Time to move on

As a Celtic fan you have first hand knowledge of how it feels to support the club. So what sort of experience do you have when you’re a player at this moment at Celtic Football Club?

In previous blogs I’ve stated that the manager has criticised the players in the face of defeat(s). The players have backed that claim by stating they hadn’t performed well enough.

What’s going through my mind though is are all the players of the same opinion? I know the first season for Ronny Deila saw a few players dropped for varying reasons but now we’re in season two and I’d be interested to know what the real mood is currently.

The one thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that with the exception of Kris Commons’ dugout explosion in Norway, there is a sense of uniformity when talking to the media. As a squad, players have put their hands up to errors, missed opportunities and poor performances.

Not that I would expect a player revolt but I don’t get the sense that the players are unhappy with the coaching. In fact many players have spoken positively about Ronny Deila and the impact he has had on their careers.

Unless the Celtic PR machine are putting on a front, I’d say that European results aside, it’s a happy camp. Now that either means that our squad are so average they can’t see the bigger picture or they believe in the current set-up and we can’t see the bigger picture.

Ronny continues to speak positively and remains unshaken in his belief that he will lead Celtic to greener pastures. In basic terms of course that means the Champions League.

With two failed opportunities under his belt now, Ronny can at the very least look at both campaigns and compare and review. He also has two Europa League campaigns to analyse as well but that all depends on whether he’s prepared to look at his mistakes or just pursue each game with the same plan regardless.

You see for Ronny his philosophy is about playing the game in a certain way. All of the time.

In Scotland you might get away with that because you’re Celtic and generally untouchable. In Europe though, Celtic are much further down the food chain.

As supporters we know that, but we want to be in the respected hierarchy of the game. To do that sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

When you compare Martin O’Neill’s style to Gordon Strachan’s it is easy to spot the difference. Martin wanted Celtic to play the Celtic way (and he had some excellent talent) whilst Gordon would play the way which was most likely to get a result with less individual talent.

We all know which style of football we preferred out of the two. We also know who did better in the Champions League – and no I haven’t forgotten about Seville!

My point here is tactics, adaptation, personnel, resources, motivation and the big one – experience. Not just experience in the squad but on the coaching team.

Ronny has had a run in management for seven years so he isn’t new to the role but his assistants are. What he did with Strømsgodset didn’t happen overnight, it took time.

He imposed his philosophy over a period where it finally paid off after a few years. That was with a club who hadn’t lifted a title in over 40 years.

I’m not suggesting that we wait forever. However, what if that change of gear comes next season?

Many including myself have already debated whether Ronny should get another bite at the cherry. Or even if the board fancy taking another risk.

For the most part my personal view has been to review things at the end of the season. At the same time, I’ve sought assurances over what will change to improve our chances of getting into the Champions League from what we’ve seen these last two summers.

The financial situation is not going to change between now and then. Two seasons without Champions League cash has made certain of that.

Are we waiting on Ronny Deila suddenly changing direction with his philosophy? Well no because he is being given the opportunity to do at Celtic what he did with Strømsgodset because Celtic have few better options.

That is why I think he will be given longer. It’s not so much about the individual purchases.

For me it is about nurturing an entire set-up. Currently this grooming isn’t winning over fans or getting good European results.

All I can say is that if Ronny is here next season it isn’t just about improving from this season. Its about failing to improve in Europe from his first year in charge.

Yes, we’re not even halfway through the current season. We’ve dropped out of Europe earlier than the last season though and that’s a step back.

With the treble still available it has to be a priority to take all domestic honours. There will never be a better time to get it and let’s face it, this could be the turning point for Ronny Deila’s Celtic career and the kick-start required to see him into next season.

Yesterday, Hearts drew with Motherwell and Aberdeen beat Ross County. Celtic have a chance to widen the gap to 7 points with a victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the Caledonian Stadium.

John Hughes’ side aren’t in the same vein of form as they were last season. That doesn’t make a 12.15pm kick-off in Inverness any more pleasing though, particularly in light of Celtic’s Euro exit.

Now it’s time to forget about Europe and concentrate fully on the league and cups. Time to move on.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In the moments after publishing this article, I discovered that Anthony Stokes vented his dissatisfaction on Twitter at being dragged up to Inverness only to discover he’ll be sitting in the stands. Being the most excluded senior player in the entire squad, I guess I can write him up as one player in opposition to Ronny Deila.

Pressure from above and below

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who says Scottish football is boring?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

The story so far…

After eight Premiership matches this season, Celtic find themselves five points better off than at the same stage last season. By contrast, Aberdeen are a staggering eleven points up from the same way point.

For both clubs, this is an improvement on last season, a huge one for Aberdeen. Celtic had a game at hand in their locker during that period last year but that was never a guaranteed three points.

And here’s the funny thing, neither team sat in the top four spots at that time. Celtic didn’t even break into third place until 1st November and finally first, eight days later after beating Aberdeen at Pittodrie.

Throughout the time Celtic had been trying to get to the top, Aberdeen had kept them company around fifth and sixth place in the Premiership. Celtic had ascended quicker, ousting Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and even Hamilton Academical from the berths above them.

Aberdeen lay in wait that bit longer and came gushing into second spot as Christmas came upon us. The gap was narrow but Celtic would prevail.

The story so far this season is somewhat different. Aberdeen have the upper hand and that’s what makes it really interesting.

Celtic are playing catchup to the team that ran them close last season. Derek McInnes is trying to eradicate last year’s errors and so far so good.

Today it’s back to league duty for everyone after a midweek of League Cup ties. With Aberdeen dumped out of that competition at the hands of Hibernian, they’ll be fully focused on the Premiership.

They’ll still be included in the Scottish Cup when it comes along but you can Derek McInnes will be making a bid for glory here. For Celtic though, they’re battling things out in four competitions.

Ronny Deila isn’t expected to win the Europa League. He is expected to win the treble though.

No rest for the wicked. Ronny Deila has had his work cut out him.

Yes, he has the superior squad, finances etc, etc. He’s also trying to change things at Celtic for long-term.

If it were simply a case of winning the league, double or treble then you would assume that whoever takes the helm at Celtic could achieve one of those quests. Ronny Deila is changing the entire culture at Celtic though and as he pointed out to the media, even with a league and cup double success from last season, he hasn’t won over all of his players.

In comments made to the media he stated that not every player has responded to his methods and targets. So even though guys like Bitton and Griffiths are examples of those who have conformed, some have found themselves on the fringes of his plans.

That being the case, it is not simply about winning the league. He has still to achieve an influence on his entire squad.

It certainly doesn’t sound as if he has lost the dressing room. Merely that some players are simply not up to the task.

In our hearts and minds I think we can work out who those players are likely to be. So there is another arc in Celtic’s progress this season especially with new players establishing themselves as well.

At this point in the season, it is still very early but as the end of 2015 comes, we’ll see who has earned themselves a regular spot and who has not. There is also a prime importance for Ronny Deila to establish a back four.

With Virgil van Dijk sold to Southampton and Jason Denayer back at Manchester City, it is a whole new central defence. Dedryck Boyata I have yet to be convinced by and I don’t think he’s looked anywhere near as good as Jason Denayer but he still has time on his side.

Jozo Šimunović has come with a huge price tag and a lot to prove. Ronny Deila has outlined him as a very good player but with only one game under his belt it will be some time before we know if the £5.5M paid was worth it.

On loan from Manchester United is Tyler Blackett and after a few games is also still finding his feet. His ability to play at left back or left centre back makes him useful as there is little cover for that position but just how much of an impact he will have is hard to tell at this stage.

Saidy Janko also came in from Manchester United and has looked good to me. I think his signature could turn it to be one of Deila’s best.

Kieran Tierney has also thrown his hat into the defensive ring this season and the signs are encouraging. The youth player has been given a few outings at left back under Deila and played well so I expect to see more of him throughout the season.

As for our more established defenders, you have Mikael Lustig, Efe Ambrose, Emilio Izaguirre and Charlie Mulgrew. When fit, Lustig could easily play for any team in Europe and if he can stay injury free he will be a key player for Celtic this season.

Ambrose fell out of favour last season and despite naturally fit player, he can still be held back by his decision-making and ability. Izaguirre is still an important player for Celtic and the challenge of Tierney and Blackett will keep him on his toes.

Mulgrew has seen himself back in defence more recently and is always an option for left centre back or left back. That will always depend on the opponent but he is equally utilised in the midfield.

What needs to be pin pointed is the central pairing in defence. Once established, Deila can make that partnership stick and when the need comes to make a single change, it should not be so disruptive.

Who those two players will be we have yet to find out. It will be key to Ronny Deila’s success this season on the domestic and European front if he can find a pairing that works.

So to today and Celtic host Heart of Midlothian at Celtic Park. Last seasons runaway Championship winners sit four points behind Celtic in the Premiership.

Their last three league matches have all been defeats and will be hoping to avoid a fourth today at the hands of the current Champions. Celtic utilised fringe players midweek against Raith Rovers but you can expect a strong team for today’s game.

Celtic need to win this one to keep pressure on Aberdeen. The Don’s are away to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and if it were last season I know who I’d put my money.

As it is, Inverness have had a poor start to this campaign with only one win in eight games. Pitting that statistic against an unbeaten Aberdeen gives you a rough idea where your money should go but you just never know when a form team can hit the skids.

Midweek was a slip up for McInnes but not for John Hughes, Ronny Deila or Robbie Neilson. All eyes will be on these two fixtures.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

A week of woe, wonder and welcome.

It has been quite a week for Celtic on and off the park. Enough talking points in fact to release a box set.

After the dust settled on Celtic reaching the Champions League play-offs, there was the draw. Out of the hat for Celtic came Swedish Champions Malmö FF.

I wasn’t the worst draw from the selection but it wasn’t the best either. I’d say of the five possibles Malmö lie somewhere in the middle of my preferences.

Just as we were digesting those two European ties, Celtic returned to domestic duties by dispatching Partick Thistle in the Glasgow derby.

Hot on the heels of that victory, John Collins became the focal point of Celtic Football Club. His comments around Scottish clubs and their inability to be clever enough to beat Celtic didn’t go down that will as I’m sure you can imagine.

On the one hand it is a bit arrogant and disrespectful toward other Scottish clubs. On the other, he was merely saying what most people already know and think.

As Mark Wilson said on Sportscene on Sunday “he was only saying what people are thinking, it’s just that nobody mentions it.”

And he isn’t wrong about that. Did he have to say it though?

Well the subject matter was actually on Celtic in Europe. Upon reflection of last season and this season the topic of how domestic football affected that.

This wasn’t a singular swipe at Scottish clubs. It was more of a case that this is the domestic situation Celtic are in and this is how it affects them in Europe.

Collins’ comment brought mixed reactions though. Players, managers and of course the media all came out either to back or blast the Celtic assistant manager.

It’s a storm in a tea-cup though. If on the opposing side to JC’s comments you would have taken great pleasure in the 2-2 draw at Kilmarnock midweek.

In a game where Celtic ran the Ayrshire side ragged it is hard to believe this one finished a stalemate. There were umpteen chances to put Killie to the sword but a late penalty saved them and shamed the Hoops.

James Forrest had an absolute blinder and Nir Bitton scored a peach of a goal. This game should have been a thrashing of Kilmarnock.

Karma for the Collins outburst? I’m sure many think so.

In the midst of that story came another. This time though on the transfer front.

Celtic are never far away from a transfer rumour be that one of their own players on the move, or bringing someone in. I’d love to see the statistics on these kind of stories because it would make interesting viewing but the one rumour that came from left field was the signing of Hibernian midfielder Scott Allan.

Up until Celtic’s rumoured interest in him, he was in the sports news almost daily about a move to Ibrox. This was on the back of handing in a transfer request and his supposed love of Rangers (though which version has yet to be determined).

This move has caused more of a stir than the John Collins story, ironically a former Hibernian midfielder himself. The pain emanating from the blue half of the divide has been quite palpable.

As you might expect from this kind of scenario, there have been the mandatory bigoted and sectarian chants across social media and beyond. This one must be quite painful for the Ibrox crew to take, particularly as Celtic have sent Liam Henderson in the other direction on loan.

The young midfielder has had a fantastic year under Ronny Deila getting a reasonable amount of game time. That was followed up with a short but productive loan spell at Rosenberg and all of this has been enough for the club to sign him on a new three-year deal.

Now he will have a full year under former Celtic defender Alan Stubbs at Hibs to bolster his experience. A two-way battle with the Ibrox club for the Championship should make these encounters worth a watch alone.

I didn’t take much of the Championship in last season at all. For that reason I can’t even give you my opinion of Scott Allan or what he could achieve potentially.

Like any new player he will get his chance to prove himself. I look forward to seeing what he can achieve.

With the current personnel vying for a place in the Celtic midfield he may find it difficult to obtain a place. I do wonder what Ronny Deila’s take on this signing is.

Are we expecting a departure, is this signing with a long-term view or was it purely just to get it right up the Ibrox crew. I must say one of the best response I saw on Twitter was from @SirBroxiBear “We need to strike back here and hit them where it really hurts and book the Thai Tims for our Christmas party”.

A perfectly weighted response from the blue half of the divide to diffuse any heated moment. I know that isn’t the opinions of all but this one made me grin so well done that man.

Continuing on the contract front, young Kieran Tierney signed a new contract with Celtic. He has impressed in his appearances for Celtic and a four-year deal will see him push Emilio Izaguirre for a place.

And so to today’s match against Inverness. After Wednesday’s slump against Killie, it’s time to get back on the horse and pump the Highlanders at Paradise.

Not sure if Allan will be available to play but at least he will be unveiled at the stadium today. A more clinical end product will be required against John Hughes’ side.

Inverness were more of a threat to Celtic than closest rivals Aberdeen so the warning signs are firmly in place. Let’s get this one ironed out with no mistakes because it’s Malmö on Wednesday.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

 

Comfortable at the top?

I’ve noticed over the last week several comments about Celtic winning the league comfortably. To be honest, I was somewhat baffled by this general view.

We all know how the Scottish game is viewed by outsiders. I’ll put those football ‘experts’ to one side for now and talk to those who actually watch Scottish football.

This season has been anything but a foregone conclusion. Credit must go to the teams who have been a thorn in the side of Celtic.

Aberdeen have put in another fine season and although the gap has widened since the turn of the year, are still a mathematical threat to Celtic’s title chances. However likely or unlikely that threat is, this season is not finished.

Despite failing to take any points off Celtic on any of their three meetings this season, Aberdeen have mounted a challenge. Had Derek McInnes overcome Ronny Deila in any of the three previous fixtures, that gap would be much smaller.

In behind the Don’s are Inverness Caledonian Thistle. John Hughes has had a great season and despite ousting Celtic from the Scottish Cup in controversial circumstances, it has been a decent innings for the Highlanders.

So much so, they overtook Jackie McNamara’s Dundee United. With some of the best talent produced in recent years, there is no doubt they were weakened by Celtic when the double swoop for Gary Mackay-Steven and Stuart Armstrong happened.

That is football though and there is only one club in Scotland who can afford to buy the best players from other Scottish clubs. If Celtic don’t buy these guys then they leave the country and quite possibly journey into obscurity.

How many players have gone south and disappeared into the lower leagues just for a better pay day? I’d much rather they were improving the game in Scotland but then I suppose that makes me a hypocrite because I left Scotland for the south for a change in life as well!

Having said that, Dundee United, ike most Scottish clubs need that money. They don’t have the fan base or infrastructure that Celtic do and as Ronny Deila said yesterday, this money is beneficial to Scottish clubs because it won’t come from any other avenue in the game right now.

Producing young talent is the best hope for Scotland’s clubs. Retaining it is the hardest part, though I digress!

To suggest that Celtic have or will win the league comfortably is doing a disservice to the clubs who have all taken points of Celtic this season. Hamilton Acccies put in a good start to the season, sitting at the summit for a number of weeks if memory serves correctly.

They are one of only six clubs in the Scottish Premiership that have taken points off Celtic this season. Dundee, Dundee United, Inverness Caledonian Thistle, Motherwell and St Johnstone make up the rest that pack.

Can you imagine if Aberdeen had managed to do the same? It might be a lot closer by now and to be fair they are already 6 points better off now than they were at the end of last season.

And that is the difference when you are aiming for glory. More often than not, you must be able to beat your biggest opponent to get in front of them.

That formula doesn’t always apply of course, particularly if you only play each other twice a season. In Scotland, losing all four matches against one opponent is technically a 12 point gap.

For that reason alone, I have always argued that playing each other twice in a larger league would raise competition in Scotland and improve the game as a whole. Unfortunately, the stewards of our game pander to a different audience as well as their own needs and in doing so drive our game into the ground.

Having said that, I am pleased with the challenge put in by some of the club’s this season in Scotland. There is still a need for investment though if anyone wishes to tackle Celtic season on season.

I’m hoping that with Hearts back in the top flight next season, they’ll make as good an effort in the Premiership as they did in the Championship.  Sure, it was a walk in the park for them, but they did so after learning a serious financial lesson and going about rectifying that with a positive approach.

So with four games left, 12 points up for grabs and an 8 point gap have Celtic ‘won’ this league as comfortably as the media have suggested? I don’t think so.

Celtic won last seasons league by a wapping 29 points to second placed Motherwell. Aberdeen came in third, 31 points behind Celtic – what a contrast for each of those clubs this season.

To win the league comfortably you have to be out in front with the kind of form that demonstrates you are in no danger of losing the title. Well I’m sorry but that was last season and I don’t think I’ve carried anywhere near a similar feeling in this campaign.

For starters Ronny Deila has battled hard to get his players up to the standards he believes in and by doing so lost some of our more fickle supporters. It took a while for Celtic to get to the top of the league due to some inconsistency and players fulfilling a different potential not to mention other teams starting the season well.

Eventually Celtic turned a corner in terms of team play and results, but there have been blips and poor performances since then. Right now, some players are beginning to look tired as well.

There is no guarantee Celtic won’t slip up in any of these last four matches and put their fourth-title-in-a-row chances in jeopardy. The question is, will Derek McInnes’s Aberdeen players stumble or will they aim to close that gap further?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Time for change

Before a ball was kicked on Sunday afternoon at Hampden, I felt it was going to be a challenging tie for Celtic. What I didn’t bargain for was the abysmal performance demonstrated by the match officials.

Without further ado though, I’d like to give credit to Inverness Caledonian Thistle and their manager, John Hughes. They’ve turned in a fine season under his stewardship and have always been a competitive team for Celtic.

So any attempt made by Celtic or their fans to question the refereeing of Sunday’s Scottish Cup Final is in no way a move to discredit their opponents or even make excuses for the defeat. As many fellow Celtic bloggers like Paul Brennan and James Forrest have already written in the last couple of days, the standard of refereeing in this match is a major concern.

Celtic already have made their position known and are seeking clarity on this disastrous piece of officiating from the SFA. There is no denying that one decision has been a costly one for Celtic Football Club.

Anyone who accepts this an honest mistake, given that two officials had a crystal clear view of the incident, are seriously deluded. There is no paranoia here, but it does make you wonder about what motivates some of Scotland’s officials.

I’m pleased that Celtic have taken action, even though it has already made them vastly unpopular. If Celtic don’t challenge the establishment then who will?

The Scottish game has yet to benefit from any kind of advancement in standards despite umpteen opportunities to do so. Since the last episode when Scottish football was analysed, nothing has changed.

Unfortunately, this is a recurring theme in the game north of the border. So is it any wonder our game is so dire?

A bit of rebranding here and a bit of rebranding there is the best the SFA can ever come up with. They cannot see beyond their own free lunches because they are happy with how things are.

What Scottish football needs is a revolution. Its been crying out for one for decades now.

Since the 70’s and 80’s football has progressed across the globe whilst Scotland has limped on. Why are standards so poor in Scottish football?

Because they have been allowed to sink that low.

Where do we go from here and what have we learned? Only that the SFA and league bodies cannot think outside of the box.

I hope Celtic take this all the way, I really do. Fairness and transparency is important for the future of the game and not just for the club I support.

Mistakes may happen, but this is an act of sheer negligence. If heads don’t roll then the SFA will have a shit storm to deal with and not just from Celtic.

My personal opinion regarding the SFA’s placing a charge against Josh Meekings retrospectively is too little too late. If he does indeed miss the final it does not answer the question as to why such a clear handball was missed by at least two officials.

All the SFA are doing here is deflecting the incompetence of their own officials. Inverness are said to be challenging the charge against Meekings and I don’t blame them.

Perhaps coming at the SFA from both sides is the only way Scottish clubs might get some answers from their governing body. We’ve endured their old boys network for too long.

Time for change.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie