in England, his career is in a different place altogether now. After gaining promotion to the Premier League with Burnley he jumped ship mid season to former employers Bolton who he had once played for.

Burnley were relegated that season and many felt Coyle had turned his back on them and I am inclined to agree. Although he had managed to keep Bolton in the Premier League for two seasons, he would eventually find himself back in the Championship.

Results didn’t go well down there and he was out of work only a few months into the new season. The following year he took the reigns at Wigan but once again he found himself out of work just six months into the job.

Celtic may have decided that with a poor run in the game in the last couple of years he is not the man for the job anymore. He was once, but for many Celtic fans he missed his chance and his value has plummeted.

A left field entry on the list is Oscar Garcia. He took Brighton and Hove Albion to the play-off’s this year but was unsuccessful in the end.

The Championship is a competitive league and he did well to get Brighton into the play-off position. The fact that he chose to resign after such a short spell is surprising given that he did well with relatively limited experience.

He may be looking for a bigger club and Celtic are certainly that. Whether he could cut the mustard in Scotland I do not know but I do question his staying power given that he has left his two most recent jobs after only one season in charge.

Also in that play-off battle is Steve McLaren. Having made the final and losing to a late goal might he be looking to move on?

Love him or hate him he has bags of experience. He hasn’t made any signs of leaving Derby but he remains a possibility and given his coaching credentials oversess and at international level he is not to be sniffed at.

Lastly, there is Roy Keane, another ex-Celt whose name has been mentioned. His recruitment as a player, whilst totally unnecessary, was amother PR stunt that Celtic just couldn’t refuse.

Sunderland was his first venture into management where he won promotion to the Premier League in his first season. He kept Sunderland up during his second season but the season that followed saw a poor start and Keane eventually resigned.

With a character like Keane’s there was the usual controversy. Never afraid to speak his mind, his management style didn’t go down well with players and officials during his time there but that’s Roy Keane I guess.

Ipswich Town would be Roy’s second crack at management. It failed to develop into anything successful for him or the club during an eighteen month period and having falling down the league he was sacked.

He returned to coaching last year taking up the assistant managers role under Martin O’Neill for the Republic of Ireland’s national team. Although still a relationship in its infancy, it hasn’t prevented Keane’s name being mentioned with the Celtic job.

His opinions and temperament don’t always win him votes with people. Roy is never afraid to speak his mind though but whether Dermot Desmond sees Keane as the kind of character he wants to coach the team, the Kaiser will have the final say.

What Celtic require is someone who will stick around for a few years and make some progress. The league is almost certainly assured given the gap between Celtic and the rest of the SPFL clubs.

Whoever takes over will have to emulate that domination in the league. A more successful run in the cups would also be desirable.

Then there is Europe and with it the income that Celtic require. European nights at Celtic are what we as fans all crave and without those evenings the domestic season would be very dull.

Being involved in the Champions League group phase is essential. Qualifying from that stage and reaching the last sixteen is a target that can only be surpassed by repeating the journey year after year.

Only two Celtic managers have ever made the knockout phase in the current format of the tournament. The board may not expect that next season given the change in personnel, but surely progression in Europe is the objective that makes this all worth while?

On the other hand, Celtic may be looking overseas for someone who can tweak those European fortunes. Though it’s unlikely that the club will be able to obtain the services of a coach with an admirable CV without breaking the bank.

Celtic may play in Europe but as I have said before, there are limitations to what you can and can’t do and that includes attracting the right people and being able to pay the right money. Whoever the club appoint, it will clarify their ambitions and intentions.

They must move swiftly though. The World Cup begins soon and with it an opportunity to scout talent.

Ideally it would be best to appoint someone before then and get them preparing for the Champions League qualifier’s in July. In the past the club have been slow to elect a manager so I hope that they are actively seeking one now.

Peter Lawwell stated that the club haven’t begun their search. Personally, I find that hard to believe, this isn’t the public sector after all.

Lennon said leaving wasn’t a knee-jerk decision. I’m sure the board may have either been expecting it, or helping him wind things down.

The new manager will need the backing of the support and not just the board. It would be advisable to give him every chance to succeed by getting him on board now.

So let’s hope the club don’t waste too much time and make an announcement soon.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The Legacy of Lennon

First and foremost I must say I am disappointed and it’s not a day I expected this soon. I know there are some Celtic fans that will be more accepting of Neil Lennon’s resignation than I, but Gordon Strachan experienced a worse case so he can be thankful for that I suppose.

I was fairly adamant (as others were) that Lennon would not follow Johan Mjallby out the door this summer. The rumours were plentiful as they always are regarding Celtic, but I feel his departure is somewhat premature.

As my English friends and colleagues often like to tell me, “there just isn’t the competition up there is there?” Well thanks for your insightful analysis, but your opinion doesn’t count when we are discussing a league you know nothing about let alone watch.

We who do follow the Scottish game do know the state it is in and don’t need reminding by those who don’t. Every week we subject ourselves to it and we know it is below par.

The point I am making is that nobody in Scotland is blind to the reality that Scottish football has a glass ceiling for your career. There is an acceptance that at some stage or another, anyone whose profile becomes of significant interest is likely to move on, be it player or coach.

Neil was sure to move on at some point that much we knew. I just didn’t expect it to be now.

I don’t think the club will suffer through his departure though. I think they will progress, but they have Neil Lennon to thank for that because he brought Celtic back into the game after his predecessors abysmal failure.

However, I feel Neil still had some progress of his own to make as Celtic Head Coach before moving on. There is a desire by most players and managers to move south because potentially it’s the furthest you can go in the game without actually leaving the shores of the UK right now.

Players and managers before Lennon have made this move, successfully or unsuccessfully. That rich vein that flows south will continue unless there is a set up that can retain its best right there in Scotland.

On the positive side I can say this; Neil Lennon did bring back some thunder to Celtic Park. As a rookie, he made his own team and with little money.

There were good buys and there were bad buys. Trophies and titles have been claimed and European nights have been lived once more.

It’s the end of a four year journey for Neil which began just as his Mowbray’s ended. It was a difficult transition but Lennon rose to the challenge.

He beat off the opposition, the budget restrictions, inexperience in management, the death threats, violence and the parcel bombs. Having beaten all of that, he has emerged an outright winner.

In his personal life he battled depression and that alone is a complex task which very few can even begin to comprehend. Now he moves on and to a new phase of his life and career.

Whether he takes a break from football or goes straight back into the game we will have to wait and see. There are many jobs out there right now but it remains to be seen whether any of them are for him.

What he can do is walk away from Scotland knowing full well that he is a winner. To endure what he has had to endure in his time as a player and coach at Celtic cannot be applauded enough.

For those of you who were consumed with a hatred for Neil Lennon, you have been defeated. He has shown you for what you are, seen all of you off and then some.

In a year that could see Scotland voted as an independent country, I hope that its inhabitants can learn from the ill-treatment Neil Lennon has received. That they can show greater respect to those people, who come to Scotland and make it a better place by not being beaten by the bigotry and hatred they receive.

There’s only one Neil Lennon. Legend.

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 difference of opinion

I started writing this on my way to work yesterday. Once I got there, I read a few Celtic headlines and decided to postpone writing the blog.

When I read Neil Lennon’s post match praise of the team I thought I had been watching a different game altogether. Either that or I must have been more drunk than the hangover suggested.

To confuse matters further, Johan Mjallby was later quoted as saying the team were “utterly abysmal”. He did reserve some praise for the central defence though.

With Kelvin Wilson’s suggested departure, perhaps neither coach wanted to jinx the transfer. That deal has now gone through of course and this will all become confined to history.

The fact is that I, amongst others, felt that this was a poor Celtic performance. We may have progressed but it was a far from convincing ninety-plus minutes.

There was a time when progression in Europe was a distant memory for Celtic. Nowadays, the club find themselves in a situation where Europe is the lifeblood of every season.

Wednesday nights 0-0 against Elfsborg took us into this mornings draw for a play off spot. Now Celtic will face Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy for a place in the Champions League group stage.

I am pleased that Celtic have made it through to the play offs. The match that finally got us there was anything but pretty though.

Samaras had a golden opportunity early on and Ledley even looked like scoring. At no time did I ever think the team looked comfortable though.

The Celtic midfield were ‘passing’ the ball like a hot potato. Misplaced passes are Celtic of old, not today.

As much as Johan and Neil praised the defence I only felt that one of these players deserved it. Mikael Lustig turned in a great performance in defence and attack down the right flank.

Elsewhere in defence it appeared that the players were all over the place. So it was anything but assured at the back.

Elfsborg were nothing special, but anytime they attacked the Celtic Iooked like they had never played together. That was my major concern.

I’m certain that Neil was trying to keep his comments positive given that the team had just progressed to the next phase. It is the managers job at the end of the day.

As I say though, I am just glad Celtic are through. It may not be the group phase, but I expect more players to come in now that we’re in a safety zone.

We’ve just seen off Wilson, our most improved player last season, so there will need to be a replacement for him now. With any luck Celtic will go for that much awaited striker as well.

Regardless of the coaching staff’s mixed opinions, it would be ridiculous to ignore the performance in Borås. Elfsborg remain unbeaten at home in two years but it is Celtic who are in the Champions League play offs.

The Europa League is guaranteed for the loser. Some may think Celtic will see this one out no problem but I like to keep things realistic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie