All England finals and something for Scotland to aspire to.

This week has seen two of the best Champions League semi finals ever. With both remaining English clubs facing difficult second legs, they each came up with the goods and in dramatic fashion.

Last night, Arsenal and Chelsea were in a position to replicate the fortunes of Liverpool on Tuesday and Tottenham Hotspur on Wednesday. With each having a very good chance of making the Europa League Final they delivered when it mattered.

Now, with all European finalists being from the same country, English teams have made history. It is of course made more possible when teams from that country are rewarded more places than most.

That is the way European football is currently set up and in the future that is only likely to favour the elite further. I may complain, but even with the four places Scotland are currently allocated, there’s generally a fairly poor showing by our clubs year after year.

This season Rangers made the group stage of the Europa League, but no further. Aberdeen exited in the second qualifying round at the hands of Burnley, whilst Hibs lost to Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s Molde in the third qualifying round.

Scottish teams need to do better. Much better.

Celtic are no exception. Whilst we have been flying the flag in the European group stages and occasionally beyond, we haven’t made much progress.

We thought Brendan Rodgers was going to be the answer to that. He wasn’t and the next manager will need to be or we will be back to square one again.

There is plenty of inspiration out there right now. Even though all the English clubs are well endowed with large revenue streams, it is their fighting spirit over the last three nights that I’ve found encouraging.

We know that Europe favours the elite, but what I’ve seen this week has been more about character and belief. Even with injuries and suspensions, these teams have taken it to the wire.

Ajax were the surprise package in the Champions League this season and many would like to have seen them in the final. As one of their players said, it was “like a fairytale” “with an unhappy ending”.

The Eredivisie may not be in the top five elite, but they’ve got more potential than many other leagues. Ajax are also producing talent, profiting greatly from it and reinvesting that money – that’s why they are where they are.

For Celtic, the question has to be what can we do within our means to get closer to that? We can’t do anything for the rest of the country.

It is up to those clubs to make in roads themselves. We’ve called for reform to improve the game, but it falls on deaf ears every time.

We need to improve competitiveness and make our league more attractive to investors. Celtic’s domination may not be viewed as being good for the game, but we’ve got there on our own, whilst the rest of Scottish football accepts what comes their way.

Celtic didn’t cheat there way into this position. We’ve had to cut our cloth accordingly and we remain in good financial shape.

Unfortunately, the business climate is not great in Scottish football. Our governing bodies hold back the game as well.

We have weak TV deals, poor stadiums, a shoddy infrastructure and leadership that lacks integrity and professionalism. This will continue to be the case until someone starts thinking outside the box and about ensuring a better future.

A lot of credit must go to Celtic for doing what they do for us. We are big fish in a very small pond but we remain at the top.

European football will always be a playground where we will need to punch above our weight. From time to time we can do that because like some of those results seen this week, Celtic are a special club.

It would be foolish to dine on that though. The club have to be doing everything in their power to deliver and not just to throw down the gauntlet to the players and hope for the best.

We may not be Ajax, but we could take a leaf out of their book. There is still much to be done at Celtic Football Club.

Last week we secured our 8th title in a row which was also our 50th overall. In two weeks time we have a chance to win an unprecedented treble treble.

Next season we will hopefully be defending that achievement. We must also make progress in Europe.

The summer months should be busy. Business must be done fast and be prepared for the early European qualifiers.

It’s a long and tiring road to the group stages of the Champions or Europa Leagues if we can make either. We are well used to that by now and we must improve upon recent attempts on the European stage whoever takes charge.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac


James Forrest crowned

James Forrest is one of Celtic’s best ever home grown players. This century’s talent conveyer belt at Celtic began with the likes of Shaun Maloney, Jamie Smith, Ross Wallace and Aiden McGeady, but Forrest is one of Celtic’s longest serving and most successful products in the history of the club.

Like a few of the current first team, he has been involved in each one of the eight-in-a-row titles. His skill set has developed to the level where he has gone on to be one of the most important players in the team.

To do that he had to do more than just remain at the club. Something which looked to be in jeopardy before Brendan Rodgers arrived nearly three years ago.

The right winger had to overcome injuries, inconsistent form and prove himself to three different managers. All of which he did and now that has been maintained, making him one of the club’s key players.

Last season James was amazing. He probably should have won the award then too, but Scott Brown’s impressive eleventh season edged it.

This season, there was no question, James was the best player. Callum McGregor was on the shortlist along with Rangers’ Ryan Kent and Alfredo Morelos.

There’s no arguing Morelos has been a very important player for the Ibrox club but his discipline has been abysmal. Ryan Kent has also weighed in across the city, but his stats are nowhere as impressive.

James has been a steady performer for the last three seasons. He continues to impress for Celtic and it is his goals, assists and match winning moments made him number one above team mate, Callum McGregor.

Callum was awarded by the fans, but my vote was casted for James. He has been so important and put in the performances to match the stats.

Only Odsonne Edouard has scored more goals this season (21). James is joint second with Scott Sinclair (17), but his on-field displays have been far superior.

Sinclair’s stats dont lie, but he was outshone by Forrest who fully deserves his award. With a whopping 20 assists to add to his name that shows you how important he has been.

There are three more games remaining for Celtic now. You would have to imagine that James will be involved with more goals, assists and match winners as Celtic seek the treble treble.

Whoever takes the reins at Celtic next season, James will be an important player for them and the team. He can put this award next to his PFA Young Player of the Year and SFWA Young Player of the Year accolades from season 2011/2012.

Well done James.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Whilst we await on a managerial announcement, the future of this squad is already being decided…

Much of the discussion around the future of Celtic is centred around who the next permanent manager will be. That is undoubtedly the most pressing piece of business, but what does this mean for the first team squad?

Some of the players have contracts ending in the summer including loanees. Most of the players in such a position, you would expect will leave.

Who manages the team beyond 25th May will have a bearing on some of those futures though Neil Lennon has already made some announcements suggesting he is will be there in the summer. Six players are out of contract in total whilst a further four loanees are set to depart, but some business has been done with more in the pipeline it would seem.

Scott Allan agreed a pre-contract with Hibs earlier this year, Dedryck Boyata has pretty much made his feelings clear that he’ll leave, if last summer is anything to go by, Cristian Gamboa only plays when nobody else can and Dorus de Vries will most likely reach for the pipe and slippers. A question mark remains over two players that Neil Lennon originally signed for Celtic though, should he remain in the job.

Mikael Lustig and Emilio Izaguirre are the two candidates that Lennon could hang onto. He knows both players and would offer cover for another season should he need it.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this would be my personal preference, but I could see this being done. At the very least I would expect him to keep Lustig whilst Izaguirre’s lack of game time may suggest otherwise.

As for the loanees, well that’s an entirely different situation. Oliver Burke, Timo Weah, Filip Benkovic and Jeremy Toljan could all return to their respective clubs or indeed be snapped up elsewhere.

Burke made an impact upon arrival in an attacking role. He’s scored four goals and managed three assists in sixteen games but has found himself confined to the bench as the season nears an end.

Similarly, Weah was making an impact though also finding himself moved out of the picture. In sixteen appearances he too has scored four goals, but just the one assist.

Both players have demonstrated a reasonable worth despite looking to be phased out with one eye on next season. Of course, that has been largely down to Neil Lennon.

Benkovic has been a stand out player all season, but after missing several games through injury this year he lost his place. Since his return he has made a few appearances, but Lennon appears happy to go with Kristofer Ajer and Jozo Simunovic so long as they are both fit.

There’s a big question mark over whether another loan would be sought with new management at Celtic and Leicester City. Brendan Rodgers was the one to recruit him so he may well be in his plans for next seasons Premier League campaign and I think based on that he won’t be back at Celtic.

As for Toljan, I don’t think I have seen enough evidence in his twelve appearances to warrant a longer deal unless there is more to him than what we have seen already. He looked slow and lethargic at times and I’m not entirely convinced he is any better than the list of right backs already on Celtic’s books.

The rest of the squad is of course under contract and not as likely to leave. There are a couple of players Celtic may cash in on now or cut their losses with completely as they enter the final year of their contracts.

Marvin Compper is probably the prime candidate to be moved on. He survived last summer’s cull, with still with no first team games to show for, since his forgettable 83 minutes over a year ago in the Scottish Cup.

A brief rumour suggested that Neil Lennon was going to throw him into a matchday squad, but I think that was more of a joke than a probability. Celtic should pay the guy off now or strongly advise he finds another club if he has no chance of a game.

Scott Sinclair has never been able to replicate his first season displays, however his stats suggest otherwise. Even with a clear demonstration that he lacked confidence a conviction, he is one of the clubs highest performers.

Season 16/17 – 50 Apps 25 Goals 13 Assists

Season 17/18 – 55 Apps 18 Goals 17 Assists

Season 18/19 – 50 Apps 17 Goals 6 Assists

On the face of it, that is a very good return. I’ve just not been convinced by his displays in games, but Neil Lennon confirmed that this final year was triggered and he will be here for another year.

Nir Bitton‘s agent was in town recently most likely to find out the player’s situation. Bitton was drafted in by Lennon six years ago and has been in and out of the team under the managers that followed.

He spent most of his time under Brendan Rodgers as a makeshift defender. However, Bitton’s chosen role is in the midfield so he’ll be keen to find out what next season holds for him and in which area fo the park, if at all.

Another player who appears to have moved down the pecking order is Craig Gordon. He trained at the club when Lennon was last in charge, but was eventually signed by Ronny Deila.

He has been Celtic’s number one for most of the last five seasons, but following Scott Bain’s arrival last year, the gloves do not appear to be his anymore. It is unlikely that Celtic will cash in on him unless he wishes to move on himself because we could do with a keeper of his calibre to call upon.

Jonny Hayes was brought in two years ago and didn’t quite make an impact. Just as his persistence was beginning to pay off he got injured.

In recent times under both Lennon and Rodgers, he was deployed on the left hand side. I’ve actually been impressed by his tenacity recently and can see him being a decent squad player in the final year of his current contract.

Daniel Arzani has another year left on his loan deal but whether his injury will nullify that agreement remains to be seen. Under the new management it may not be something either club wants.

It’s also worth noting that Celtic have number of players out on loan right now. No fewer than seven players are playing over two continents for the club.

Lewis Morgan is currently down at Sunderland where he’s turned in 19 appearances, scoring 2 goals. It will be interesting to see if he is seen as a player for next season or whether another loan deal will be brokered.

Back in January, Celtic signed Marian Shved from Ukrainian side Karpaty Lviv. He remained there on loan until the end of this season and given his current seasons form, looks like he could make a huge impact next season.

In 25 games he has netted 15 times with 3 assists. That figure will be most welcome in a Celtic jersey.

Meantime in Sweden, forgotten man Kundai Benyu is on loan with Helsingborg. He’s played five times since his move there in February, but he has shown no signs of breaking into the Celtic team.

He has another two years left on his contract, but does he have a future in Glasgow or will Celtic offload him? We may find out this summer.

Youssouf Mulumbu came in last summer with some thinking he would be backup for Scott Brown. After three appearances at the club, he was shipped back to Kilmarnock on loan where he has played seven matches with one goal and one assist to his name.

Is he a midfielder Celtic really need? With one year left on his contract, when his loan expires, I think Celtic may be happy to sell him off.

Calvin Miller has had minimal game time in the Celtic team having been converted from a attacking player to a left back. For a full back I thought he was fairly lightweight, but looked decent going forward and now he has been out on two loan spells.

Whilst at Dundee, he played sixteen times, scored one goal and provided three assists. He played at left back, left-wing and left midfield throughout that six month loan spell.

After that he was farmed out to Championship club Ayr United where he has been utilised in a more attacking sense. He has played up left-wing, right-wing, midfield and centre forward scoring once.

If the young guy does have a future at Celtic, this current loan does not appear to continue his conversion to a defender. With one year on his contract remaining, he will either be back out on loan or the club maybe looking to move him on too.

The last two loanees we are expecting this summer are Manny Perez and Andrew Gutman. Both players are currently over in the USA playing in the USL Championship (second tier of USA football) with North Carolina FC and Charlotte independence respectively.

With one player a left back and the other a right back, Celtic now have new cover for those berths as well as Kieran Tierney, Anthony Ralston and of course if either Lustig or Izaguirre stay. Either way, they look set to arrive in the summer and finally don the Hoops.

So there are a lot of futures to be decided this summer and so far the signs are that Lennon is already having his say. You have to imagine that the job is his even if it hasn’t been decided or announced.

He may well not know at all and the board may be keeping that decision to themselves. However, he is certainly being allowed to decide on the future of guys like Sinclair who is a highly paid player.

The signs of Lennon’s future at the club are beginning to strengthen despite some uninspiring performances by the team. This has already divided the support, but to win over all of the support they will want to see more from Lennon on match days.

He’s said often enough he isn’t playing his way, but the way the team have been for the last three seasons. Now may be the time to start changing things to convince anyone who has doubts about is managerial skills.

Before he left the club in 2014, Ronny Deila was already supposed to be coming aboard in some capacity. I’m not sure what that suggested about Neil’s coaching abilities or if that was more to do with Johan Mjallby deciding to depart.

Whether the board feel Neil requires more coaching support or if he has returned a better manager we will find out soon enough. The season is almost over.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac


Number 5…honoured

On Saturday, Celtic payed tribute to club legend, Billy McNeill. The laying of wreaths took place pre-match in front of the former club captain’s statue and an emotional rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone rang around Celtic Park before kick-off.

The players and coaching staff all wore armbands with a “5” on it, in recognition of the man who wore the number with such distinction and success. The match itself was no different to any of the other performances we’ve seen of late, that was until something poignant and spectacular occurred.

With an eighth title in sight, Celtic have continued with laboured performances home and away. Goals have not come easy and sometimes not at all, but domestically we remain unbeaten in 2019.

Steve Clarke’s Kilmarnock made Celtic’s struggle more uphill, as well as looking the more likely team to score. At half time it remained 0-0 and as the second half wore on, our patience and hope of a win was wearing thin.

Then came the moment in the match that got everyone. A goal scored by number 5 with 67 minutes on the clock.

There aren’t two numbers with greater significance that could’ve summed up Billy McNeill’s career and relationship with Celtic. As the realisation filtered amongst the onlookers, it’s fair to say the Celtic community was awash with emotional delight.

Jozo Simunovic’s header at the rear post was reminiscent of the type Billy was known for. There was a eeriness in the celebration because of that.

Whilst Jozo is not renowned for scoring goals, he will no doubt remember this one for the rest of his days. His presentation of his shirt to the McNeill family was a nice touch from the defender who himself appeared to be overcome with emotion.

With Billy’s funeral this Friday and the death of his former team mate Stevie Chalmers today, the Celtic community continues to mourn. It is a tragic time for the McNeill and Chalmers families and we grieve with them.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Farewell Stevie Chalmers

I was in the process of preparing my blog this morning, prior to posting about the weekend, when the news of Stevie Chalmers’ passing flashed up on my phone. I could barely believe it and decided to stop writing.

It hasn’t even been a week since fellow Lion, Billy McNeill, passed away. Both men, sufferers of dementia.

Stevie was of course Celtic’s hero amongst heroes on that day in Lisbon when he scored the winning goal against Inter Milan. Though it may have been a personal high point in his career, he served Celtic for a dozen years to equal stature.

In that time, he became one of Celtic’s all time top scorers. Today he remains in the top five along with Jimmy McGrory, Bobby Lennox, Henrik Larsson and Jimmy Quinn.

I doubt there are many words that can express the widespread grief that has engulfed the Celtic families these past seven days. The Celtic community mourns with the families as we say goodbye to yet another legend.

Though death is the sad reality of life, it is nonetheless difficult to process. Losing two stars so close to one another and from the same group of legends, is beyond comprehension.

Like Billy, I never met Stevie, nor did I see him play as I was born after his career had finished. The one story I can recall was one my dad recounted to me.

He told a younger version of me that Stevie Chalmers and his wife had sat in our living room one time many years ago. My dad had ended up filming his daughter Carol’s wedding because he happened to have the equipment at home.

At a later date, Stevie and his wife came round to our house to preview their daughter’s wedding video. My dad was pretty modest about it, but equally proud to tell me, his youngest son, that the man that won the European Cup for Celtic once sat in our living room.

The story never died with my dad and my mum said today they were a really nice couple. I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned it on here before, but happy to tell it now.

Farewell Stevie. You are a legend

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Hail, Cesar!

This morning’s news that Billy McNeill passed away has saddened many people across the footballing world. There are few bigger Celtic men than the man his team mates called “Cesar.”

By the time I came into this world, Billy had already retired from playing football, but his historical status was already woven into the fabric of Celtic Football Club. As club captain he won nine championships, seven Scottish Cups, six League Cups and of course became a Lisbon Lion by winning the European Cup.

With a career in management under way in 1977 with Clyde then Aberdeen, Billy found himself succeeding former manager, mentor and legend in his own right, Jock Stein, in 1978. Could there have been a better person to take over from Jock?

In a five-year spell as Celtic manager, he won three championships, one Scottish Cup and one League Cup. A breakdown with the club’s owners prompted Billy to move on and took up the reins at Manchester City.

He experienced highs and lows at City then toiled with a struggling Aston Villa before returning to Celtic for the club’s centenary season. In his second spell at the club he won one championship and two Scottish Cups in four seasons.

By this point, things were changing in the Scottish game and the mismanagement by Celtic’s owners was leading to the club’s demise. They weren’t just falling behind Rangers, they found themselves behind Aberdeen, Hearts and Dundee United.

Money was changing matters, particularly at Ibrox and Celtic were being run into the ground by the families who had been involved at the club for so many years. As a result of that, McNeill became one of many fall guys.

It didn’t change the supporters’ view of him though. As a right of passage you learn about the Celtic history and Billy was at the core of that history.

A player, a manager, a captain, a Lisbon Lion and an all round gentleman. He will be missed by everyone.

A club icon and legend. Forever in our hearts and minds.

Hail, Cesar!

Stevie Mac

Easter Road Sunday

Craig Levein’s Hearts side capitulated at home to their Glasgow brethren yesterday in what was a one sided affair. The Scottish Cup Finalists had no answer to any of the Ibrox club’s goals until the game was dead and buried.

The 1-3 win for Steven Gerrard means Neil Lennon must wait until next week at the earliest to secure eight-in-a-row. Today at Easter Road is the first hurdle though.

Hibs go into this game in a rich vein of form under Neil Lennon’s successor, Paul Heckingbottom. Celtic beat Hibs 0-2 in the Scottish Cup in Lennon’s second game in charge, but ever since that cup exit Hibs have not lost a single match.

Celtic haven’t lost under Lennon either, but some of the displays by the team have lacked conviction, particularly in the second halves. There is plenty of incentive for Lennon going up against his old club.

Though with the style and tactics very much still in the Brendan Rodgers mould, it is up to the players to find their best form. As Neil has said they are still playing in a way he is not accustomed to, but for the players it has been the way these last three seasons.

This is match day one of the post-split fixtures. There are no easy games left.

Four points are required from the next two games for Celtic to clinch the title. Doing that could mean winning the title at Celtic Park next Saturday against Kilmarnock.

Injuries and absences are having an impact on the Celtic squad once again. Ryan Christie, Nir Bitton, Dedryck Boyata, Jack Hendry, Daniel Arzani and Leigh Griffiths are all on the sidelines, but Celtic are not short of talent.

We’ve seen Tom Rogic and Filip Benkovic return to the fold recently and they’ll need to be sharper for the run in of games.

Kieran Tierney could see some rest time as the team gets rotated. Many of us want to see more of Timo Weah and I’m not averse to Oliver Burke either.

This title is in our own hands and we have the players to win it. The players know it and they have to earn it starting today in Edinburgh.

There can be no complacency in these next six games. Another treble is on the horizon.

How much do you want it Bhoys?

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac