Time to be cut-throat with our over-inflated squad

No sooner than he is announced as Celtic’s new manager, Brendan Rodgers is said to be planning a clear out of players. This isn’t much of a surprise but it does seem to be prompt action.

Celtic have a massive team and in the hours following Rodgers signature, I’ve been discussing the current squad in my circle. Downsizing is a must particularly if fresh players are to be introduced but there are some question marks over key players.

Rumours are suggesting that Stefan Šćepović and Carlton Cole have already gone. Emilio Izaguirre was also set to leave but the word on the street is he will be back for pre-season training.

Perhaps the arrival of Rodgers has some players reconsidering their Celtic careers. This is not just limited to Izzy though, there are several players who will be evaluating their positions.

The latest rumour is linking Efe Ambrose with a move to Europa League opponents Fenerbahçe. I mean, if the Turkish club didn’t get a good enough look at his calamitous efforts when playing against him then I would say this is a cruel joke.

However, he does need to go and won’t get any argument from me. Tyler Blackett can also return to Manchester United after a poor loan spell.

In terms of do-they-or-don’t-they get new deals are Charlie Mulgrew, James Forrest and Darnell Fisher. All three are out of contract, though Forrest’s is said to run until mid-season, but whether they have futures at the club will be the first piece of business.

Mulgrew is a valuable utility man and any deal he offered is most likely to be small given his recent absence from the team. Forrest has also been a player absent from the first team but how much of that has been injury based is unclear.

He has had his fair share of them and has hindered his career at the club. Despite that, he has had some fantastic games for the club, we just haven’t seen it for so long and he might become surplus to requirement.s

Fisher, has been on loan at St Johnstone this season but played less than a dozen games. He looked like a decent prospect, despite playing in an oversubscribed playing position.

With Mikael Lustig currently first choice, Saidy Janko second, Fisher is likely to be cut. That would only change if either of the first two were to leave which is doubtful.

In the final year of their contracts are Kris Commons, Stefan Johansen, Tom Rogic, Leonardo Fasan and Eoghan O’Connell. Also on that list are Emilio Izaguirre and Efe Ambrose.

There is opportunity for Celtic to cash in on all or some of these guys. However, one player the club should make a priority to keep is Tom Rogic.

Put simply, he is one of our best players and given the season he has just had, deserves a new contract. Commons’ value will be low given his age but his ability suggests he still has a role to play at the club.

Johansen had a great start to his Celtic career but this season has been poor. There is nothing to suggest he won’t get back to his best and a new contract would depend on that and his desire to stay.

Fasan and O’Connell are squad players who have never made an impact and could will either go out on loan, let their contracts wind down or be sold off. The only other player with a year left to go is Cole but if rumours are accurate, we can confine him to the scrap-heap.

Then there is the matter of Celtic’s players out on loan. Fisher we’ve covered, the Šćepović rumour has yet to be clarified so that leaves some key players to discuss.

After 4 goals in 22 appearances for Celtic, Nadir Çiftçi was shipped out on loan to Eskişehirspor during the January transfer window. He lasted just 34 minutes in his first game before being substituted and was sent of in his second after receiving two yellow cards in the space of a minute.

In 10 appearances he managed 3 goals and now Eskişehirspor have been relegated. Given that their fans set fire to their own stadium following that, I’d say Çiftçi and Eskişehirspor are a good fit for each other.

Before going to Hibs, Liam Henderson was looking like a very decent midfield prospect. However, it is a busy area in terms of personnel and Celtic farmed him out for some first team experience.

He played the end of last season at Rosenborg where he scored 4 goals in 13 games. After returning to Celtic he was then off on a season long loan to Championship club, Hibs.

He’s played a massive 48 games and scored 6 goals. Will he be returning to Celtic this summer and making an impact in the first team?

Well he certainly has the talent but like I say, there is a lot of competition in the team right now. His future may depend on the future of others with expired/expiring contracts.

Another Hibs player with a question mark over his future is Anthony Stokes. I’ve been fairly convinced the club have been trying to move him on but as you might have seen from his performance in the Scottish Cup Final, he still has a lot of worth.

He is still only 27 and you know what, Brendan Rodgers might just fancy him for the left flank. At the moment, it isn’t our strongest position but it is a place Stokes knows inside out.

Is it time for the prodigal son to return? Watch this space.

Other loanees are Stuart Findlay, Calum Waters, and Aidan Nesbitt. These guys could very well be part of the next generation but right now there immediate futures are not a burning issue.

So what about our other team members? Will we see any more movement within the squad?

Well in the goalkeeper department we are reasonably secure for the coming season with Craig Gordon as number one and Logan Bailly as backup. The defence isn’t looking too bad either though that will all depend on who is available.

Erik Sviatchenko looks good and steady at the back. He needs a permanent partner though and my first choice would be Jozo Šimunović.

However, Jozo has had his injuries and the central defensive pairing will depend on his recovery and long-term fitness. If that doesn’t work out then you are looking at Dedryck Boyata.

In all honesty, I haven’t been convinced by the Belgian who was a permanent buy from Manchester City once Jason Denayer returned to them from his loan spell. Boyata hasn’t even come close to looking as good as Denayer so this season is make or break for him.

Our midfield is flooding with personnel right now and to accommodate all of them is a tall order. Captain Scott Brown has had a dodgy season but there is no danger of losing his services though I do think Rodgers should not be afraid to drop him.

Nir Bitton is a fine player when he wants to be, despite his languid demeanour at times. I’d be happy for him to stay on though with a return to form we may find it difficult to prevent a future move.

Gary Mackay-Steven has had some decent games for Celtic but he lacks any sort of consistency. Even at his best, he hasn’t looked as good as James Forrest and with Patrick Roberts currently blowing away almost every other Celtic player right now, Mackay-Steven is on the fringes right now.

One player growing in importance and demonstrating is adaptability is Callum McGregor. Ronny Deila gave him his first outing in the first team and has been a very loyal servant to the now departed Celtic Head Coach.

He can play wide, central or deep and has an eye for goal. His place in this squad is not in jeopardy.

Stuart Armstrong is wasted out in the wide areas. He might have a left foot but he is not a let winger.

For me, he needs to play more of a central role. He isn’t fast but he is strong, has great technique and can pick out a pass.

The two players who will be knocking on the door of the new manager will be Ryan Christie and Scott Allan. Both came in last summer and have played a small amount of matches, though Christie was loaned back to his previous club for half of this season as well has suffering and injury.

They are both highly rated players and could well be the part of the new season under Rodgers. Celtic need to push forward and these guys can be part of it but as I have said before, we have a lot of players in the midfield position and something or someone will have to give.

In the youth front, Anthony Ralston and Joe Thomson are still on the periphery. With so many players ahead of them their time is likely to be a bit further down the line.

Up front is an area where Celtic are lightweight. Leigh Griffiths is our star player right now but he has not backup. Colin Kazim-Richards is a more physical player but he doesn’t’ provide anywhere near the same kind of ability so this is an area where Celtic will have to strengthen, particularly if we are to make inroads in Europe once more.

Jack Aitchison came off the bench to score with his first touch in his first senior appearance for the club in the 7-0 mauling of Motherwell. He also became the youngest ever player to score for Celtic, breaking an age-old record.

You can’t judge the boy on one goal. If he can offer something long-term in attack we will soon find out though.

Rodgers might have to be cut-throat to bring down the squad size in order to make some space for new players. We already have a new player in Kristoffer Ajer joining the ranks as part of a pre-planned deal but there will be further moves and changes in the coming weeks.

Exciting times to be a Celtic supporter.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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What does the future hold?

The current season is far from concluded but the one that follows isn’t far away in terms of time or planning. In fact it is most certainly well in to the latter already, but the question is who will still be involved next season?

Celtic bought in the January transfer window once more. By acquiring certain players it suggests future planning with a central defender, winger and striker added to the ranks.

There will be further movement come the summer and no doubt, some will need to go. Not necessarily to make way for new players, but because the squad is too large and not everyone is performing as they should be.

Craig Gordon – a standout performer in his first season, he has slid in terms of reliability in this current season but has looked better recently. I don’t think his position is in jeopardy for next season though. Verdict: still no.1 in the current set up

Logan Bailly – nothing to suggest he will get the nod ahead of Gordon or that he will be on the move. Will remain no.2 to Gordon. Verdict: must push Gordon for no.1 spot

Leonardo Fasan – the young goalkeeper would have loved to get the no.2 slot but was deemed too inexperienced. At 22 he will want and will need first team experience. Verdict: loan out for a season

Mikael Lustig – close to equalling his best ever season in terms of appearances and goals, the Swede has had his share of injuries at Celtic. This season he has avoided major injury and worn the captain’s armband in the absence of Mulgrew and Brown. I fully expect to see him back in the fold next season as well. Verdict: a key player, particularly in big games

Saidy Janko – unlike his fellow right back, the Swiss youngster has been out for the majority of the season due to injury. He showed early promise and left many Manchester United fans disgruntled at the loss of a good prospect. It will be good to see him back in contention for next season. Verdict: target a place in the team for next season

Efe Ambrose – the Nigerian internationalist is now in his fourth season for the club and on course for his fourth league winners medal. He joined a Celtic side at their peak under Neil Lennon but his errors have exposed him badly, particularly in big matches. Whether he remains a bit part player or is moved on remains to be seen but I personally don’t see him as a key player for Celtic in their bid to make progress. Verdict: time to go I’m afraid

Emilio Izaguirre – the Honduran internationalist made a huge impact when he signed for Celtic nearly 6 years ago. He has endured serious injury, won prizes and is still very much a talented player. This season he has lost his place to an emerging youngster but it remains to be seen if this spells the end for Izzy. With good left backs a rare breed it is both hard to satisfy and retain two good ones at the same time. Verdict: more than happy if he stays but club may cash in this summer if the opportunity arises

Kieran Tierney – nobody expected such positive results from this player when he stepped into the first team but he has now held down the position and made it his own. It is a testimony to his ability and application that he can keep an internationalist of more than 80 caps out of the side whilst he embarks upon his own career for club and country. Verdict: a very long and bright future at Celtic

Charlie Mulgrew – out for most of the season through injury, he has emerged (not for the first time) as a calming influence at the back for Celtic recently. Versatile as he can be, it is hard to know what Mulgrew’s best position is but he does provide options for a manager and that is a valuable tool to retain and utilise. Verdict: worth another contract for sure (and looks like he’s getting one)

Dedryck Boyata – brought in last summer as a replacement from Manchester City who took back Jason Denayer much to our disappointment. I think I am being honest in saying that Boyata isn’t a patch on his fellow Belgian and former City colleague. There is still time for Boyata to prove his worth but to date, I am less than convinced. Verdict: no doubt will remain at the club but as backup to the preferred centre backs

Jozo Šimunović – the young Croatian was drafted in with a hefty price tag but that transpired to be off the mark in terms of accuracy. He was injured early on in his Celtic career and is once more, but hopefully once recovered he can show as much promise as he has in the games he has played in so far this season. The hope is that he makes a full recovery from this season ending injury which required surgery recently. Verdict: hopefully we’ll see him emboss himself in next seasons defence

Erik Sviatchenko – this is the player I’d like to see build that relationship with Šimunović. Sviatchenko has been thrown into the mix and helped settle things down at the back for Celtic during a turbulent and pressurised period. He claims not to be fully fit at the moment and just scooped player of the year in his homeland, suffice to say I think we’ve got a good one. Verdict: looks a like a good acquisition for Delia

Tyler Blackett – Manchester United allowed this young, inexperienced defender to come to Glasgow on loan. He got his chance earlier in the season but was less than impressive. Verdict: return to sender

Eoghan O’Connell – this promising central defender has played a handful of games for Celtic and looked comfortable at senior level even as a teenager. A loan spell at Oldham Athletic this season was used to gain him some first team experience only to be cut short by injury. He has now gone on a further loan spell to home town club Cork City to get the experience he missed out on last year. Verdict: still a good choice for the future

Stuart Findlay – another young talent currently out on loan at Kilmarnock, seeking first team experience and a future at Celtic. The central defender has plenty of international experience for Scotland from under-16 through to under-21 and despite no real opportunity at Celtic just yet, there is nothing to suggest that his future cannot start at the club in the near future. Verdict: still time to stake a claim

Calum Waters – the young full back has also been out loan this season with Dumbarton benefiting from his talent. He has also represented Scotland, at under-16 to under-19 level and will be looking for a chance at Celtic, but with right back an oversubscribed position at the club, he may struggle in getting that chance. Verdict: another loan spell wouldn’t be a disaster

Darnell Fisher – sent out on loan for the season, I think this is one player who deserves to be part of the squad. Nothing fancy but showed enough under Neil Lennon when called upon to do a job at right back and right midfield. His loan spell could prove to be useful should Celtic bring him back and keep him and upon turning 22 next month, the first team should be his priority or the club may move him on. Verdict: time to push for a first team place

Scott Brown – club captain and still a big influence in the first team, he remains a key part of this squad. He is a strong character who has matured well in the Celtic jersey. There is little doubt he could retire at Celtic but he has many years left in him before that happens. Verdict: can’t imagine a Celtic squad without Broony right now

Nir Bitton – the Israeli midfielder has blossomed over the last year or so into a key player for this team. At 24 he still has his best years ahead of him and whilst that is good for Celtic, they may find it difficult to hang on to him if his talent continues to grow. A good offer may not come this summer but I wouldn’t rule out one in the near future. Verdict: an essential player who may be tempted by a big money move

Derk Boerrigter – definitely in the top ten of Celtic’ s worst ever signings, this guy should have gone last summer never mind this summer. Verdict: go now please

Stuart Armstrong – looking more assured in a Celtic jersey since he signed just over a year ago, I think he will grow into a key player for Celtic. Verdict: would like to see him in central midfield

Kris Commons – few would argue that he is one if not the most talented players currently plying his trade at Celtic. Age is currently against the gifted player and for many, he hasn’t seen enough game time under Deila. Verdict: Celtic will want to retain his skills for as long as he can still cut it at the top

Gary Mackay-Steven – another Dundee United acquisition from last year, he has made a reasonable contribution to the team albeit, not consistently. This is a player who has put in some fine games but needs to push on if he wants to keep a place in the team. Verdict: still looking for more from the winger

Ryan Christie – after signing in the summer he went back to his previous club on loan but now he is pushing for a place in the Celtic first team. Verdict: a very promising young player who could be very big for this club

Tom Rogic – I for one am glad this guy has made it into the first team. His services have been a rare joy this season and I look forward to seeing more and more from this exciting Australian. Verdict: Celtic should pull out all the stops to keep this guy

Scott Allan – many think a run in this team is long overdue for the former Hibs midfielder but his time will come. As established midfielders begin to age or become subject to transfer speculation I have no doubt he will be among this next wave of talent at Celtic who are the future of the club. Verdict: a key part of the future midfield

Stefan Johansen – even though he has been way off the boil this season he is still a big player for the club. His first season and a half were impressive and whilst this one has been largely forgettable, I think any suggestion of him being sold is utter nonsense unless it is what he wants. Verdict: needs to get back to his best next season

Patrick Roberts – on loan from Manchester City, this player has come highly recommended. With his services available at Celtic until next summer, Deila will be looking for this bedding in period to help the winger establish himself in the first team and play a key role next season particularly in Europe. Verdict: high expectations from his long-term loan

Callum McGregor – he is but one example who has responded to and performed for Deila. He is a big part of the team now and provides the team with a good attacking option. Verdict: has taken his chance at senior level

James Forrest – now at the age of 24 and in his 6th full season in the first team, the often exciting winger is now looking close to leaving the club after turning down a new contract. The contract was said to be a good one but the player obviously sees that differently. As much as I would hate to lose his services, injuries are a problem for Forrest and it could well be that was factored into the deal he was offered by the club. Verdict: likely to depart in the summer

Joe Thomson – a young player who still has age on his side, he has made just one sub appearance for the club. Like many other Celtic hopefuls, he has a lot of international experience with Scotland at across the youth teams from under-15 up to under-19 but lacks the first team experience to push past the current list of midfielders-in-waiting. Verdict: a loan move will be essential for his development

Liam Henderson – this is one player who has shown to be a promising talent both in the Celtic first team and out on loan. He burst onto the scene under Neil Lennon and continued that under Ronny Deila but in a congested midfield, he was sent out on loan to Rosenborg and now with Hibs where he has played more than 30 games this season. He has made a significant impact with both clubs in the space of a year. Verdict : undoubtedly a player I look forward to coming back and wearing the Hoops for many years to come

Leigh Griffiths – Celtic’s top player right now and prime candidate for player of the year. His goals are the statistical difference between first and second place in the league but his skill and touch are equally as impressive. Some strikers possess pace, some with a powerful shot but when on his game the touch displayed by Griffiths can be spectacular. Verdict: unplayable but needs more support at times from his midfield or a second striker

Colin Kazim-Richards – the “Coca-Cola Kid” hasn’t had the success he may have liked in football but he has certainly has had the clubs. The London born Turkish international has been around English and Turkish clubs with pit-stops in France, Greece, Holland and now Scotland. At 29 years old, he comes with experience but the real hard work will be done next season when he will be expected to provide more to this team. Verdict: only time will tell

Carlton Cole – the former England international penned a two-year deal with Celtic last year but has been a seldom seen figure. With the greatest of respect to the big fella, he is little more than a squad player who might provide a ‘presence’ up front at a key stage in a match. In all honesty his best years are behind him at West Ham United. Verdict: a curious signing but he’s all ours for another year!

Nadir Çiftçi – for a player we were all pretty much universal in our condemnation of, he has done little to appeal even to the most passive of Celtic fans. He got plenty of game time at the beginning of the season but it proved to be largely uninspiring despite scoring 4 goals in 11 league appearances. This loan spell Eskişehirspor has yielded 1 goal in 4 appearances but what has been more notable was that he subbed in his first game, then sent off in the second. It could happen to anyone but he never seems far from on-the-field controversy. Verdict: can Celtic afford another striker failure?

Stefan Šćepović – yet another striker who failed to hit the mark for the club. The Serb came with a reasonable scoring record from his previous club like fellow Celtic loanee, Çiftçi but struggled to make headway in the first team. All his 6 goals in 25 appearances last season earned him was a loan move to Getafe. Verdict: doubtful to return

Anthony Stokes – unlike the previous two loanees, Stokes has actually done a job for Celtic since he joining in 2010. Under Deila though, he has been frozen out. Off the field, Stokes has not helped himself and the club have frowned upon that. Verdict: Despite his skill and success he will be gone in the summer.

Aidan Nesbitt – of all the strikers out on loan, only this kid is a certainty to return t the fold. He has been hailed as one for the future and could well go out on loan again next season but if the current backup to Griffiths fail to deliver, you could be seeing this kid sooner rather than later. Verdict: great expectations

So, there you have it. My take on the current squad is that from front to back Celtic could or should be parting with Blackett, Ambrose, Boerrigter, Forrest, Stokes and Šćepović permanently but that list is by no means final.

The only player confirmed for this coming summer is Kristoffer Ajer who is yet another midfielder. At 17 he is much younger than anyone else in the Celtic team but a player which Deila has pursued with intent.

Next season this team could look very different in terms of regular appearances. Until then, there is work to be done and places being fought for to secure a league and cup double.

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

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

 

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

Competition for places in Paisley

Celtic got their preseason underway at St Mirren Park last night. The result is often not an immediate concern in these games but it was still good to end the match with a clean sheet and two goals in the bag.

Paisley was the location for these first of three warm up matches, with FC Den Bosch the first opponent. The Dutch second division club were overawed by Celtic dominance in the first half which featured both goals for the Hoops.

The first came from Gary Mackay-Steven in the early minutes of the match. The second also came via the former Dundee United player though the Den Bosch keeper saved the effort only for it to be bundled into the net by his own player.

Cruel, but fair because it was one way traffic by Celtic. In truth it could have been much more in that first half alone.

Gary Mackay-Steven was at the heart of most moves showing great energy with every run. There were plenty of other notable performances into the bargain.

Boyata looked comfortable to the point he van Dijk were mainly just feeding the ball forward whilst Lustig (C) and youngster Kieran Tierney filled the full back berths. They were rarely called into to defend much but a valuable run out in the Hoops for Boyata, a development squad player in Tierney and of course a very much missed Lustig.

Young Luke Donnelly took up the midfield attack role between Mackay-Steven and Armstrong. He turned in a good performance and looked comfortable in the role.

Tom Rogić was among a midfield holding two along with Liam Henderson. Both were close to matching energy of Mackay-Steven and is encouraging news for Ronny Deila that they both looked so capable together.

Many fans have been keen to see Rogić back in the Hoops, myself included. With Henderson back from a brief, but worth while loan spell at Rosenberg its like having two new players.

That can only be good news for Celtic. Knowing that Scott Brown and Nir Bitton have back up means there is cover as well pressure.

In fact Celtic have an abundance of wealth in the midfield. The question is who will be shed by the club to trim down to Ronny Deila’s ideal squad size?

So far Celtic have moved on four players and acquired two. Over the next two months I would expect to see more exits.

I was surprised to see Dylan McGeouch and Jackson Irvine (you have to check out his squad picture on the official website) among the recently updated squad list. Both have been on the books for a while and out on loan recently so what of their futures?

McGeouch has had a good season with Hibs and Alan Stubbs looked keen to have him stay but I believe Celtic activated an extra year on his contract. As for Irvine, he’s had good run in the Ross County side.

Despite both having a good season I was a little surprised to see them back. Not because I don’t rate them but because Ronny is trying to trim the squad.

Perhaps it is part of some bigger plan. Pool all of your talent throughout this summer and have them all competing for a place to stay?

Well I’m not sure but Ronny is intent in blooding youngsters as part of using the talent the club rear. With that in mind these friendlies are as much of a shop window as they are a warm up for the Champions League qualifiers.

Then second half of last night’s match saw the manager throw on eight players on for the last 30 mins. Though mostly players from the academy, one of those was the not so young Derk Boerrigter.

He turned in a decent 30 mins to be fair and even recovered from an injury during play. If there was one player who is on that list to exit though it is Boerrigter and he did his chances no harm if any prospective buyers were watching.

One player keen to ensure he stays will be Stefan Šćepović. After a season of woe, he will be aiming to up his game this summer.

Recently he openly admitted to struggling to adapt to the Scottish game. This season the gauntlet has been thrown down for him to perform because I doubt he will be on the snip list.

Next up is Dukla Prague where we’ll see further outings by from the whole squad. One of those could be new signing Saidy Janko from Manchester United.

His role has yet to be established but it could spell the end for someone in that right side of the park. The club cannot sustain Lustig, Fisher, Matthews, Ambrose and Saidy for that right back/wing back role so something will have to give.

It’s interesting times with competition for places are fierce. With the young talent that took to the field last night the future looks bright for Celtic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

I like what I hear

Evolution seems to be at the forefront of Ronny Deila’s philosophy. Less than a year ago, many were willing to go all “Le Guen” on him.

We saw how the French revolution turned out at Oldco. At Celtic, I like the Norwegian approach and how that is turning out.

Celtic have tried things their way for a good few years. This new way forward excites me.

A smaller squad to accommodate the youth who are filtering through. Why weren’t we doing this sooner?

Tommy Burns was pursuing youth development in the mid-90’s. He got some backing but not the full backing he desired.

Today Ronny is getting that backing and I welcome it. Too many squad players on salaries they don’t deserve have drained the club for too long.

Give youth a chance and see just how good your investment is. Ronny is suggesting a suitable squad size is not far away from being achieved.

This is the way forward, particularly where youth development is concerned. The prospect of actually seeing young players getting the opportunity is long overdue.

Yes, we’ve seen the odd young player break onto the scene like Maloney, McGeady and more recently Forrest. That’s one player in every generation that makes it as a regular.

Personally, I’d like to see three or four youth players amongst the ranks regularly. There’s little point investing in youth if you just ship them out once they reach maturity.

Fortunately, Ronny has youth in mind and a squad size to allow those players to filter into the team. Again, this excites me.

All the managers Celtic have had for the last couple of decades have all built Celtic teams by buying players from England and the continent. This ever decreasing spending budget has seen the high spending of the Martin O’Neill days slide to the point where one of his biggest purchases, Neil Lennon, had little to spend when he eventually took the hot seat.

With Ronny Deila, there has been money to spend but Celtic cannot compete with the top clubs. Salaries as well as transfer fees leave Celtic well out of the game.

It was reported that players such as Steven Fletcher and Ikechi Anya were priced of the market for Celtic’s wage structure even if the transfer fees weren’t. Whether these moves were even on the cards doesn’t matter, the point is Celtic must get these kind of players before their wages become the issue.

So if there was ever a reason to utilise the youth you’ve invested in, it is this. Bring in the best, coach them for the first team, play them and pay them what you can afford.

If these players are looking for a bigger salary than Celtic can afford, they’ll need to prove themselves first before they can get those high end wages. At least the club should get something in return if they do move on, as well as having got the use of their services by actually giving them a chance.

In the past Celtic have had some mishaps with players such as Liam Miller who broke onto the scene only to show his true nature by jumping ship. Nobody would have predicted that a player who had been given tremendous support by the club through his injury hell and then given a regular place in the team would have carried out such disloyalty by leaving to join Manchester United for free.

Still, Miller got what he deserved which was a career without much success. I won’t hide my bitterness on this or lie when I say I enjoyed watching his career slide.

You cannot account for players like him, you just have to nurture them and give them a chance. If they choose to stab you in the back that’s out with your control.

More recently, an ill-advised Islam Feruz left Celtic for Chelsea. Again, Celtic were powerless in his move south but it is again another example of disloyalty you cannot account for.

Still, this should never deter you from nurturing young players. They are the lifeblood of the club and all want to make it even if some won’t but if you don’t give them chance you’ll never know.

I look forward to phase two of Ronny Deila’s plans for the team. Leaner, faster with more opportunity for youth.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac