A Languid Ending?

He’s been at Celtic for just over six years, made 253 appearances and scored 74 goals for the club. He’s also frustrated Celtic coaches and fans throughout that time, yes its Georgios Samaras.

It was long rumoured that the Greek international would leave the club at the end of the season. That was confirmed by his comments in the media that the club never offered him a deal.

In the statement he points the finger at Peter Lawwell, the fall guy for many of Celtic’s negative stories. He is also quoted as saying that he wanted to stay and that Neil Lennon was of the same opinion.

Whatever the truth of the situation, I don’t think its a bad thing that Sammy is going. He’s had highs and lows and Lennon got the best of him but its time to move on.

Personally, I think Samaras will do well wherever he ends up. Gordon Strachan brought him to Celtic on loan and performed fairly well scoring 6 times in 21 matches, but it wasn’t all plain sailing after that.

He began to wander around the park aimlessly. Good ball control, just no direction.

Meandering out wide when he was supposed to be playing up front, tested the patience of many a supporter. Confidence never seemed to be his ally either but he would still weigh in with goals, 17 in his first full season.

Was it enough though and would it get any better? Well, he went on to score 12 goals the following season and under short reign Tony Mowbray.

It was Neil Lennon who would see the ‘best’ of Samaras though. He kept faith in the big guy despite stating that he as the type of player who could get a manager the sack.

On a number of occasions Samaras was instrumental in Europe and had some moments against the clubs former rivals across the city. Ultimately, his on and off form coupled with limited use domestically was a sign of his limitations as a player.

He was not so effective this season in Europe, though neither were Celtic. It may have been borne out of the fact that he knew he was never going to get a new deal and lets be honest, Sammy is the kind of guy who looks like he needs to be loved.

In the six plus years at the club he’s partnered various players in attack, played wide on the left and even been the lone striker. He’s scored some important goals for the club and against some of the best teams in Europe.

It’ll be those goals that I’ll remember him for. He now has the World Cup to look forward to and with it and opportunity to sell himself to a good club.

In his final appearance for the club he netted a penalty and can leave with his head held high, even if it was a rather flat ending to his Celtic career. Still, I will look forward to watching him play for Greece next month.

Thanks for the memories Sammy.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

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Signing or appeasing?

If Celtic want to employ players to appease fans seeking transfer marker activity then I suggest they don’t go for Leigh Griffiths. As a fellow blogger has written today, “He has been in trouble with the police for assault, racist tweets and charged with shop lifting”.

What should be noted was that this was on a list of seven points on why Celtic should sign the Scotland striker. Talkingbaws.com were doing just that and I’m afraid that overlooking a players’ off field behaviour is not something that Celtic should be doing.

The fact that Celtic do not possess an proven goalscorer in their ranks right now remains a concern. Celtic have brought some good players in under Neil Lennon, but there have been some real muppets as well.

Teemu Pukki, not who I would consider a proper striker, has struggled. It’s only now, with the spotlight off him and the Champions League over for another year that fans have stopped talking about him though he may still improve.

Mo Bangura did anything but put the ball in the back of the net for the club. He subsequently burnt his bridges whilst playing on loan for Elfsborg against Celtic, though it is doubtful there were any bridges back to Celtic Park for him to cross other than to confirm that he would be exiting at the earliest possible time.

Amido Baldé has shown promise and is still young but he doesn’t get a look in. It may be Lennon’s choice to keep him under wraps for now and to develop him but that hasn’t helped the club in their most recent Champions League campaign and there are no assurance it will do so in the next, should that goal be achieved next season.

Georgios Samaras has been a hero for Celtic in Europe but he was nowhere near as effective this season as the previous. Though to be fair the same can be said about the team as a whole.

It was a very unconvincing European campaign in 2013. You can argue about the amount of qualifiers and early summer timing for a team in preparation but Celtic were seriously lacking in attack.

Kris Common’s has carried the team this year and he isn’t even a striker. We were desperate to see his form return this season and it has in abundance but he needs others to weigh in.

Anthony Stokes, a second pick against former Celtic striker Gary Hooper in the Champions League last season, has great ability. Is he really an out and out striker though? No, he is not.

I like Stokes, I like his style but he still needs someone in front of him doing the business with or without his help. There doesn’t appear to be someone getting matches at Celtic that can do that right now.

Samaras plays out wide and rarely sees domestic opportunities. I’m not complaining about that because it is obvious not just to fans but to opponents in Europe of how big a threat he is.

That does Lennon no favours though. What he requires is a goal seeker.

Someone who is quick, eager and deadly in front of goal. We’ve not seen that of late.

Hólmbert Friðjónsson is an under-21 international, who comes with a reasonable amount of promise. Though that merely puts him the same camp as Baldé because its unlikely that he’s the one to get thrown into first team action.

Still, it remains a good move to employ a number one striker now. Before the Champions League qualifying stages come along in July, Celtic will want, sorry will need to have someone who has already gotten to know his surroundings.

Bedding in time comes easier to some more than others but its still a complex situation. The players, the coaching, the fans that stadium and the expectation that comes along with wearing the Hoops.

Yet, it may still transpire that Lennon does sign Griffiths. He may even have grown up and put his off field misdemeanors to bed, but could he do a job in Europe?

Well, I am no seer that’s for sure.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Goals, points and old rivals

I know it’s a modern trend to make an arse of yourself on Twitter, but you would think that sports personalities would learn from the mistakes of others? Well, it would seem not.

There have been two tweets and two apologies in the Celtic community over the last couple of days. It won’t be the last time this type if scenario occurs on Twitter either, but the timing of one tweet in particular is hardly the best way to prepare for one of your biggest games of the season.

The game in question is of course tomorrow night when Celtic take on Ajax at Celtic Park in the Champions League. They haven’t faced each other since 2001 when Ajax beat Celtic 1-0 in Glasgow.

That result didn’t matter in the end thanks to a jaw dropping 1-3 away win for Celtic from the first leg. It was sufficient enough to send Celtic through to the Champions League group stage for the first time in existence.

Neil Lennon played in both of those matches and now the teams meet once more. Interestingly enough, Lennon’s opposite number in the other dugout is one Frank De Boer.

Whilst each playing for Celtic and Rangers, they came up against each other on two occasions. Lennon was on the winning side both times.

Now both are in their first head coach jobs and both are desperate for points. It’s possible that Celtic and Ajax could be slugging it out for third spot in Group H, but we know how quickly things can change in the Champions League.

Celtic should be aiming to win their next three group games. It’s a tough ask given that so far its played two, lost two and no goals scored.

Ajax may only have one point and one goal but its one point and one goal more than Celtic have right now. De Boer will be looking to add to that tally and keep Neil Lennon and Celtic at bay.

The way I see it though is that tomorrow night is a blank canvas. Forget the last two Champions League match days.

Celtic’s campaign begins on Tuesday at 7.45pm. There is no point in looking back, only forward.

Yes, Lennon has injuries to his squad and a suspension to contend with. Thinking about that won’t help him or the club tomorrow night though.

He must take the players he does have available and galvanise their belief to win. Celtic are due to bang some goals in against someone soon because they’ve been playing well enough.

There have been some fantastic European nights at Celtic Park. I’ve watched from the terracing, from the stands a from my sofa.

I believe Tuesday can be one of those special nights. I didn’t think so against Barcelona.

Lennon knows what is at stake here. He won’t need to remind the players either, though I’m pretty sure he will.

A win for Celtic tomorrow would put them in third place. And if say Barcelona beat Milan home and away over the next two matches, Celtic could potentially go second in the group with the right kind of result in Amsterdam.

There are of course other permutations but it demonstrates the complexity of the group phase. So it should be both encouraging and motivating that despite two defeats and no goals you’re never out of it.

There’s no debate on Celtic’s passing or possession, it’s their ability to put the ball in the net that is my only concern. This season I’ve yet to see the kind of killer instinct in front of goal that can win you games.

There are goal scorers throughout the squad and I’ve seen some good goals so far this season, but Celtic have had little luck in the Champions Leaguw. At some point that luck has to change but not without being ruthless in front of goal.

Be it Forrest, Pukki, Samaras, Stokes or whoever it doesn’t matter. Celtic must take their chances tomorrow night because I am damn well sure they will be created.

Until tomorrow, Celtic. Glasgow here I come.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

A difference of opinion

I started writing this on my way to work yesterday. Once I got there, I read a few Celtic headlines and decided to postpone writing the blog.

When I read Neil Lennon’s post match praise of the team I thought I had been watching a different game altogether. Either that or I must have been more drunk than the hangover suggested.

To confuse matters further, Johan Mjallby was later quoted as saying the team were “utterly abysmal”. He did reserve some praise for the central defence though.

With Kelvin Wilson’s suggested departure, perhaps neither coach wanted to jinx the transfer. That deal has now gone through of course and this will all become confined to history.

The fact is that I, amongst others, felt that this was a poor Celtic performance. We may have progressed but it was a far from convincing ninety-plus minutes.

There was a time when progression in Europe was a distant memory for Celtic. Nowadays, the club find themselves in a situation where Europe is the lifeblood of every season.

Wednesday nights 0-0 against Elfsborg took us into this mornings draw for a play off spot. Now Celtic will face Kazakh side Shakhter Karagandy for a place in the Champions League group stage.

I am pleased that Celtic have made it through to the play offs. The match that finally got us there was anything but pretty though.

Samaras had a golden opportunity early on and Ledley even looked like scoring. At no time did I ever think the team looked comfortable though.

The Celtic midfield were ‘passing’ the ball like a hot potato. Misplaced passes are Celtic of old, not today.

As much as Johan and Neil praised the defence I only felt that one of these players deserved it. Mikael Lustig turned in a great performance in defence and attack down the right flank.

Elsewhere in defence it appeared that the players were all over the place. So it was anything but assured at the back.

Elfsborg were nothing special, but anytime they attacked the Celtic Iooked like they had never played together. That was my major concern.

I’m certain that Neil was trying to keep his comments positive given that the team had just progressed to the next phase. It is the managers job at the end of the day.

As I say though, I am just glad Celtic are through. It may not be the group phase, but I expect more players to come in now that we’re in a safety zone.

We’ve just seen off Wilson, our most improved player last season, so there will need to be a replacement for him now. With any luck Celtic will go for that much awaited striker as well.

Regardless of the coaching staff’s mixed opinions, it would be ridiculous to ignore the performance in Borås. Elfsborg remain unbeaten at home in two years but it is Celtic who are in the Champions League play offs.

The Europa League is guaranteed for the loser. Some may think Celtic will see this one out no problem but I like to keep things realistic.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

Next stop: Elfsborg Fortress

Whilst one Glasgow club tears itself apart, another prepares for a crucial European tie. Celtic, currently competing in Europe, face Swedish club Elfsborg tomorrow night in the city of Borås, the return leg for Champions League qualification.

The second leg of this tie will be a tense affair for Celtic supporters. I have first hand knowledge.

A slender 1-0 lead means Celtic will need to be on their game. No mess ups, just 100% focus and application.

Without an out and out striker, the team will need to be patient where goals are concerend. There are goal scorers available though and Celtic will be looking to captilise when the ball breaks and opportunities come to bear.

With Samaras travelling and fit, he is likely to start. He is one player that can carve out goals in Europe and away from home.

Its hard to believe sometimes where his Celtic career was a few years back. “Languid” was one word a friend and fellow supporter would use to describe his form of that time – an in-joke that continues to this day within my circle.

Samaras would wander around the field of play with the ball stuck to his feet. The only thing missing back then was where the hell he was going on the park.

Lennon saw something though and remained on his side, regularly stating that he hoped the player would not let him down. You could see Samaras with flashes of ability and Lennon has helped him achieve the status he now has.

Samaras will not be relied upon to do it all himself of course. This is a team game and there will be a concerted effort to defend an attacking Efsborg side looking for that first goal.

Kelvin Wilson is fit and likely to partner Efe Ambrose in central defence. Charlie Mulgrew is also in the frame but unless Ambrose or Wilson are left out, Charlie could find himself on the bench or even deployed in midfield.

It is hard to guess how Lennon will set up though. Flood the midfield and use the channels, or keep it even from back to front?

Your guess is as good as mine. Though the former of the two has worked well in the past.

Rogic, Van Dijk and Boerrigter did not travel so it will be the usual suspects. This squad know each other and know what is at stake.

Elfsborg will feel confident though. A 1-0 deficit, playing the second leg at the Borås Arena and on an artificial surfice they are unbeaten on since September 2011 is positive in them.

However, Celtic have been here before. Few goals, away fixture, Champions League at stake and a  plastic pitch – the Hoops are every bit as capable.

We’ll all be on the edge of our seats. I may find it hard to focus on anything else for the next 24 hours.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie