Keep on moving on

From the moment Celtic lost to The Rangers at Hampden, it was clear Ronny Deila had to go. For many this was an accident waiting to happen and on this occasion they were correct.

I never held the view that Ronny should have gone before now but many did. I was prepared to give him time to prove himself.

After last seasons positive turnaround, Ronny had proved some people wrong. He didn’t qualify for the Champions League or even win the Scottish Cup but he delivered a League title and League Cup as well as making it to the last 32 of the Europa League only to lose out to Inter Milan.

That was enough to give us a good footing for the current season. As it transpired we seemed to lose our footing somewhere along the way.

A second failed attempt to get into the Champions League group phase was the last straw for many supporters. As hard as that was to take, I was prepared to see where we were come Christmas.

Not just in terms of Europe though. Domestic matters were equally as important.

By then, a treble was still on the cards and had that been achieved, Ronny was almost assured to be here for next season. Only a catastrophic error would seal his fate.

Again, this wasn’t enough for many supporters. They wanted the Norwegian gone by the time the festive period was upon us.

A dire style of football, stuttering performances in the league and a dismal showing in the Europa League was too much to take. There was deep concern about the future of the club and more importantly the following season.

And so, having suffered defeat in one cup competition, exiting a second to the team who succeeded your old rivals, it was the final nail in the coffin for Ronny Deila. The catastrophic failure had occurred.

What many had warned about came to fruition. Had he won the treble or a double we might not be talking about this but now we are.

As a supporter I was one of the few to afford Ronny the time to prove people wrong as he did last season. On the back of this recent low point there was no way to redeem himself.

I have no regrets about my opinions on Ronny though. I still like the guy and wanted him to succeed.

Was there less of a challenge in Scotland with the demise of our old rivals? Did the club cut back because of this?

Should we have achieved more despite the circumstances? Was Ronny appointed because we weren’t prepared to pay the money whilst there was no real rival in the league?

It’s all very possible. And yet, more could have been done even if he wasn’t the right appointment in the first place.

Ronny’s selection by the Celtic board was a left field one. It was also one I agreed with even if it did strike me as a bold one for our club.

He was unknown to us and what we read and googled about him was new to us. This was an experiment by the club which failed to deliver.

A high pressing game was at the forefront of the Ronny’s coaching philosophy. There was also the 24 hour athlete mantra.

Both fan and media have hung onto those words like an American to their constitution. Whilst a new health and fitness lifestyle was being rolled out at the club, we never quite saw the game play we were promised.

In Ronny’s near two years at the club we’ve seen a whole host of players come and go. Bad buys, ineffective loanees and our best players slipping through his fingers have contributed to Ronny’s downfall but that was happening before he arrived as well.

Our scouting has been nothing short of shocking recently. When we’ve procured someone decent it’s been more of a relief than a victory.

In the end though, the buck lies with the board. They hire and they fire.

They sanction the money and they recruit the personnel. The question is, who claims responsibility for these string of bad buys and appointments?

Allan McDonald, the man Fergus McCann installed as CEO toward the end of his five year rebuilding of Celtic was a man who took responsibility. After the failure of John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish, McDonald fell on his own sword like a man.

He felt he had let the club and the fans down. Are Peter Lawwell and co any different?

McDonald only did it once and he walked. The same people have been making the same errors since Tony Mowbray’s appointment.

So whilst Ronny Deila may have been out of his depth, there remains an issue within the club’s structure. We may be unable to pay top dollar, but we can do a lot better.

The question of who succeeds Ronny is a huge one. I don’t think the club can afford to be prudent this time around.

Celtic have lost ground in Europe again. On the plus side, I do think there is core within this team that can form the basis of a future squad.

I’ve already made a case for or against each player at the club in an earlier blog. What needs to happen now is someone who can come in and turn things around starting next month.

That means going back to basics, assessing the squad’s capabilities and forming a new bond. I always felt there was a motivational issue and that the problem ran deeper.

Perhaps Ronny did want to leave earlier than now but was denied as some have suggested? Might that account for the way things have been this season?

Who knows? That’s purely conjecture.

The bottom line is that we need to move forward. The club cannot afford to leave any stone unturned.

A new coaching team is of the highest importance but as I have already mentioned, Celtic have other areas of failure. From Lennoxtown to the boardroom, everyone is accountable.

If the club want to keep moving forward, they’ll have to start looking inward. As for today, lend your support to bring home the title.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Everything out in the open

At a time in the season when trophies are the paramount of importance, another discussion is in circulation on planet Celtic. Discontent is high on the agenda right now and the future of this Celtic team, their coaching staff and those who wear the suits, surrounds everything.

If you consider Celtic to be the best team in Scotland, which they still are at the moment, an outsider might say “well what’s the problem then?” The simple answer would be “for how much longer?”

That of course is based partly on the current sequence of events which is largely seeing Celtic struggle to secure a fifth successive league title. It doesn’t end there though because the situation is bigger than that.

What’s bigger than the league? The Champions League of course.

One does not exist without the other though. To get to the latter you must first win the former.

Having missed out last season, but having a relatively decent innings in the Europa League, we all expected more in the current campaign. What happened turned out to be worse though.

It’s hard to ignore the regression of this season. Celtic’s faltering attempt to remain a European force has taken us down a peg or two.

Nobody likes it and it has hit the supporters hard. In truth we threw away a superb opportunity to make it this season and ultimately failed the European test.

By comparison we failed even more in this season’s Europa League campaign than the last. Statistically, there isn’t much between this season and the last in the Scottish Premiership and at the same stage.

Yet this time last year this squad were finding their feet. They were looking sharper than what we had seen earlier in the campaign and there was a sign that things were coming together.

Where did it all go wrong then? Was it Champions League failure that crucified our season or was it something else?

Are Ronny Deila’s efforts exhausted or is something amiss? It’s hard to define exactly what the problem is when you have players coming out to back the manager and taking the blame themselves.

Then Ronny calls it as he sees fit. The “players didn’t do well enough” or “we’re improving all the time”.

At times I feel he is just telling the media whatever he needs to protect himself and his players. You can’t ignore a really dire performance but he has done so on occasion.

Ronny is a highly intelligent and likeable man. I get the distinct feeling we don’t see the real Ronny enough.

As for the current set of problems, I don’t know where the issue lies precisely. The only thing I can say is that we’re not seeing a good product on the park for this club or its fans.

Is it the coaches or is it the players? Are the players not receiving the right motivation and tactics or are the players simply not good enough or influential enough to lead this club?

On their game, I would say all of the current Celtic squad are capable of remaining Celtic players with one or two exceptions. So why aren’t they performing individually or as a team?

What do the men upstairs think about all of this? Are they already looking at alternatives or are they sticking by ‘their’ man?

I’m not sure that the addition of more players is the answer either. It’s about how we are playing on the day.

I’d happily take a couple more players to ensure that next season we have the correct quantity and quality for each position. That would also mean moving some deadwood out, but I think there is more at play here.

I think there are some players in this team that really want to play for this coaching team and some that don’t. This is where I think the problem might be and if I am being honest something or someone will have to give.

If I am right about this then there is a stalemate within the club. Even if you have most players playing for the head coach, there will be an atmosphere which upsets the harmony.

You know what though, I could be completely wrong but I think there is something in that. And perhaps this is where these “clear the air” talks have stemmed from.

This time last year we were on the up and now we’re not. If it is simply that Ronny Deila is out of his depth then we’ll soon know.

If there is more to it and Celtic have been trying to contain the matter then I’m sure it’ll all come out in the wash eventually. The club do not appear to be pushing Ronny out the door and whilst that may suggest they are not taking action, perhaps we as supporters don’t have all of the facts.

Only the players and coaching staff know what the problem is. It’s up to them to sort it out if they are to win this double.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

 

Crossroads

Yesterday’s home defeat at the hands of Motherwell was a disappointment for all concerned at Celtic. Although the Hoops remain top of the league with a game at hand, this result is another blow for Ronny Deila.

Opinion from the Celtic fans has been varied but the supporter axe has been falling on Ronny long before now. This is by no means a unanimous viewpoint but if fans were to vote today, I think you would find the manager would be out of a job tomorrow.

I have mixed feelings about what is going on at Celtic right now. As a club, we are almost untouchable in Scotland.

That’s down to fan base, marketing, financial structure, business acumen….all of that. However, what the club don’t do is turn the screw and we are not untouchable on the park.

Celtic have downgraded since the Martin O’Neill era. There are many reasons for that, one being that Scottish football is not a lucrative or positive market place.

So the club have cut their cloth accordingly. That means living within your means and just keeping ahead of your rivals.

Without a rival such as Oldco and their unlawful spending, Celtic can compete on a relatively low-budget. This of course has its problems such as being able to compete properly in Europe.

I’m not laying that down as the sole reason though. There are other factors that have ruined our European campaign but that’s another debate.

Tightening your belt is good but do Celtic need to be so frugal or do they need to be more savvy? Poor signings have been seen far too often in recent years and that spells frugal more than savvy.

Yes, you can’t get every player right, but what kind of scouting network do we have now that allows for this? It certainly doesn’t seem to be pulling in the best under Ronny Deila and whilst not always getting it right may be partly true, I don’t think this is the type of excuse Peter Lawwell should be giving at a club AGM.

The problem Celtic have right now is that there is an “x factor” of sorts missing from the team. The big question here is does that come down to the coaching or is it a lack of quality on the park?

As I’ve said before, I think we have the basis of a decent squad though some individuals have been a let down this season. What we seem to lack is a spark in the team that can change games.

Despite the club’s reduced spending, you need a player who can inspire the rest of the team. To get that player, you might need to spend that little extra.

I don’t buy that this sends out a negative message to other team members. Yes it’s a team game but the best players deserve the better money particularly when they can produce something out of nothing and in big games and big opposition.

Let’s put to one side the transfer market one moment though and focus on the coaching. Is there something in that area that hinders us?

First of all, Ronny Deila is a coach. A coach with a philosophy.

He maintains that outlook and continues to do things his way. For the time being he has the support of the board even if support from the fans continues to drop.

The problem is that if your philosophy is not bearing fruit, what else do you have? It is a dangerous game to play if you cannot adapt.

Adaptation is essential in football but I question what else Ronny has in his locker. I’ve not seen much evidence of changing tactics which as I say, is an important part of the game.

Before we’ve even kicked a ball though I do wonder whether half of these players are properly motivated. I’ve talked about the support for Ronny Deila from the players even in the face of defeat.

That kind of back up for the manager deflects blame from him. But is that really the case?

If so then perhaps these players just aren’t capable of carrying out Ronny’s master plan. Do you believe that though?

I often wonder if you installed another manager to motivate the current crop of players, without making any further purchases what sort of reaction you would get in the team? That would depend on who that coach was of course but I do think about what difference we might see – better or worse.

Once more though, I will say that I don’t think Ronny will be gone before the end of the season. If the treble is still on, change would only bring further disruption.

We would have to be on the slide domestically for anything to happen now. On the flip side, the only guarantee that Ronny will be in a job next season is a domestic treble.

It will certainly take that for him to get another crack at Europe. Anything less than that and there will be long discussion to see where the club go from there.

To ensure that discussion is not necessary, some motivation and inspiration will need to be found within this playing squad. I never expected Celtic to go the rest of the season undefeated but losing at home to third from bottom does not inspire supporters…..it dents your confidence.

Celtic are at a crossroads right now. This team needs an enema badly and to realise that this treble is all we’ve got.

It is in the hands of the coaching staff and the players. They are all responsible and they must do their job.

If they need motivation then listen to the unhappiness of the fans. Have a look at Aberdeen creeping behind them once more.

Every team in Scotland will do their utmost, as they should, to prevent Celtic from winning. If that isn’t enough motivation I don’t know what is.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Black Friday

One minute you’re lifted up and within moments you are dropped to the ground again. Celtic’s failure in Europe is a mental and physical drain on my energy levels.

In fact, I don’t even think I can discuss the mistakes, errors or bad luck today. Generally, its the same story as before – squandered chances, lack of concentration…etc…etc.

Each time I’ve watched Celtic in Europe this season my disappointment has stooped further. No improvement from last season and no sign of better things in the future either.

With those two facts stamped on Celtic’s passports what can we expect to change before next season? Coaching staff, players and boardroom have all been individually blamed for our current woes but what’s the next move?

Option 1. Sack Ronny Deila.

This is the obvious solution for many but it does seem unlikely right now. Peter Lawwell backed him at the AGM last week as you’d expect.

Europe alone has been poor. Worse than last season in fact.

Unable to maintain a lead, keep a clean sheet, concentrate for the whole match or find another gear to step things up. Things have gone backwards not forwards.

Ronny maintains his stance that things will improve. It’s rather bold considering the obvious factors in all of Celtic’s European results – tactical naivety, inability to adapt within the match, struggle in the face of adversity.

With a domestic treble still on the table I believe he will be allowed the opportunity to make that happen but it remains to be seen if he can. What I don’t know is if Celtic really are behind him for another European campaign or if they are just keeping the peace for now.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Neil Lennon was given a third shot at Europe. It turned out to be his best and this was where he peaked as the season that followed, Lennon’s fourth, was his last.

Unfortunately for Ronny, he has had two golden opportunities to get into the Champions League. The teams that stood in his way were average and totally beatable but those opponents carved Celtic up.

Ronny has a philosophy and I get that but sometimes you need to adapt rather than persist, particularly when your philosophy is not showing signs of working. If he totally believes that next season we’ll be in the Champions League, I would like to know how that is going to be achieved and what changes will be made because you can’t just convince people based on your say so.

I more than anyone else would love to see Ronny Deila succeed and at the same time would love to be wrong but I’m finding myself believing that he has his limitations. A coach with a philosophy seems to be why he was hired in the first place but to manage and take the team forward is a skill he may not possess.

Option 2. Spend Better.

The board have been criticised over the years about not spending when required. I’ve agreed and disagreed with some of these debates because lets face it football supporters just want to see good signings without any really idea about finances.

In recent years though, Celtic have been buying some real donkeys. I won’t go through any of these but a lot of money has been wasted.

Peter Lawwell stated at the AGM that the market they can afford to shop in is a hit or miss one. I argued that one superb player for more money would be better than cheaper gambles.

A friend pointed out that with a more expensive signing comes a higher salary. It’s a fair point and Celtic are unlikely to sustain high salaries, in fact it is the reason for moving on some of our rising stars I’m sure.

Having said that, Celtic do need to be more bold in transfer market. They also need to do better on the scouting front because it simply isn’t good enough.

As Chris Sutton said last night on BT Sport, whoever is buying the players needs to be doing a better job. If Celtic want to punch a hole in the Champions League again they’re going to need some influential players who can change the game at the highest level.

I’ve not had much time for Sutton’s comments in the past but I can’t argue with his passionate venting on TV last night. The difference with what he is saying now is more about timing than anything else and it is time for action at the club.

The club have regressed so far, we are a shadow of our former selves. The business may look great but the football is not.

Option 3. Stick With The Plan.

Even although we haven’t improved since last season the only other thing Celtic as a club can do is stick with the same formula. Coaching staff, players, philosophy, transfer policy……the whole shebang.

This seems the most likely thing to happen. If Deila was to go, of his own accord or getting pushed, I don’t know who’d replace him.

In terms of money we outspend any other club in Scotland already. That just gets Celtic into Europe and keeps a buffer between them and the rest of the SPFL.

If there is to be no shift in with the club in its current set up, then they will have to pray that this bears fruit next season. The tough part will be keeping the supporters on board because right now people are losing faith if they haven’t already.

Last night I discussed with some mates about which names would go into the hat if Ronny left. The usual suspects came up but in all honesty I can only see Celtic going lower down the market.

You can forget guys like David Moyes or the recently appointed at Blackburn Rovers, Paul Lambert. This job comes with financial limitations so candidate options are even more limited than the player market we are currently in.

Personally, I don’t think there is a coach in Scotland that could do a job at Celtic. Paul Hartley has been on the rumour mill before but that’s more by default than any ability he has if you ask me.

Another foreign coach would be the only way forward. Failing that, you are looking at a coach from the lower leagues in England which to be honest is not my cup of tea.

The names that cropped up last night though, aside from Paul Hartley were, Roy Keane, Neil Lennon and Jackie McNamara. The financial limitations were said to be the reason behind Keane turning down Celtic and also the reason for Lennon leaving so whether either would be interested in returning to the club is up for debate.

Jackie McNamara left Dundee United with a whimper after being relieved of his best players. You could argue that the club didn’t help replace those players but of the three that Celtic acquired, we’ve yet to see them do a convincing job under Ronny Deila.

The one name that didn’t come up in that brief conversation was John Collins. When he was hired I imagined he would be the back up guy should Deila fail.

In all honesty I don’t know if he would be deemed as culpable as Ronny. On the bench during games most of the activity is between Deila and John Kennedy.

Would Celtic offer Collins the head role if Ronny left or would he go with him? It would be interesting to see how that one would play out.

Whichever way you look at it, the market is narrow and when you consider that, it is understandable why Celtic opted for Ronny in the first place. He may not have been first choice but he was the best on the table I’m guessing.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Celtic board draw the line

I didn’t follow Celtic’s AGM today as I have done in the past. Instead, I just read the aftermath of events.

With the same board of directors in place, an intolerance to working class values will remain. The message from the board was clear: we’re not listening to you.

I wasn’t one to abuse Lord Livingston though I did sign and promote the petition to oust him. I do think that his obvious political association does undermine everything the club is supposed to stand for.

The values that I speak of don’t seem to resonate with the board though – these are financial guys. I get that football is a business and that as a club we must cut our cloth accordingly but as fans our opinion appears to count less and less.

For the most part, I can’t argue with the business end of things. Having said that, I don’t exactly have the know how to challenge it either.

I have a passion for the club though and learnt the history and became a natural follower without being pushed. I’ve seen almost four decades of the club before my every eyes and as a business I don’t think we’ve ever been operated as well.

That’s it though. We’re a business.

In and ideal world the living wage would be an attraction of talent and a PR gold nugget. The board don’t see it that way and who am I to argue?

Well, you don’t have to be Sir Alan Sugar to know that a living wage would have some impact on the club finances. I don’t think this is the last we’ve heard of this one though so I’ll say no more.

On the park, Ronny Deila has been given a vote of confidence. In the old Championship Manager (long before I got married) that used to be the writing on the wall.

Ronny has had it from most angles of the support. What he gets though is time and I think that’s right.

Celtic are shopping in a tight market. Though I’d still rather see two or three £1-2M players sacrificed for one player at £4-6M who is of sufficient quality.

I would still go out and look for the Wanyama’s, Hooper’s, Forster’s and van Dijk’s in this world. Sometimes though, Celtic will only break through with an outstanding player to influence the team.

We have some great players in the team. There is something missing at times though.

Leadership, influence, motivation particularly when the heads are down. Where does that come from?

Bar one or two players, I love this team. They should be doing much better though.

Bitton, Tierney, Rogić, Griffiths (and at times Forrest) have all been great this season. That’s all individual performance though and is entertaining the fans but it isn’t carrying use forward with others in the team sitting back.

Does Ronny need to step up or is it the players? The players blame themselves and Ronny blames the players.

I recall Lennon bashing his players and rarely taking the blame. It isn’t uncommon in management I guess but it doesn’t solve matters either.

I’m not for Ronny getting the chop. I’d like to see him succeed. Equally, as a young manager almost halfway through his second season at his second club, it is time to think beyond now and take us there.

The board have drawn a line regarding everyone from the fans to the coaching team. Right now we’ll just have to get on with it and see where we are come May but the club as a whole must also realise that mistakes have been made and we expect accountability for that, not flippant and paltry excuses.

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

Progress and Silverware for Deila

Celtic kicked off a busy weekend of sport on Friday night. By Saturday, they had won the title without even kicking a ball.

After beating an uninspiring Dundee side 5-0 at Celtic Park, it was a case of sitting back and seeing how the Dundee United v Aberdeen match turned out. The Dons failed to keep the title challenge up by losing 1-0 to Jackie McNamara’s side and in doing so, gift wrapping the title for Celtic.

It would have been a huge match to have gone to Pittodrie next weekend and tried to seal the league there. Though I can’t imagine any Celtic player or official is too disappointed that the hard work put in this season has paid off whilst they were on a rest day.

Celtic are champions for the fourth successive season. For Ronny Deila, it could be the first of many.

The best thing about this seasons title is that it did not come easy. It has been a season of change and improvement under new leadership.

In the early days of Ronny Deila’s tenure it was about preparation for the long road to European qualification. Four friendlies in nine days before taking on KR Reykjavik in a Champions League qualifier was the initial task for Celtic’s new head coach.

He overcame that first hurdle home and away before falling at the next. We all know the story of the Legia Warsaw ties.

They left a scar on proceedings for the months that would follow. Any further slips by Deila would be referenced with the matches against Poland’s champions.

Even with a second bite at the cherry, Celtic came off the worst. They lost to NK Maribor at home after earning a draw away in the first leg.

For many Celtic fans this was unacceptable. It was a closer affair than the Warsaw results but the outcome was an unhappy one for the support.

The European story didn’t end there though. Another opportunity was secured by parachuting into the second tier of European club competition.

Far from the arena most football fans desire, the Europa League was probably the best option for a team in transition. This wasn’t the view shared by all Celtic fans but it was most definitely mine.

The Champions League is where it is at but in my opinion it was too early for Deila and his plans. It may have brought big cash, but it may also have delivered further humiliation.

On the domestic front Celtic had won their first two matches but would drop points in four of their next ten games. That and the games at hand scenario left Celtic in an unfamiliar position in the league table.

This also left many Celtic supporters in no doubt that Ronny Deila should be shown the door. Despite that opinion, Celtic stuck by Deila and showed no sign of disenchantment.

When Celtic players spoke of Deila in interviews, they too demonstrated support of his methods. A lot of tinkering was being done with the squad as the head coach was getting to know the personnel and their strength and weakness.

Again, this made Deila unpopular as he was leaving out guys like Kris Commons, a fans favourite. What many of the Celtic support were lacking though was patience and seeing the bigger picture.

It wasnt as though Celtic were in a drastic situation. They were still in four competitions.

What I had read about Deila and his methods was fascinating. I knew that there would be a lot of work going on in the background, even if the supporters weren’t seeing it.

That was why I was prepared to hold fire until Christmas and see what would come of the work being done behind the scenes. Whilst some of us waited patiently, the media attacked and mocked with some fans buying into what the media sell to them.

Enduring that has he did, only made me respect Ronny Deila more as he handled all who opposed without offering an opinion. I watched the media goad him and some fellow supporters call for his head but I was encouraged by his focus on raising standards even if it wasn’t on show just yet.

In Europe, Celtic were earning points in the Europa League and keeping in with a chance of making the last 32. Then came a game that would be pivotal in  Celtic’s domestic progress.

That twelfth game of the season up at Pittodrie was significant as Celtic rose to the task. A 2-1 away win over Aberdeen finally put Celtic at the summit of the Scottish Premiership.

It had taken a dozen games to get there but it was a breakthrough for Ronny Deila. Despite going into an international break after this, it would be a spring board for the rest of the campaign.

I knew there would be points dropped as the season continued but the hard graft was beginning to pay off. Changes began to take place in the team and there were positive signs that the players were beginning to tick.

The end to 2014 saw Celtic lose and draw their final two games of the year but things were still on the up. A last 32 spot against historical rivals Inter Milan awaited us in February and the league title was anything but the foregone conclusion it had been for the last two seasons.

At last Ronny Deila was beginning to see some of the hard work he had put in pay off. Positive player attitudes were now growing within the squad.

Kris Commons, Nir Bitton and Leigh Griffiths were three of the best examples of players who had knuckled down. Commons signed another contract after it looked as though he was on his way out, Griffiths made himself a serious contender for first choice striker admist former favourite Guidetti whoring himself to any club but Celtic and Bitton embossed himself as a regular starter for midfield.

The tide was turning and even though all were not aboard the Deila bus, the silence was deafening. Where were the Ronny haters now?

With a treble still on the cards and Europe still on the fixture list, 2015 was looking pretty good. The additions of Stuart Armstrong and Gary Mackay-Steven from Dundee United made Celtic an even stronger unit.

As the weeks rolled by and the results came in Celtic were purring along nicely. Exiting Europe at the hands of Inter Milan by a very narrow margin was tough to take but Celtic pursued that first trophy of the season.

Having disposed of Rangers in the semi final, Celtic took on Dundee United in the final of the League Cup. This came amongst a run of four straight fixtures against the Terrors and despite having to replay a Scottish Cup quarter final, Celtic emerged triumphant.

With the first of the silverware already residing at Celtic Park, Ronny Deila set about obtaining the remaining two. That required focus and determination which Celtic had plenty of by this stage in the season.

The league was taking care of itself but the Scottish Cup offered a different challenge altogether. The semi final against Inverness Caledonian Thistle would throw up one of the major talking points of the season.

As we are now aware, the farce that surrounded that ‘honest mistake’ cast a shadow over the reputation of Scottish footballs already deplorable standards. The fact that Celtic asked for clarification on the match referees actions demonstrated just how bad the media are in Scotland with their personal criticism of Peter Lawwell.

The negative press levelled at Celtic is nothing new but they should have focussed more on just how catastrophic an error it was. An error missed by not one but two match officials each with a clear line of sight.

No matter, for Celtic went about their business in a professional manner for the rest of the game. Despite that incident and Celtic’s own red card, I take nothing away from Inverness or their Scottish Manager of the Year, John Hughes.

The treble was not to be but the double is now in the hands of Celtic. With three games remaining it has been a challenging season across four competitions.

Celtic have emerged from early season trauma to cross the finish line with the most important of domestic silverware, the Premiership title. Ronny Deila, who was back in his homeland for a family celebration when the Aberdeen result came in must have been ecstatic.

He has proved the doubters wrong and the best thing? Ronny’s just got started.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie