The Deila Quandary

Celtic may as well burn their passports because right now they simply aren’t good enough to compete in Europe. Last night offered an opportunity to improve on a stuttering start in Group A of the Europa League but that failed to materialise.

Putting to one side any bad decisions we’ve had or unlucky moments, Celtic have not progressed this season. Last season we started badly then steadily things picked up.

Before this current campaign began I felt Ronny Deila could build upon that learning curve. A league and cup double as well as a last 32 place in the Europa League wasn’t bad for a first season in charge.

Considering how things started for Ronny, it was a reasonable finish to the season. He won over some fans and even put some critics on mute but they’ve merely been on standby until now.

As it turns out Celtic haven’t really made the progress we expected or wanted. We’re top of the league earlier than last season but we have regressed in Europe.

The funny thing is, there are actually some great individual positives in the team right now. Tierney, Bitton, Rogić and Griffiths are all in excellent form and ironically we’re still not out of the Europa League.

On the downside, our defence is weaker than ever and some players are playing well below the standard right now. We are also lightweight in attack with only one form striker in Griffiths.

However, it is our performances in Europe that concern us. We’ve missed out on the Champions League two years running and parachuted into the Europa League, which in all fairness isn’t any worse than Neil Lennon’s first two seasons in charge.

However, the chances Celtic have had to enter the Champions League and the opposition that have stood in our way were totally beatable. That is one of the biggest issues about those opportunities.

This season we might not make it to the last 32. For that reason alone, the numbers of Celtic fans calling time on Ronny Deila is on the rise.

I understand the opinions of those fans. However, I don’t see Deila being shown the door.

We all agree that in Europe it isn’t working. With a treble still on the table though, the club aren’t going to axe Ronny.

If he was getting pummelled by Aberdeen or Hearts then he might be seeking other employment. However he isn’t and he’s not.

Fan’s identify different areas to our current situation. For some it’s the coaching team, for others it’s the players but the board and Lawwell are also getting it in the neck.

Yet we’ve out spent some of the teams who have overcome us with ease. That raises questions about the coaching and players.

To solve the problem you have to identify what the issues are. In the league we’re doing okay but it could be a lot better.

In Europe we’re devoid of ideas and lackadaisical in defence. The passion and desire are not there.

Ronny’s methods appear to be fresh forward thinking. Are they getting Celtic the results the need or will they ever?

He could continue winning the league year after year in the current climate. Unless another club really can push Celtic or the tribute act survive long enough to make it to the Premiership and mount a challenge, there isn’t really much danger of losing the league.

It is in Europe that most if not all Celtic fans want to see progress though. We live for these occasions but Ronny is coming up short.

Playing Inter Milan last season had me foaming at the mouth about Europe given how unlucky we were. I’ve been brought crashing down to Earth on that matter given our current continental performances.

Europe is difficult territory. It can take money to get to the pinnacle but to compete it merely takes guile and tactical nous.

The latter comes from the coaching team but we appear to be suffering in that department. Sure, the players are making mistakes but is it all down to them or are the instructions and tactics flawed for Europe?

Getting rid of Deila will not change anything in my opinion. Unless Celtic are recruiting someone who can improve things in Europe then it’s a pointless exercise.

I like Ronny and would like to see him succeed but in Europe he is tactically naive. It was a very similar story for Neil Lennon in his first two seasons as well.

We can discuss player errors and individual performances but putting the defensive predicament to one side for a moment, this squad of players should be performing much better as a team than they currently are. I don’t think there is much wrong with the overall quality, but there is a question mark over motivation, game plan and leadership.

Something has to change. We can start with hearing some honesty from Celtic Park.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Stick or twist?

Ronny Deila’s job just got that little bit harder. In the wake of this season’s first Europa League defeat he is now under full scrutiny as Celtic manager.

Having weathered last season’s storm he and his players got into rhythm and looked to have turned a corner. This season we haven’t seen an improvement and are being worn down by the team’s own shortcomings.

I’ll nail my colours to the mast, I’m supporter of Ronny Deila and I want his plan to come to fruition. We’re not seeing evidence of it though.

There are many talking points on this. It doesn’t all come down to one person though.

Celtic have brought in and moved on some very good players in the last few years. That is where the club are at these days and I have no problem with that.

The most recent example is Virgil van Dijk. Rumours are not unfamiliar with Celtic but his departure was certified if the Champions League failed to materialise.

So with that eventually being te case and the on-loan Jason Denayer back at parent club Manchester City, Celtic no longer had a central defence. At best, Efe Ambrose was back up and certainly not a player to build your team around.

Mikael Lustig is a player whose skills and abilities have at times been hampered by injury. We’ve seen more of him recently and whilst that has been pleasing, he cannot carry the defence.

On the opposite berth, Emilio Izaguirre has had flashes in his debut season form. He is still often been found out defensively though which is why seeing young Kieran Tierney emerge has been encouraging.

With Adam Matthews departing for Sunderland and Darnell Fisher going out on loan to St Johnstone, Celtic were further weakened defensively. The arrival of Dedryck Boyata appeared to be swift and many would have though we were getting a maturer Denayer but I’ve yet to be convinced.

Celtic’s bold move for Jozo Šimunović at the supposed fee of £5.5M took be by surprise. For a player of his age there is a lot of pressure on him to match the valuation and with injury being his great contribution to the team, we’re still waiting to see what he can do.

Saidy Janko signed a four contract and fellow Manchester United colleague Tyler Blackett signed on loan to bolster the depleted ranks. Neither had a vast amount of first team experience though.

As yet, we have yet to see this current crop of defenders form an understanding. Many factors have played a part in this but it is alarming that Celtic are so vulnerable at the back.

Even the fine first season Craig Gordon had under Ronny Deila is beginning to look like a one off. So far he has escaped criticism from most but he has been as culpable as any Celtic defender this season.

So where do we go from here? Is it it just a failed defence that blights the Celtic cause or is there a bigger issue in play?

Celtic aren’t exactly prolific up front either these days or well endowed and despite the acquisition of Carlton Cole, he can’t play in Europe. That short sightedeness hurt Celtic last season and it appears we haven’t learned from that issue.

Like him or not, Stefan Šćepović should not have left the club without a suitable replacement.Nadir Çiftçi is not an out and out striker and we’ve entered this campaign without sufficient strikers.

The midfield on the other hand has a good supply of players. Even with the dip in form of Stefan Johansen, the performances of Nir Bitton and Tom Rogić have given us hope.

Even still, Kris Commons made his feelings known for all the world to see when he was substituted on Thursday evening. That was followed by a humble apology on Friday in front of the media.

As much as venting his spleen was unprofessional and underminding of the management, it did add weight to the fans argument that Ronny might be losing the fight. Many want him out and have done since last season.

Whist it is difficult to defend such appalling Celtic performances, I don’t wish to see Ronny Deila fail. I like the guy, I like that Celtic opted for a coach like him but this turn of events has made me wonder whether he has his reached limitations or simply requires more time to make things work.

Despite the Commons protest, the players have still come out and backed Deila. If the club are to get through this period it will only be done by standing together.

There needs to be a positive reaction to this bout of negativity. The Europa League is still salvageable and the Scottish Premiership remains on course but the one burning question for many is would Ronny Deila be given another crack at the Champions League?

Neil Lennon had two cracks at Europe before reaching the Champions League and one of those attempts was at the expense of FC Sion. Similarly, Ronny got another crack at Europe at expense of Legia Warsaw, albeit a different competition and different set of circumstance but as someone pointed out to me yesterday, Ronny has had better chances to get into the Champions League.

To ensure a third season happens, everyone at Celtic will have to step up there game. Not just Ronny Deila, but the players, the coaching staff and the scouts.

Today Celtic host Dundee United. With Aberdeen being held to a draw by Motherwell, Celtic have the chance to widen the gap at the top of the Scottish Premiership.

This team needs and enema.

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

Dons hungrier than Celts

Aberdeen hosted Celtic on Saturday lunchtime hoping to do what they failed to do on four encounters last season by winning. They finally achieved that and did so with one less player as well.

The first half had a sense of an old school battle with both teams creating chances either end. It was Celtic who would go in at the interval 1-0 up though courtesy of a Leigh Griffiths penalty.

After the break it was a different game. More scrappy and a little more edgy.

Aberdeen levelled from the penalty spot after Dedryck Boyata was judged to have fouled Graeme Shinnie.

I actually thought it was a harsh decision. Boyata has been culpable this season on more than one occasion and I’ve been critical of those errors but this is one I think the ref got wrong.

Then the game took another turn when Jonny Hayes was sent off for a challenge on Mikael Lustig. I personally felt it was a harsh red by Craig Thomson but he was swift with the card.

There was a mixed response from the Celtic support on this. If it had been the other way around I have no doubts that Hoops fans would have been livid to see one of their own players walk for that.

From that stage Celtic should have used some killer instinct but they did not. There were chances for Celtic but it didn’t look like they had a one man advantage.

As it was, Aberdeen would have the final say in this match. Former Celt, Niall McGinn floated a ball into the box and was slid home by Paul Quinn from close range.

You can argue that Gordon should have come for it. You could also argue that a Celtic defender should have got a head on it.

It doesn’t matter though. Celtic had a one man advantage for over 20 minutes.

They failed to use that and put Derek McInnes’s team to bed. Now, the Deila haters are out in full flow.

As I said in my last blog, I’ve been away for the last few weeks and only seen one live match. The rest has been highlights and match reports.

Throughout the game and in the aftermath of the defeat it appears a section of the Celtic supporter have had enough of Ronny Deila and his coaching team. What percentage of fans that amounts to I have no idea but I’m not jumping on that bandwagon right now.

I leant my support to Ronny Deila last season and was pleased to see him turn things around. He managed to silence his critics in the media, ex-players and sections of the support.

With the exit from the Champions League still a raw wound, it is easy to see why this kind of result is gets such a negative reaction. Ronny Deila and his coaching staff are under scrutiny but I’ll say once more though that I am not getting on that bandwagon, not in September anyway.

The forum I frequent from time to time was bulging with bed-wetter’s. It isn’t the first time I’ve seen this degree of backlash in tyenface of defeat and it won’t be the last.

Aberdeen deserved their win on Saturday because they were hungrier for it. It’s bad news for Celtic but we move on.

I’m not going to talk about the positives and negatives. It seems too many have made their minds up already.

We can talk all day about team selection, tactics and zonal marking but Ronny Deila isn’t the first manager to make poor decisions. All of his predecessors did so to.

Unless things are going horrifically wrong, I’ll judge a manager over a season. You would think the season is over already.

I won’t deny there are issues that need to be addressed but let’s sort that out as we move forward. To oust Deila and co at this stage is absurd.

For those of you calling for the managers head, go dry your eyes. I might have been away for three weeks but for crying out loud it’s mid-September.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Destiny awaits

Today sees the return of two fierce rivals at Hampden Park, Glasgow. I am of course talking about Celtic fans and Rangers fans.

Both sets of supporters will take up their old places in the stadium. The teams being supported meet for the very first time though.

Articles and blogs have been populated with this fixture ever since the draw was made for the Scottish League Cup sem finals. The media continue to perpetuate the lie that the club Celtic face on this afternoon is the same one they faced for over one hundred years.

As I said in my last post, you are never going to change the opinions of others. People believe what they want to believe but credit to those who aim to set the record straight.

Just as my fellow bloggers have done, we can lay down the facts around the the truth about Rangers. As one half of the divide though, we will struggle to convince anyone who is neutral because we are in direct opposition to the other half.

That is all that people see and that is your problem right there. Despite the media initially reporting the death of Rangers in 2012, they are now fully paid up members of the Rangers are alive and kicking club.

Sound familiar? Well Sir David ‘Moonbeams’ Murray had the media in his back pocket for the entirety of his reign at Rangers 1872. Rangers 2012 have now managed to convince the Scottish media, the SFA and the SPFL that it is the same club.

In reality, the only ones who believe this is the same club are the deluded fans who need someone to follow, follow. The media toe the line along with the muppets at Hampden.

Celtic also play their cards close to their chest. By doing so, they keep the peace.

The sad reality here is that Scottish football has once more gone backwards. Every time an opportunity arises to change the shape of our ailing sport, the powers within the game make a patchwork effort in healing Scottish football.

Everything was done to get Rangers 2012 into the top flight of Scottish football as soon as humanly possible. Only the integrity of the majority of Scottish clubs prevented that from happening.

It didn’t prevent the SPFL/SFA from reforming the structure and adding play-offs though. With the Ibrox club having no chance of winning the Scottish Championship this season, they have a life line in the play-offs with thanks to SPFL/SFA.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the play-offs are a good thing, as it has been in England. The timing of these changes is very convenient for Rangers 2012 though.

So it is up to Celtic to lay to rest this Ibrox team’s efforts in the league cup. Celtic are expected to win but that isn’t how football works.

The Hampden surface is in a terrible state and that will help level the playing field today. Add to that that we’re the biggest team Rangers 2012 have ever faced in their competitive history and there is plenty of motivation for them.

As former Celtic coach Kenny McDowall said:

“We are under major pressure to perform and it’s up to us to prove, if you can work, like Bradford and Middlesbrough did at the weekend, you can upset the favourites.”

Well, it is a cup game and it is not impossible. The only upset I want to see though is that continued upset look on McDowall’s face.

Ronny Deila is new to this level of tension in a fixture. It can get to you but he has plenty of experience around him from head to heads with the old club in guys like John Collins and John Kennedy.

On the field if play he hss more than enough experience and influence to see off the opposition. Gordon, Zaluska, Matthews, Izaguirre, Mulgrew, Brown, Commons, Forrest, Griffiths and Stokes have all played against the old club though not all will play today.

Mulgrew is injured so the rest comes down to starting lineup and substitutions. There are a whole host of options open to Deila for this one though.

My favoured lineup would be:

Gordon, Matthews, Izaguirre, Denayer, van Dijk, Brown, Johansen, Commons, Bitton, Stokes and Griffiths.

Lustig, Forrest and Guidetti as potential substitutes.

The pitch may be a mess, but there can be no mistakes from Celtic today. A date with Dundee United awaits.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie