Callum McGregor in the holding midfield role. Nadir Ciftci finishing the match playing behind a grossly unfit Carlton Cole. Scott Allan brought on as a substitute and stuck out wide left.
Blame the players for the defeat if you must, but I’m moved to wonder if they can really be held accountable for such a shambolic and structurally incoherent set of choices.
There is a sterling moment in Francis Ford Coppola’s magnificent movie Apocalypse Now where Cpt Willard has reached the jungle compound of the renegade colonel Walter Kurtz and he’s seen for himself why the orders from on high are to “terminate his command” with “extreme prejudice.”
Amidst piles of dead bodies, and heads mounted on sticks, in sight of a former photojournalist who’s time with the colonel has turned him into a babbling loon, Willard comes face to face with the man he’s travelled up a dirty river and through nine circles of Hell to find, a man he’s been sent to kill because his “methods have become unsound.”
“Well,” Kurtz asks him. “Have my methods become unsound?”
Willard’s eyes have the haunted look of someone who’s seen much more than he ever wanted or could have conceived in his darkest nightmare.
“I don’t see any method at all,” Willard says.
And that’s how I feel now, watching Ronny Deila’s Celtic.
If there was a plan, there’s no longer any trace of it. Hidden amidst the chaos, we thought there was some underlying order, some sign that this is all leading somewhere better than the destination we can most clearly see in our own minds.
There had to be, right?
I’ve stopped looking now, and a lot of folk have. It’s fruitless. We’re searching for Cibola, one of the mythical Seven Cities of Gold. If it exists we’ll be enriched beyond our wildest dreams, but in our hearts we know it’s a fool’s errand we’re on.
We’re chasing a phantom.
It’s time to come back to reality.
Today I feel a little bit like somebody who’s bought an expensive ornament and turned it over to find a sticker on the bottom saying “Trotters Independent Traders”. We got a bum deal here. It wasn’t a con exactly … but it doesn’t do what it says on the tin.
Where is the attacking football? Where is the high pressing game? Where is the flowing passing and movement off the ball? All these things were promised, and I don’t feel let down as much as I feel betrayed. I’ve broken up with girlfriends for less. I’ve nursed a grievance against Peter Lawwell for years over a single misleading statement, and yes, it was a big one … but still.
I don’t believe any longer in what Ronny and those who’d defend him are selling.
I don’t believe there will be jam tomorrow or any other day.
All that’s in our future with this guy at the helm is a diet of gruel.
Some stale bread and water if we’re very lucky indeed.
This is an unfolding tragedy, and somebody at our club needs to show the requisite leadership before it turns into a disaster.
There are those amongst our support who still cling to hope of a treble, but in 18 league games we’ve already failed to win five this season and we’ve been utterly humiliated in European football.
It will take one bad day – and even when we’ve won this season we’ve often not looked terribly convincing – and that’ll be the end of that particular ambition.
Besides, the truth – and it’s one some in our support find increasingly hard to face – is that being only marginally better than the teams we play here in Scotland week in week out is nothing to boast about. Our current malaise ought to be a source of shame, that and the news that we’ve recently dropped a mind-numbing 25 places in the European rankings, to sit at 75th.
It’s where we belong right now.
The unveiling of a statue to Billy McNeil ought to have made Saturday an occasion to savour, one that evoked memories of our heyday as the biggest club in Europe. Instead, we looked bereft and more like the team that played in the latter days of the old board.
We are staggeringly bad right now, and the supporters haven’t missed that fact.
Our recent record at Celtic Park, two wins in the last eight games, is deplorable and when we’ve not been playing football here in Scotland the gap between us and even second rate continental teams has looked vast.
I harbour no hope at all for next year’s Champions League qualifiers … if we manage to reach them that is.
Because this is getting worse, not better.
I spend a lot of time on this site writing about the shambles at Sevco, and when the full-time whistle went at Celtic Park on Saturday I briefly turned my attention to what was happening at Easter Road fully expecting Warburton’s team to have escaped a full-on calamity by the skin of their teeth.
Imagine my reaction as Hibs won the game late, to plunge the Ibrox operation into its own deepening morass.
And then something dawned on me.
The Sevco supporters would have taken no satisfaction from our own defeat.
Quite the opposite, in fact.
As sick as their fans must have been at the Edinburgh club’s late winner, it’s nothing compared to how scunnered they must feel every waking minute of every single day at the opportunity they’ve squandered.
If their club had been born anew, instead of clinging to a corpse, they could have been in front of us already.
Because we’re going backward and we are there for the taking right now, and they know it and they’re stuck in the mud at just the moment when they might have been there to punish us.
Last season’s calamitous failures over there are all the worse for them in light of where we presently find ourselves.
If they weren’t in such disarray they might very well fancy their chances of catching us before too long.
What their fans can see, clearly, is their historical opportunity being pissed away, because this can’t go on forever; Celtic can’t remain in such dysfunction in perpetuity.
But that knife cuts both ways.
At some point, you think, Sevco simply has to find stability and the right combination of elements that turns them into a functioning unit. Our own window to vanish over the horizon is closing rapidly, as league reconstruction becomes the cause célèbre amongst the mainstream hacks, with Matthew Lindsay in The Herald the latest to bang that drum with a piece today that’s about as unhinged as anything you’ll read this side of the asylum bars.
They increasingly look like a club that is going to depend on some official fix to get into the top flight, and that is embarrassing for everyone connected with the Ibrox side, but for the moment I am holding back on the gloating because we’re no great shakes at the present time either.
Instead of moving so far ahead of them that they can’t see us any longer we’re suddenly looking very vulnerable to any club that can put together a sustained run.
Simply put, this is becoming a race to see which of the Glasgow clubs gets its act together first, with Aberdeen already waiting in the wings and fully capable of their own smash and grab act.
For Deila to write them off so blithely at the weekend … shocking.
Our manager is developing a profoundly arrogant streak which I do not like and which I do not think is fitting of a man who’s embroiled in such uncertainty.
The amateur statisticians have had a field day in the last few weeks telling us that Ronny’s record stands up alongside that of anyone we’ve had in the manager’s office in recent years.
Fine, bravo, well done to the Norwegian boss, and well done to those who’re today lambasting many of our fans for saying the club has gone backwards.
You are watching a different team to me.
Because things are not good at Celtic Park right now, and you can see it in the team’s performances and in our ridiculous playing system.
Futhermore, things just don’t feel right at the moment, do they?
There’s a creeping sense that we’re watching something profoundly horrible beginning to unfold. It might not be Apocalypse Now, but every passing day increases the sense that it’s Apocalypse Soon.
Had Motherwell converted their chances at the weekend, Ronny would have packed up his pencils already. It’s inconcievable that he could have survived a hammering at home from such a poor team.
But it’s coming. It’s in the wind.
There’s no evidence that things are getting better; indeed, all there is suggests a football club going the other way. We’re regressing to the point where a lot of our fans are trying to rationalise the abject humiliation of finishing bottom of a Europa League group without a win.
Last season we reached the last 32 of that competition.
You see the direction of travel?
I’ll give you a clue; it ain’t forward.
For the record, if you’re asking me, that group table, on its own, ought to be the catalyst for a change of management at Celtic Park.
If we truly value what’s left of our dwindling European reputation then we’ll act in defence of that, because this guy can’t take us into another continental campaign. His failures – and those above him; they don’t get out of this without criticism, no way in Hell – have already cost us an estimated £30 million in lost revenue … and the damage financially is nothing compared to that done to our name.
How much worse do you want it to get, Celtic?
A loss of £45 million?
Dropping to 100th in the rankings?
Failing to make the groups of even the second tier European tournament?
People are saying “give Ronny the money in January to sign his players and then judge him on how well they do.”
Really? And should we not bother to judge his performance in that area thus far?
Because this will be his fourth transfer window as boss.
And what does the picture look like?
We’ve made baffling choices, like signing Cole when we play every week with a single striker, like signing Scott Allan when the central midfield area is already full and yet somehow leaves us so short we’re sticking a winger into a holding role … this is indefensible stuff.
Managers are sacked for choices like these.
Including 6 loanees, he’s brought 19 players to the club.
Of the 13 permanent signings how many have been huge successes?
How much flair and imagination was there?
He’s signed three of them from Dundee Utd, one from Hibs, one from Derry City, one from Inverness (albeit we’ve not seen him in the Hoops), two un-attached free transfers, one from Dinamo Zagreb, two Reserves of Manchester, a reserve goalkeeper and Stefan Scepovic.
Where’s he again?
This is what our much vaunted network of contacts in the game has produced for us in this guy’s time in charge.
Three transfer windows right out of a first time Football Manager player’s handbook.
The days of Sky Sports Scouting were bad enough; who knew we’d wind up doing the BT Sport Scotland equivalent of it?
Today there’s talk that we’re looking at a £2 million rated midfielder.
Because that’s just what we need at the present time, right?
In spite of over a dozen signings thus far, gaping holes exist all over the squad, in particular a chronic lack of half decent wide players. It says a lot for how dysfunctional things are at the moment that Scott Allan was left on the bench to accommodate one of them playing in a holding midfield role and that when he was finally brought on he was played … out wide.
How do you even begin to defend that?
The whole case against Ronny Deila as Celtic boss was on the teamsheet at the weekend before the game even kicked off.
I’m not in favour of letting this guy sign one more footballer. Not with that record.
What’s next? Let him sign wingers and then play them as central defenders?
It’s over. I’ve had it.
I’m sick and tired looking for positives here, and I can’t take any comfort from a one point lead in the SPL with a game in hand or being in a League Cup semi-final anymore.
We are dreadful to watch and just falling over the finish line because we don’t have a sustained challenge just isn’t going to cut it.
I’m fed up looking for order amidst the chaos and whilst my fellow Celtic fans are welcome to continue looking for the method in the madness right now I don’t see any method at all … and Ronny Deila has to carry the can for that.
But not alone.
A serious challenger to our hegemony is going to emerge in Scotland, and probably not on the long timeline many appear to think.
We’re awful damned lucky one hasn’t done so before now.
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