Commons sense

So far this season, the Champions League has not been an easy ride for English clubs. With all of match day two fixtures of the competition done, there will be more relief than joy, particularly down Manchester way.

Despite both Mancunian clubs obtaining wins last night, they both lost their opening Champions League matches. Although they got their first points on the board last night, these were narrow victories.

Elsewhere, Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea were overcome by his former club Porto. It’s a similar story to City and United with one win and one defeat so far.

Worst still is Arsenal’s campaign. After two games they have yet to get any points on the board.

What I find staggering is that all these clubs have excellent funding but star signings don’t always seem to buy them success. Is there some sort of complacency amongst the Premier League’s super clubs in Europe or are they just badly managed?

Anything Celtic can do in Europe I hold in high esteem because it is generally a bloody hard task. Celtic may be above all other Scottish clubs but in Europe it’s a different ball game.

Any club that wins their domestic league should go straight into the Champions League, end of story. Unfortunately there are more represented countries than places in the current set up but I do think this competition requires serious revision.

The Champions League continually undermines the smaller teams and leagues whilst ensuring the bigger clubs with more than sufficient funds stay on top. Celtic, whilst having a reasonable reputation in European competition, are well short of the income to compete at the top and hindered even more by going through three qualifying rounds just to get into a group phase every summer.

And yet, Celtic continue to “punch above” their weight as Martin O’Neill once said. That has continued with the managers that succeeded him.

For Ronny Deila it is still coming together. Though despite two failed attempts at entering the Champions League, he has ensured Europa League status for two years running.

We shouldn’t sniff at that. It doesn’t have the glory of the Champions League, but the tournament should still be treated with respect.

Celtic got off to a flyer two weeks ago with a near victory. That draw in Amsterdam got us our first point away from home.

When you consider points on the road are not always guaranteed, that’s a damn good start. Tonight, Fenerbahçe will be a different prospect.

Whilst playing at home in front of your own audience has its advantages, Fenerbahçe are a different opponent. They lost their opening Europa League match a staggering 3-1 at home to Molde.

Turkey is renowned for its hostile atmosphere at matches. You might have read one or two opposing players from tonight’s match stating as much.

The Norwegians didn’t appear to be too intimidated though. So credit to them for axing the Turkish runners up and their team of ‘stars’.

Amongst those plying their trade in Istanbul are former Manchester United players Robin van Persie and Nani. Both have a wealth of experience on the European stage but it doesn’t stop there.

Their team also boast international players such as Raul Meireles, Bruno Alves, former Celtic target Michal Kadlec and Simon Kjær who all have between 50 and 99 caps each. That’s without mentioning the the home grown Turkish players, four Brazilians and a Senegalese international on-loan from Porto.

One on-loan player who will miss out tonight is Serbian, Lazar Marković. The Liverpool winger is out injured but as you can see, the Turkish side have plenty to choose from.

For Ronny Deila, it’s about creating the right blend again. We have a lot of players to choose from but it is about being effective.

With home advantage, he is likely to be more adventurous. However, caution needs to be paid to the experienced players amongst the Fenerbahçe ranks.

Their European and international careers are to be respected. This will be no easy task.

One area Deila needs to consider is who fills in for the suspended Emilio Izaguirre at left back. He has several options but it all depends on how defensive or offensive he wants that role to be.

Kieran Tierney has been getting some game time lately and done well when called upon. However, Deila may feel throwing him into his first European match is a tad risky.

Saidy Janko is another option but he too has yet to play in Europe. So it is likely that he will go with Tyler Blackett given that he has more senior experience over all and has played in one Europa League match already.

The rest of the defence is likely to consist of Lustig, Ambrose and Boyata with Gordon in goal as usual. Šimunović is a doubt for this match and with Mulgrew out injured the defence has more or less picked itself.

Brown and Bitton are certain to start this one but who do you surround them with? A few players have been off the boil recently such as Johansen and Mackay-Steven.

Forrest could be given the chance to turn on the home crowd on the right and if Armstrong is fit a place on the left. That leaves the attacking midfield role.

With Johansen off the boil I think we would all agree Commons is the man for this game. He’s earned his chance and could light things up tonight.

You have to feel sorry for Rogić though. He’s likely to be on the bench for this one but he has been superb this season so far so I expect an appearance at some stage.

The strikers role should go to Griffiths as he is our best option. You can probably expect Çiftçi to be given a chance against the Turkish side at some point though.

Elsewhere in the Europa League Spurs are away to Monaco whilst Liverpool are at home to FC Sion (remember them?). I’m sure with two English heavy weights in the same competition Celtic coverage will be kept to a minimum but with maximum criticism.

Celtic made a good start against Ajax. Let’s hope we see that continue tonight at Paradise.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

Advertisements

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