A tale of two Johansen’s 

One-and-a-half good seasons and one awful season. That’s how to sum up Stefan Johansen’s Celtic career to date.

The Norwegian internationalist joined Celtic from Stromsgodset in the January transfer window of 2014. He made an encouraging impact and collected a league title medal with virtual ease.

Although signed by Neil Lennon, Johansen wouldn’t blossom until his first full season. By this time it was under new manager Ronny Deila, who had followed his student to Celtic within a matter of months.

Having been crowned SPFA Player of the Year and Celtic Player of the Year by the fans and he became a mainstain the midfield. However, Johansen’s second full season couldn’t have been more different. 

He failed to emulate the kind of performances that made him a key player for Deila. There wasn’t a shard of the previous season in his play.

Eventually he would blame it on a back problem but I’ve never bought into that. If his back was so bad he should never have been playing as many games as he did so that doesn’t hold any water with me. 

Celtic had injuries, yes. However, adequate and fit players in a midfield role, the club had in abundance.

The squad was looking fragmented but Deila stuck with Johansen even though he wasn’t playing well. It annoyed many supporters that the manager remained so loyal to Johansen when he was clearly not at his best.

Having put a miserable season behind him, I was of the opinion he may rediscover his form under Brendan Rodgers. I mean, you don’t suddenly turn into a poor performer overnight without good reason.

With the latest rumour suggestion an exit is on the cards, perhaps Stefan has lost his desire for Celtc. It’s a strange one though.

Should he go, fine, I’ve got no problem if players aren’t interested any more. The squad is overflowing with midfielders as it is.

Another space free, another opportunity for another Celtic player to step up. I don’t think Rodgers would rush out to replace him when you have guys like Tom Rogic, Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie, Scott Allan and Liam Henderson all vying for regular football this coming season. 

Even Scott Brown, Kris Commons and Nir Bitton have a place to fight for. I’d also like to see more of Stuart Armstrong in a central position.

Still, this remains a rumour. Time will tell whether there is any truth to it or if it’s another just another ‘Efe’ story.

As it is there’s further rumours about our midfield personnel in the shape of Nir Bitton. His form hasn’t been as affected as badly as team mate Johansen’s, but like many Celtic players season wasn’t at his best.

Again, if it is his desire to move on, which at this stage is still specualation, why stand in his way? If the money is right, there are plenty more fish in the sea.

There is a requirement to allow youth to flourish but if you’re accommodating a plethora of senior players at the same time then something has to give. We’ll how things pan out but my feeling on this is that I would be happy either way.

As for today, Celtic face Olimpija Ljubljana in their third preseason fixture. It’s another chance for Brendan Rodgers to tinker with team selection whilst casting his eye over his players.

One of those players is likely to be new signing Moussa Dembélé. He’s scheduled to make his debut and even though it’s a friendly, all eyes will be on him.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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Collins it a day

Celtic assistant head coach, John Collins confirmed his departure from the club on Monday. He will follow Ronny Deila after the league is wrapped up this weekend.

Deila appointed Collins as his assistant eleven days after he arrived at the club himself. Ronny has always maintained that the ex-Celtic player was his choice, but elsewhere within the Celtic community it has been stated that he got to choose from a list of candidates collated by the club.

Personally, I don’t think that is too much of an issue given that this has happened in the past at the club. He may have wanted to bring in his own back room team but given their was an element of risk in appointing Deila, the club were most likely protecting their investment by bringing in a “Celtic man” to keep in on track.

I’m not saying that this was the perfect blend but at the time this is how I saw the move. It isn’t as though Ronny knew Collins before then.

When Wim Jansen came to Celtic in 1997, Murdo Macleod was appointed assistant coach. I’m sure neither of those knew each other and a similar situation occurred back then just like it did in 2014.

In terms of a working relationship, I have absolutely no idea of the dynamics of the outgoing Celtic coaching team. Collins leaving will not be a disappointment to anyone particularly as his role was virtually anonymous.

You rarely saw a peep out of the ex-Celt which is surprising given his previous managerial experience and distinguishable playing carer. In fact I would probably say that John Kennedy was more prominent on match days.

With two-thirds of the coaching team now set to depart, a question mark remains over Kennedy. Unless he has other options, Celtic may retain his services elsewhere within the club’s structure.

After a long road to recovery in his playing career, Kennedy finally retired at the age of 26. His playing days were ruined five years earlier in his only international appearance for Scotland.

Despite long spells on the side lines and numerous operations he was never the same player when he did return for a very short period. Kennedy eventually returned to Celtic as a scout and later became involved in coaching.

Having being promoted to first team coach under Deila, just as the Norwegian had himself at Strømsgodset, Kennedy completed the coaching trio. Celtic have been very supportive to Kennedy and they may continue that, but I don’t see the 32 year old being part of a new coaching set up.

If kept on he will no doubt take a step back into scouting or coaching younger players. I have no doubts that he can still provide a service to the club.

So with the coaching landscape getting a white wash, we can expect a fresh approach. None of us would argue that, that is what we are all hoping for.

A new manager will most likely want to bring in his own staff. With that in mind, I think Celtic will be aiming to appoint someone with club knowledge and better experience.

Not necessarily an ex-player as such, but someone who knows what Celtic is all about. Perhaps a man with Celtic in his heart or knows what to expect from a big club.

Celtic must aim high this time. Not because of domestic matters, but because expectations are so great regardless of competition.

As I said in my last blog, Europe is so important for this club financially. The fans need the Champions League just as much as the accounts do as well.

Celtic can win the title even when they are not at their best such is the gulf in finance. The club must go beyond that though and get back into the group stages of the Champions League.

For that to happen you can forget 99% of the rumours. If Celtic have read the script correctly, we should not be disappointed by the next manager.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Time to move on

As a Celtic fan you have first hand knowledge of how it feels to support the club. So what sort of experience do you have when you’re a player at this moment at Celtic Football Club?

In previous blogs I’ve stated that the manager has criticised the players in the face of defeat(s). The players have backed that claim by stating they hadn’t performed well enough.

What’s going through my mind though is are all the players of the same opinion? I know the first season for Ronny Deila saw a few players dropped for varying reasons but now we’re in season two and I’d be interested to know what the real mood is currently.

The one thing I can say without a shadow of a doubt is that with the exception of Kris Commons’ dugout explosion in Norway, there is a sense of uniformity when talking to the media. As a squad, players have put their hands up to errors, missed opportunities and poor performances.

Not that I would expect a player revolt but I don’t get the sense that the players are unhappy with the coaching. In fact many players have spoken positively about Ronny Deila and the impact he has had on their careers.

Unless the Celtic PR machine are putting on a front, I’d say that European results aside, it’s a happy camp. Now that either means that our squad are so average they can’t see the bigger picture or they believe in the current set-up and we can’t see the bigger picture.

Ronny continues to speak positively and remains unshaken in his belief that he will lead Celtic to greener pastures. In basic terms of course that means the Champions League.

With two failed opportunities under his belt now, Ronny can at the very least look at both campaigns and compare and review. He also has two Europa League campaigns to analyse as well but that all depends on whether he’s prepared to look at his mistakes or just pursue each game with the same plan regardless.

You see for Ronny his philosophy is about playing the game in a certain way. All of the time.

In Scotland you might get away with that because you’re Celtic and generally untouchable. In Europe though, Celtic are much further down the food chain.

As supporters we know that, but we want to be in the respected hierarchy of the game. To do that sometimes you have to make sacrifices.

When you compare Martin O’Neill’s style to Gordon Strachan’s it is easy to spot the difference. Martin wanted Celtic to play the Celtic way (and he had some excellent talent) whilst Gordon would play the way which was most likely to get a result with less individual talent.

We all know which style of football we preferred out of the two. We also know who did better in the Champions League – and no I haven’t forgotten about Seville!

My point here is tactics, adaptation, personnel, resources, motivation and the big one – experience. Not just experience in the squad but on the coaching team.

Ronny has had a run in management for seven years so he isn’t new to the role but his assistants are. What he did with Strømsgodset didn’t happen overnight, it took time.

He imposed his philosophy over a period where it finally paid off after a few years. That was with a club who hadn’t lifted a title in over 40 years.

I’m not suggesting that we wait forever. However, what if that change of gear comes next season?

Many including myself have already debated whether Ronny should get another bite at the cherry. Or even if the board fancy taking another risk.

For the most part my personal view has been to review things at the end of the season. At the same time, I’ve sought assurances over what will change to improve our chances of getting into the Champions League from what we’ve seen these last two summers.

The financial situation is not going to change between now and then. Two seasons without Champions League cash has made certain of that.

Are we waiting on Ronny Deila suddenly changing direction with his philosophy? Well no because he is being given the opportunity to do at Celtic what he did with Strømsgodset because Celtic have few better options.

That is why I think he will be given longer. It’s not so much about the individual purchases.

For me it is about nurturing an entire set-up. Currently this grooming isn’t winning over fans or getting good European results.

All I can say is that if Ronny is here next season it isn’t just about improving from this season. Its about failing to improve in Europe from his first year in charge.

Yes, we’re not even halfway through the current season. We’ve dropped out of Europe earlier than the last season though and that’s a step back.

With the treble still available it has to be a priority to take all domestic honours. There will never be a better time to get it and let’s face it, this could be the turning point for Ronny Deila’s Celtic career and the kick-start required to see him into next season.

Yesterday, Hearts drew with Motherwell and Aberdeen beat Ross County. Celtic have a chance to widen the gap to 7 points with a victory over Inverness Caledonian Thistle at the Caledonian Stadium.

John Hughes’ side aren’t in the same vein of form as they were last season. That doesn’t make a 12.15pm kick-off in Inverness any more pleasing though, particularly in light of Celtic’s Euro exit.

Now it’s time to forget about Europe and concentrate fully on the league and cups. Time to move on.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

In the moments after publishing this article, I discovered that Anthony Stokes vented his dissatisfaction on Twitter at being dragged up to Inverness only to discover he’ll be sitting in the stands. Being the most excluded senior player in the entire squad, I guess I can write him up as one player in opposition to Ronny Deila.