Taking stock at the international break

The weekend marked the current season as ten matches played in the Scottish Premiership. It’s also the beginning of a second international break.

For Celtic, this comes after a spell of played 7, won 3, drawn 3, lost 1 in all competitions. Before the previous international break it was played 12, won 9, drawn 2, lost 1.

So far this season it has been pretty challenging on all fronts. Europe has put Celtic under the microscope and in the league it has been a battle.

Ronny Deila has been under fire once more from fans and scrutinised by the media. The Champions League exit is in the past so it was the league position he was getting lynched for.

Now the wheels are beginning to come off Derek McInnes ‘title challengers’ and Celtic are closing a gap. Whilst the gap now stands at 1 point, I doubt there will be any praise for that because it is far too positive for the Scottish media.

The last three matches have been tough. At Celtic Park a 0-0 with Hearts (all credit to them) and a 2-2 draw with Fenerbahçe (all credit to Efe) was followed by a narrow 2-1 victory away to Hamilton yesterday. It wasn’t pretty but it was an important result none the less.

Two draws at Celtic Park are far from perfect though. Heart frustrated Celtic after they themselves had lost three games on the bounce – they needed to shore up.

Fenerbahçe came to Celtic Park in their own poor form and managed a draw. In truth, that was a game Celtic should have won.

We all know about Efe’s errors in that one. For close to 70 minutes though, Celtic were in control.

Sunday through up a stiff challenge from Hamilton and they even took the lead. Celtic fought back though and held off for the much needed win.

This has been a period of tough challenges on and off the park whilst Deila is under pressure to make his defence solid and provide a potent strike force. Neither of these have been achieved yet.

Injuries to Mulgrew and Šimunović have not helped him settle the central defence, nor has the departure of van Dijk. However, we knew Virgil was going if the Champions League was over.

Mulgrew would not be my long-term choice for centre half though he has done well in the past. Šimunović I have not seen enough of or even know much about but at the price paid for him, he will need to be the real deal.

With Efe probably close to suicide right now, the international break is has come at a good time. I don’t like to see players singled out for blame but his tendencies for costly errors are well known.

He was selected for defensive duties against Fenerbahçe because he was the most senior player available for that role. And as someone said to me after the match, you cannot account for individual errors.

Yes, Efe does make them and even Ronny said he has improved. Unfortunately just not enough.

Fenerbahçe made a tactical switch in that game last Thursday and it had the desired effect. The same error could have been made by Tyler Blackett had he been given the nod but we’ll never know.

I don’t have any issue with Ambrose being picked when we have little to choose from. You cannot consider him as a regular though because he doesn’t provide the decision making, focus and capability that is required despite being an international for Nigeria.

The other area struggling is attack. With only two strikers in the squad, one of which has still to settle in, Celtic are lightweight.

You can’t ask for much more than Leigh Griffiths is doing right now and he is on course to be even better than last season. Nadir Çiftçi on the other hand will need to start pushing himself because there is nobody else to step in when called upon and the Turk hasn’t exactly made an impact when used.

Ronny has had Carlton Cole training with the team and having a look at the former West Ham striker but any potential move is on hold for the free agent due to injury. Whether Cole is the answer I don’t know but the fact is even with a lack of form last season at Celtic Stefan Šćepović should not have been loaned out without securing a replacement.

Sure, Celtic may have been trying but we should not be embarking on European competition without sufficient players. It is short-sighted and unacceptable and that goes for the defence as much as the attack.

Any procurements made now are ineligible for Europe until the next phase. Even then, we would need to make that stage in the Europa League first.

Last season we obtained the services of John Guidetti who, before turning out to be a total knob, was on fire. He was signed too late for European deadline and so Celtic struggled up front in the Europa League.

This season we’ve got a similar issue. We’ve immediately put ourselves under pressure.

I don’t know if you blame the scouts, the board or the coaching staff. It appears nothing has been learned though.

That said, I am as ever 100% behind Ronny Deila. Yes, we can list selection or tactical errors but it is time to focus on the positives.

Celtic have played 19 competitive matches in 15 week spell. It’s more compact than that when you consider the international break in early September.

Starting in mid-July is gruelling but something are beginning to prepare for better. It is still a long road though when you consider players are still being recruited during this period.

They then have to be integrated and you might even lose some players during this spell. Then you have to face the reality of which European competition you actually made, if at all.

So when the domestic season starts, everyone else comes out of the blocks like greyhounds after the hare. Whilst Celtic are treading carefully with injuries and trying to survive in four competitions.

Consider ourselves lucky that we aren’t an English club with a multi-million pound budget and under-performing. Celtic may be more financially wealthy than all Scottish clubs but they are a lone force in Europe and against stronger teams at the best of times.

Managerial casualties south of the border are racking up. Brendan Rogers’s was long coming whilst Dick Advocaat’s was a case of jumping before pushed and Steve McLaren could be next but I don’t think Ronny is anywhere near those scenarios.

This international break, let’s take stock of the tough schedule we’ve had, the movement of players, the disappointments we’ve had and the ongoing negative press we’ve received. Then look at what is ahead and see that we’re in all three domestic competitions and still competing in Europe.

The season is only really just started. Keep the green flag flying high this international break.

As a foot note, I’d like to wish Gordon Strachan and the Scotland squad all the best this Thursday. I’ll be watching the game in an English pub which 24 hours later will be hoaching with England fans.

Once more Scotland find themselves in a difficult situation when trying to qualify for a major tournament. In all honesty Strachan should have been in a slightly better position but there is still a chance of making a play-off spot.

Part lies in Scotland’s hands, whilst other results play also play a factor. The bottom line for Scotland is to be aiming for maximum points and hoping that Martin O’Neill’s Republic of Ireland falter.

We’ve been here before. I think we deserve a bit of luck.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

 

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Headhunting

Where do you begin when searching for a new manager? Well avoiding past mistakes would be beneficial to begin with.

Appointments aren’t always about replacing like for like. You have to look ahead and where you are as a business or in Celtic’s case, a club and a business.

The question the board must ask themselves is “what direction is the club going in?” The football climate in which Celtic exist is one with restrictions, that we are all well aware of.

There isn’t the kind of money flowing through Scottish football like there is in other leagues in Europe. I’m not just talking about the flagship leagues mind you, they are an inner circle that requires more money than sense.

I’m referring to countries elsewhere in Europe where there are league’s that fair better with TV revenue. Some of these countries appear to have better deals with similar or smaller audiences than Scotland and yet I’m not entirely convinced that the quality is substantially better.

Despite this, Celtic Football Club is set up well to survive the financial shortfall, even if the rest of the Scottish clubs are not. The financial backbone that is in place ensures stability which in this day and age is a saving grace.

On the playing field, the league is of course bread and butter for a club like Celtic. Currently, there is no opposition to threaten Celtic’s claim season after season.

Not even the emergence of Second Rangers can be considered a threat. They don’t play in the SPFL, are not guaranteed promotion after next season or to even exist long enough to get there.

So what is the attraction for a potential suitor to the Celtic throne? Well, should an appointment come from within the Scottish game, it will be a big step up by taking the reigns of a club like Celtic.

Winning the league would be a huge challenge for guys like Jackie McNamara or Paul Hartley whose names have been mentioned in the past few days. Europe would be considered an even greater task but Lennon was in that boat as well and proved the doubters wrong.

It took him a couple of years to get to grips with competing in Europe but he learned. The question is will Celtic go down the same route as they did with Lennon or pick someone with more experience?

Henrik Larsson has been talked about heavily, even before the departure of Lennon. As a club legend it is not surprising to hear his name every now and again.

Many fans would love be to see the return of the king and Larsson himself has hinted at a return some day. He has been busy coaching in his home country of Sweden for five years now and looks set to continue that unless matters change.

For some, it isn’t Henrik’s time and feel if he had to come now it might tarnish his legendary status. For me though it would be the board’s desire to capitalise on Larsson’s marketing value that is of concern.

PR stunts are not beyond Celtic and if Larsson’s attraction was purely a financial one I disapprove. Robbie Keane was drafted in at a time when Mowbray’s efforts to make Celtic success flopped.

Keane’s appearance in a Celtic shirt must have sold dozens of jerseys and put bums back on seats. In reality, getting rid of Mowbray was the best thing the club did that season, the worst being his appointment.

If the club are looking at managers from outside of Scotland then you are looking at someone who may have handled a larger spending budget or worked in a tougher league but probably not managed a big club. There are a number of candidates out of work right now and when a club with the stature of Celtic are headhunting, interest is most definitely going to be high.

For example, David Moyes, ex-Celt and long-term guardian of Everton, recently sacked by Manchester United. He might be out of Celtic’s league financially and not everyone’s cup of tea, but on the other hand Celtic could a be the perfect opportunity for him to rebuild his reputation.

After just ten months at Manchester United he could be considered tainted goods, but he didn’t get that job by chance. He earned the opportunity through hard work obtaining his coaching badges whilst still a young player and earning plaudits from his fellow professionals as he climbed the managerial ladder.

Promotion to the second tier of English football with Preston (and very nearly the Premier League) brought him to the attention of Everton. He maintained Everton’s status in the top half of the Premier League in all but two of his eleven years at the helm.

He brought some brilliant talent to Everton, though the money was there to do so. What goes against him is that he never won a trophy or made an impact in Europe despite getting some very respectable league positions and making a domestic final.

Also in the managerial wilderness right now is another former Celtic centre half, Malky Mackay. Disposed of by Cardiff in December, he is certain to be looking to get back into the game as soon as possible.

He first stepped into the management hot seat as caretaker at Watford. That role would become his own but only after Brendan Rodgers had failed to deliver first.

Cardiff then came calling for Malky and it was there that he made a name for himself. He made the play-off’s and the League Cup Final but would eventually see defeat in both challenges.

The following season he won the Championship title and earned automatic promotion to the Premier League but soon after a rift would materialise between the himself and the owner. There is no doubt that the souring of that relationship diluted Cardiff’s chances of staying up and that was ultimately the end of the road for Malky and Cardiff.

Would he be a good choice for Celtic? I think so, but the main question is, is he the kind of coach the club are interested in or could even persuade to come north of the border?

Paul Lambert, another former Celt, currently plying his trade in management at Aston Villa could be looking for a move. New ownership is on the cards at Villa and when that happens you tend to find that your face no longer fits.

At this stage new owner’s have not been acquired but Lambert may take this opportunity to move if he feels his role is under threat. He stepped away from relative safety with Norwich to take the job at Villa but it is a big ask to get success at that club these days.

Staying up isn’t generally a concern for Villa, its progressing that is the challenge. Lambert may well continue his career at there, but if Celtic do come calling and money was not a huge concern for either party, I think Lambert would find it hard to refuse.

Also on that list of rumoured candidates is Steve Clarke. He has carved out a very respectable career as an assistant manager for a Newcastle United, Chelsea, West Ham United and Liverpool.

Clarke has also worked under some big names in management. Ruud Guillit, José Mourinho, Avram Grant, Gianfranco Zola and Kenny Dalglish have all utilised his services over the years but he would eventually venture out on his own.

That came in the form of Head Coach at West Bromwich Albion. His first season there was a huge success finishing eighth in the league.

Sadly for Clarke, that success would not be mirrored the following season and he was axed before Christmas. Whether he returns to management or not only time will tell but the one fact that is unquestionable is his ability as a firsf teamm coach.

Then there is Owen Coyle, a man formerly linked with the job at Celtic. On that occasion he was said to have been offered the role before Tony Mowbray but turned it down.

His managerial career was on the up with Burnley and he chose to stay in England. It could have been a good appointment for Celtic at the time but my feelings on that have changed.

As much as I understood his decision to make a name for himself in England, his career is in a different place altogether now. After gaining promotion to the Premier League with Burnley he jumped ship mid season to former employers Bolton who he had once played for.

Burnley were relegated that season and many felt Coyle had turned his back on them and I am inclined to agree. Although he had managed to keep Bolton in the Premier League for two seasons, he would eventually find himself back in the Championship.

Results didn’t go well down there and he was out of work only a few months into the new season. The following year he took the reigns at Wigan but once again he found himself out of work just six months into the job.

Celtic may have decided that with a poor run in the game in the last couple of years he is not the man for the job anymore. He was once, but for many Celtic fans he missed his chance and his value has plummeted.

A left field entry on the list is Oscar Garcia. He took Brighton and Hove Albion to the play-off’s this year but was unsuccessful in the end.

The Championship is a competitive league and he did well to get Brighton into the play-off position. The fact that he chose to resign after such a short spell is surprising given that he did well with relatively limited experience.

He may be looking for a bigger club and Celtic are certainly that. Whether he could cut the mustard in Scotland I do not know but I do question his staying power given that he has left his two most recent jobs after only one season in charge.

Also in that play-off battle is Steve McLaren. Having made the final and losing to a late goal might he be looking to move on?

Love him or hate him he has bags of experience. He hasn’t made any signs of leaving Derby but he remains a possibility and given his coaching credentials oversess and at international level he is not to be sniffed at.

Lastly, there is Roy Keane, another ex-Celt whose name has been mentioned. His recruitment as a player, whilst totally unnecessary, was amother PR stunt that Celtic just couldn’t refuse.

Sunderland was his first venture into management where he won promotion to the Premier League in his first season. He kept Sunderland up during his second season but the season that followed saw a poor start and Keane eventually resigned.

With a character like Keane’s there was the usual controversy. Never afraid to speak his mind, his management style didn’t go down well with players and officials during his time there but that’s Roy Keane I guess.

Ipswich Town would be Roy’s second crack at management. It failed to develop into anything successful for him or the club during an eighteen month period and having falling down the league he was sacked.

He returned to coaching last year taking up the assistant managers role under Martin O’Neill for the Republic of Ireland’s national team. Although still a relationship in its infancy, it hasn’t prevented Keane’s name being mentioned with the Celtic job.

His opinions and temperament don’t always win him votes with people. Roy is never afraid to speak his mind though but whether Dermot Desmond sees Keane as the kind of character he wants to coach the team, the Kaiser will have the final say.

What Celtic require is someone who will stick around for a few years and make some progress. The league is almost certainly assured given the gap between Celtic and the rest of the SPFL clubs.

Whoever takes over will have to emulate that domination in the league. A more successful run in the cups would also be desirable.

Then there is Europe and with it the income that Celtic require. European nights at Celtic are what we as fans all crave and without those evenings the domestic season would be very dull.

Being involved in the Champions League group phase is essential. Qualifying from that stage and reaching the last sixteen is a target that can only be surpassed by repeating the journey year after year.

Only two Celtic managers have ever made the knockout phase in the current format of the tournament. The board may not expect that next season given the change in personnel, but surely progression in Europe is the objective that makes this all worth while?

On the other hand, Celtic may be looking overseas for someone who can tweak those European fortunes. Though it’s unlikely that the club will be able to obtain the services of a coach with an admirable CV without breaking the bank.

Celtic may play in Europe but as I have said before, there are limitations to what you can and can’t do and that includes attracting the right people and being able to pay the right money. Whoever the club appoint, it will clarify their ambitions and intentions.

They must move swiftly though. The World Cup begins soon and with it an opportunity to scout talent.

Ideally it would be best to appoint someone before then and get them preparing for the Champions League qualifier’s in July. In the past the club have been slow to elect a manager so I hope that they are actively seeking one now.

Peter Lawwell stated that the club haven’t begun their search. Personally, I find that hard to believe, this isn’t the public sector after all.

Lennon said leaving wasn’t a knee-jerk decision. I’m sure the board may have either been expecting it, or helping him wind things down.

The new manager will need the backing of the support and not just the board. It would be advisable to give him every chance to succeed by getting him on board now.

So let’s hope the club don’t waste too much time and make an announcement soon.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie