Our Anger Over This Continuing “Old Firm” Insult Is What Must Drive Us On Today.

Celtic F.C.Today Sevco will play against Celtic at our home ground, for the very first time. Two matches at Hampden against a Ronny Deila team have lulled some of these players into a false sense of security. Some of them have never been in an atmosphere like this in their lives.

The media has hyped this game up, as they will forever more. I’m resigned to that fact, but it should give us the upper hand more often than not, because as long as we’re in front of their club they are the ones who have to rise to the occasion.

I don’t want to get into knocking Ronny today; that’s an era at our club that delivered two titles and he deserves credit for that. But in two matches against Sevco we never once showed the limits of our superiority, except for a spell in the first one. It was as if, in that tie, we played within ourselves, treating it as a simple exercise in going through.

I was delighted at the time, but it’s burned me since. We ought to have stuck six past them that day, and I will never fully understand what stopped us from doing so. They were a demoralised shambles, ripe for us handing out a right good tanking.

The second game was a disgrace, pure and simple, with the most negative tactics I’ve ever seen administered by a Celtic boss in a domestic cup match. Back in the days when Rangers were around, I saw Celtic managers who went into those games spectacularly outgunned, but until Hampden last year I never saw one go out and play for a draw.

Brendan Rodgers is not Ronny Deila; he understands what drives our club. He gets it, and as long as the media wants to call this a Celtic – Rangers game, I expect him to approach it as if it were, whilst understanding that we’re much the superior team. In short, I expect him to feel the same raw emotion as we do, the same will to administer the football equivalent of a punishment beating today. This mob are more than just jumped up upstarts; they are vain, arrogant, boastful, prideful and in need of bringing rapidly, and painfully, back to Earth.

Today should hurt. Today should be psychologically wrecking. We should start at high speed and not stop until the final whistle. Don’t get me wrong, I believe Barcelona in midweek is a much more important game, but that should not be used as an excuse or a reason to be soft today. Our players and our manager know how important this one is.

The existence of Sevco, playing in the guise of Rangers, the assertion that they are one in the same, is an insult to every club in the land, but Celtic especially.

Because we’re the club who was damaged most in the era of Ibrox cheating, and we are the club the media endlessly tries to shoehorn into this corrupt notion of a rivalry based on hate, and it doesn’t matter what we as supporters say or do. This website has written a thousand times that we want nothing to do with this. I wrote it on E-Tims and on The CelticBlog, and every other Celtic blogger is unanimous in saying the same.

I can’t put it more plainly than to say this; every single word I’ve written on that club in the last four years has been a reaction to this debased idea. As a Celtic fan and a Celtic blogger I do not want any part in this media inspired, PR fantasy and I don’t care whether they call themselves after the OldCo, accept they’re a NewCo or get fully on board, at last, with the facts as we know them; just leave us out of it.

Stop trying to drag us into your grubby circle.

I care about the Survival Lie only inasmuch as it affects Celtic and the reason I am such a passionate advocate of calling this what it is, is that as long as the media pretends they are Rangers they will drag us into the swamp chained to the hated Old Firm term.

So, I suggest this; if the media and their supporters put their guns away, I’ll put away mine. I’ll stop banging on about them being a NewCo. Hell, I’ll even stop calling them Sevco. As long as they accept, at last, that Celtic fans could care less, and just want shot of them.

Take this millstone from around our necks, consign that ugly phrase and loathed tag to the dustbin of history, treat this like just another game, and as far as I’m concerned they can get on with pretending to be whatever the Hell they want and I’ll be as happy to indulge their fantasy as I would be to grant the local glue sniffer his fairies at the bottom of the garden.

Because all I care about is the well-being of my club, and this rancid association and its toxic connotations has been smothering us for far too long.

Back in 2012, when liquidation and death overwhelmed them, any number of their fans and media apologists clung to the idea that, deep down, we needed them and wanted them, as if they were necessary to validate our own existence.

Over the four years of Sevco, one of the things that’s bothered them most is the slow dawning realisation that we weren’t even remotely kidding … if they’d been swallowed up completely and no version of them ever rose again, we wouldn’t have missed them far less mourned them.

They call us obsessed anyway, not recognising for a second that nearly every single word on this blog and others in relation to them has been written from the perspective of people who are happy their club is dead and would be even happier if no version of it existed at all. They can call that hate as they like, but I’ve seen what real hate looks like.

I grew up sharing a city and a country with it, and it didn’t flow from their ordinary supporters, amongst whose ranks I’ve had colleagues, relations, great love affairs and lifelong friendships. No, it flowed from the institution itself, because it was built on that emotion, marketed on it and for years thrived by sucking greedily at every morsel of that hate which spilled into the public sphere. I am entitled to hate the institution a little because of it.

What was it Liam Neeson said in Michael Collins?

“I do hate them. I hate them for making hate necessary.”

When Sevco was formed, it had a chance to consign that hate to the grave.

It didn’t.

It used it as a foundation stone, and so along with the Survival Lie the Victim Lie was born.

They say that Scottish football depends on them, and Celtic most of all.

Paul67 is the guy I credit with best getting right to the heart of the matter; “Whichever part of my club is dependent on Rangers, I am quite willing to lose,” he said, in 2012. He spoke for a great many of us that day, almost every single person I know.

But one of the many truths they just can’t face is that Scottish football thrived without all this, even as every day at Ibrox there was another psychodrama in the media. Four long years of their dirty laundry, hanging out there for everyone to see, as they struggled to stay relevant in a world which wouldn’t have given a shit that they were there at all but for the constant wailing, like a child trying to get attention.

Yet strip it all down and what do you find?

You find the real obsession.

You find the real dependency.

It’s all tied up in the Old Firm tag.

Because they are like a junkie who just can’t kick the habit.

They need it, like a vampire needs blood; they need it for their very survival.

You never read reference to the Old Firm on Celtic sites unless, like here, we’re denying we want any part of it, but it is promoted, endlessly, on theirs, along with the pitiful, almost pleading, suggestion that without it we’d be less than what we are … which is their way of admitting that without it they would be absolutely nothing at all.

Because they do define themselves by this rivalry, and in the end it’s all they’ve got, the one thing they cling to that makes them important in a world that otherwise would have passed them by a long, long time ago. Their backward, irredeemably narrow appeal renders them insignificant without the Old Firm name because without that who outside of Scotland would even care they existed at all?

I believe Celtic survives quite well without it.

Our existence as a football club and a social institution neither relies on nor is helped by an ugly PR invention at the end of which are fist-fights and stabbings and drunken yobs fighting in the street and the promotion over and over and over again of blind hate.

Today I want us to win, and I want us to win big, and it’s not because they are our biggest rivals.

It’s because they aren’t.

It’s not because we’re participants, willing or otherwise, in this rivalry they call the Old Firm.

It’s because we’re not and we don’t want to be.

I want the win, the big win, because I want to be done with this nonsense once and for all, and I’ve come to believe that the best way to do is to expose the lie for what it is, but not by UEFA letters or media admissions, or changing the minds of their ridiculous fans … the best way to do it is to burst the fantasy bubble, to expose this idea to the ridicule it deserves, to destroy the notion that this is a rivalry at all.

Because once that illusion is gone, I think the Ibrox operation will collapse, and then we might well get what we should have in 2012 … a world where the Old Firm tag is never used to define our football club again.

If there was ever a good reason for wanting to see our team win a game, that’s surely it.

In Brendan We Trust.

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The Killing Fields

JS90873954So yesterday the registration deadline for the third round of Champions League qualifiers came and went without our club bothering to make a signing. Just how big a problem is that?

Well, in the first leg of the last round we played Efe Ambrose at central defence, with the predictable results. Such was the magnitude of that disaster – our worst result in our history – that we dropped him entirely from the second leg and played three at the back with our young full-back Keiran Tierney deputising for the night as a centre back instead.

Brendan Rodgers knows we have problems in that area. He has asked the board repeatedly, publicly and privately, for the signings he needs. One of the names he and his assistant have trailed over the weeks has been Shane Duffy. Today we discovered that the club is yet to make a formal bid for the Blackburn Rovers defender.

It makes you wonder how hard people are trying.

This is a perilous place for our club to be. Brendan Rodgers is the huge managerial appointment the Celtic supporters wanted. His is the name we craved. But we didn’t get this guy off the slag-heap. He wasn’t waiting around for our call, and willing to go anywhere. The chances are very good that if this guy hadn’t been appointed at Celtic Park that he would have been unveiled as the England boss this very week. Forget Allardyce and others; England’s FA would have passed over these second raters for Brendan in an instant. That’s how good a boss we’re talking about.

There’s a caricature of Brendan in some parts of the English media, that he’s vain and ego-driven. They point to frivolous stuff like his having his teeth done and hair fixed and the diets he went on. They point to his good looking young fiancé, who he proposed to just after formalising his divorce from his ex. In short, they think he’s a bit of a Jack the Lad.

As far as Celtic fans are concerned, all of it is nonsense because it has nothing to do with his ability as a boss.

Yet there’s undoubtedly truth to a lot of it anyway, and that does give us some insight which might be important.

Brendan has a very healthy self-regard.

He likes the limelight and he likes to be seen to be doing well.

This is not a negative. This is a guy who won’t settle for second place, or for failure. That’s why we appointed him.

It’s also why we will struggle to hang onto him if the board of directors continues to fail him when it matters.

There’s a moment at the start of the fantastic 1997 movie Twin Town where two corrupt cops are having a discussion about a piece of corporate art, etched into the stonework outside Swansea Train Station.

It reads “Ambition Is Critical.”

As they discuss the meaning, the older of the two men claims that it’s a response to an alleged Dylan Thomas quote, that Swansea is “the graveyard of ambition.”

A local poet wrote the three word answer to that. He worked for the council.

They adopted it as the town’s moto.

I always laugh at that scene, especially Dougray Scott and his assertion that it’s a dreadful slogan. His own three word take on Swansea a “Pretty Shitty City” at least rhymes.

He is scornful of the notion that anything, far less ambition, can thrive in such a place.

Ambition is critical though, and if someone had inscribed those words on the stairs at Celtic Park I think most of us would get the point at once. What I’m not sure of is that everyone who stepped over them on the way into work in the morning would.

Ironically enough, Brendan made his name in Swansea and it wasn’t the graveyard of his ambitions at all.

It was the proving ground for them. It was his performance there that took him to Anfield, and made him a contender. It was the place where he showed the world what he could do, where he’d have first come to the attention of Celtic.

He arrives at our club via a sojourn at Liverpool, where things went spectacularly right and then horribly wrong.

Is he here to rebuild his reputation?

No, I wouldn’t go that far. He says Celtic is a natural fit for him, and I agree. We are still a massive club, with huge pull for the right man, someone who “gets it”, someone who understands.

I was furious last week when, in the aftermath of the Red Imps result, Brendan Rodgers offered his glib, unconcerned response to the club’s stunning defeat. The result was easily the worst over 90 minutes in our history; some have argued that, but none has been able to find another occasion where we lost a competitive game to such a side.

There are simply no comparisons that come even close.

In my heart of hearts I know Brendan was angered by that result, and that his comments in public hid a deep frustration in private. He knows how that result makes our club, and him, look in the eyes of the world.

He’s not the kind of man to take that lightly.

He’ll know something else; he’ll know that good managers have come to Scotland before and died on their arses.

Some say Scottish football is the graveyard of ambition; it’s not.

These are the killing fields.

It’s not widely talked about, but Scottish football hasn’t just stalled careers. It has wrecked them. For such a small place, such a little corner of the footballing universe, this place has a helluva reputation for ruining folk, and Glasgow in particular.

Look back over the recent history of football in this city.

There are a parade of names who have come here, and then gone bust.

At Celtic, John Barnes career was obliterated before it had properly begun. He didn’t manage at another club for nine years, when he went to Tranmere, who sacked him after just eleven games.

Kenny Dalglish, who was a hero in English football, especially at Liverpool and Blackburn, wilted under the pressure of trying to steer the team after Barnes was fired. He won a League Cup but it was nowhere near enough. The Celtic board’s decision not to give him a permanent crack at the job was vindicated when they appointed Martin O’Neill instead.

It would be almost a decade before Dalglish returned to management, for a brief spell as caretaker boss at Anfield.

On its own, success in Scotland doesn’t guarantee the kind of advancement one might expect either, but failure here, even perceived failure, can undo good work that might otherwise count in your favour.

Martin O’Neill had a right to think he would have been a contender at any top club in England when he got Celtic to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville, but when he left the club the league title resided at Ibrox and that must have been a bad sign for some down south.

He ended up at Villa, then at Sunderland, instead of one of the clubs he craved.

The same could be said of Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon, good men both, one of whom got us out of two Champions League groups in a row and the other who masterminded a win against Barcelona. Gordon left Celtic having lost a league title. Neil left after a Champions League group stage car-crash, but one no-one could blame him for. Nevertheless, only Bolton offered him a job.

At Ibrox, the same pattern emerges.

Alex McLeish became Scotland manager after leaving there but his managerial career petered out with moves to Birmingham, Villa, Forest and finally a move abroad, where he took over at Genk. He was in Egypt managing a club at the turn of this year, but they sacked him after just a few months in the job.

Even the big names to take over there encountered disaster.

Dick Advocaat left Ibrox to take on the Dutch national team, and ended up at Zenit St Petersburg with all their money, yet it could be argued that his career ran onto the rocks in this city when Rangers dispensed with his services after Martin O’Neill proved he had the mastery as Celtic stormed to two titles on the bounce.

Advocaat arrived at Ibrox with a huge reputation. He could have ended up anywhere, at a top European club, but this country exposed his limitations with a brutality that must have taken him by surprise.

The same thing happened to Paul LeGuen and in even less time; his was a glittering CV which less than a year here absolutely shredded. He was never to recover the ground he lost in that 12 months. He went to Paris St Germain from Ibrox, before money transformed that club completely. They were 17th on the day he was appointed; no other club in France would touch him.

What I’m trying to say here is that no-one should be under the misconception that Scottish football is some kind of soft option or doss. None of the guys named above left on a high, save maybe for Lenny. Even Gordon and Martin left after surrendering league titles.

Ronny Deila is an exceptional case because he actually lost his job despite winning the title.

But none of these guys was head-hunted by a bigger team.

None went on to “better things”.

Failure here is like a near-death experience and these are the guys (Barnes excepted) who got out without being absolutely humiliated.

Tony Mowbray had his reputation as a title winning boss at West Brom to fall back on, but his time at Celtic Park had made him toxic to most clubs in England; ironically, he replaced Gordon Strachan at Middlesbrough shortly after Celtic let him go.

Which is to say nothing for Ally McCoist, whose failures at Sevco were about as colossal as one could ever hope to see.

I predicted in 2012 that he would never manage a top flight team again and I see nothing at all to suggest I was mistaken then or now. Indeed, he may never manage in football again; that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Brendan Rodgers doesn’t see Celtic as a “stepping stone” but that doesn’t mean he’d be willing leave our club with his reputation in the toilet. The current squad isn’t good enough; he knows it and the more dreadful events of last season have left us in no doubt about it. If we needed further evidence of it we got it last week. This is a side that more and more resembles one needing radical surgery. Sticking plaster solutions just aren’t going to cut it and we’ve got big problems ahead unless we refresh it with some new blood.

If Brendan Rodgers thinks he needs certain players to take the Celtic team forward I know for sure that he will fight for them; he has to. Never before in our history has second place been worth less to us, never in our history has it been so absolutely unacceptable, and if that’s the case for the fans it’ll be even more so for a manager who does think a lot of himself and who might still fancy managing at the highest level if and when he leaves Celtic Park.

Hell will be paid for failure, and not just in the manager’s office, but it’s the manager who will pay the highest price and it’s to be wondered if his career would recover from it. His days of managing top clubs would certainly be at an end.

Brendan Rodgers won’t accept that.

He knows, furthermore, that only a quantifiable success in Europe will keep his career from ending as those others did.

That quest was dealt a shocking blow last week.

With Astana next up, there clear potential for something just as bad.

Brendan Rodgers will not accept that.

He won’t tolerate having his hands tied.

This guy has a deep affinity for Celtic, but I absolutely believe he would be willing to walk away and scorch the Earth behind him if he thought his own reputation was being damaged by working here with no backing. He won’t do it right away, of course, but he’ll already be angry and concerned and if, in Astana next week, Champions League horror follows on top of last week’s Champions League horror, when all the signs were there, when the need for at least one signing who could play in the team was acture, I think he’d have valid concerns and be harbouring serious doubts about the commitment of those above him to make good on their own “ambition.”

This is a man who will not quietly fall on the killing fields.

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The Storm Before The Calm

Jean-Léon_Gérôme_-_The_Death_of_Caesar_-_Walters_37884On 15 March 44BC a group of Roman senators, believing they were striking a blow for freedom, ambushed and murdered one of the most important men in history, Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator, general, politician and statesman.

They had expected the acclaim of the masses. They had killed a tyrant after all.

Instead of celebrations, they were greeted with sullen silence. Caesar’s closest friend, Marc Anthony, capitalised on that. He negotiated a sham peace, and then at the funeral gave an oration that sparked a riot. The assassins fled, for their own safety.

Within two years, everyone involved in the plot to kill Caesar was dead.

The seeds of their stunning downfall had been sown in the act itself. They never stood a chance.

First, the plan had left Anthony alive when the smart thing to do would have been to kill him, and second, and more important, they had reckoned without Caesar, who had chosen his successor with the greatest care.

It was his nephew Octavian, then just 18.

Octavian had all the political skills of Caesar. Although not as fine a general, he was more ruthless than his uncle. Whereas Caesar had spared the lives of many of his political rivals, Octavian executed everyone who wasn’t firmly fixed in his own camp.

Gaius Octavian became Augustus. He transitioned the Roman Republic out of existence, and became the first Emperor, in the ultimate irony as it was the Republic that Brutus, Cassius and the other assassins had killed Caesar to maintain.

Caesar’s assassins would never have killed him had they an inkling of the skills young Octavian possessed, and they would certainly have balked at the act had they known that for years it was the dictator himself who was the key restraining influence on Marc Anthony, who would have had many of them executed far in advance of that deadly day.

The fate of those men is history’s great cautionary tale, but it’s not the only one.

It’s dangerous to carry out an assassination if you’re unsure of what might follow it, and you should never assume you know what that will be.

I think often of the Rangers fans who danced and celebrated Inverness’ stunning victory over Celtic in the Scottish Cup back in August 2000, which led to the sacking of John Barnes.

Had they known what would follow that night I doubt they’d have partied so long or so hard.

Likewise, I know of no Celtic fan who was happy on the day that McCoist fell, or on the day Sevco decided Stuart McCall would not lead them into a full season. We never wanted those men gone; we liked them just fine right where they were.

I know that some of the Sevco fans who danced in the stands at Hampden on Sunday last week did so with a heavy heart; they never wanted to see Ronny Deila fall. Celtic winning the double would have appeased enough supporters, maybe, that the board would have risked keeping him in place for another year. That would have suited Sevco just fine.

As it is, Deila is packing his bags.

Without knowing who’s coming in, it’s hard to say what Celtic will look like this time next year, but one thing is for sure; we’ll be better off for it.

As if watching Deila fall wasn’t bad enough for them, their victory may just have shaken up more than just the dugout.

If it has, then it’s truly been a  Pyrrhic win because the last thing their fans wanted to see was a fundamental shift in the approach at Celtic Park.

Yet to outsiders it still looks like Celtic is in meltdown. The fans are staying away. The board is unpopular and teetering on the brink of crisis. Many of the players are a waste of a jersey. The manager is shockingly inept, with woeful tactics.

And yet … it’s impossible not to see this as the storm before the calm.

And at the end of the storm is a golden sky.

Because Celtic is changing.

This is what change looks like.

It’s painful and it’s dramatic and it’s often scary when you’re in the midst of it.

Even as our slumbering club comes fully awake for the first time maybe in years the club across the city is celebrating victory before the war’s even won … and you know something? I think they’re going to get the biggest shock since Cassius and Brutus stood watching Marc Anthony give the most inflammatory funeral speech of all time.

For one thing, they’re not as good as that media would have you believe. The league table never lies, they say; well try this for size. After the same number of games as Celtic this season they’re not much better off, points wise, than we are. The difference is that we’ve not been playing second tier, even amatuer, teams all season.

The media which lauds them, and the fans who follow them blindly, are labouring under an enormous – and dangerous – misconception, that just because Celtic is stagnant and vulnerable looking that we are somehow as weak as they are.

It’s not true.

Our club is immeasurably stronger than theirs is.

They are mistaking weak leadership for a flaw in the system itself. No such flaw exists. Leadership aside, Celtic is a machine. It’s been running on 20% power, and some have taken that to be the maximum it’s capable of.

This is foolish in the extreme.

The resources at our disposal absolutely dwarf what they can bring to bear.

Our financial position is rock solid. With the right man in the manager’s office and the right strategy behind him we are capable of burying any threat they, or anyone else, is likely to pose.

This is all about the fundamentals, and when you break down the facts and the figures we are in front of them by every accepted standard. We appear less than we are at the moment; a consequence of that appalling management.

Get that part of it right … and this isn’t even a contest.

Let’s take but one example; the stadium.

Our stadium has a higher capacity than Ibrox, and this haunted David Murray all the way through his last years at Rangers. Those 10,000 extra seats represent more than just bragging rights. As Fergus understood full well when he laid the plans for Celtic Park, they confer a huge financial advantage upon us if we can fill them.

With a plan in place to restore us to our rightful status, and the supporters on board with that and returning in numbers, those seats allow us to open up a gap King and his cronies simply cannot bridge, no matter what they do.

Their club is still six years from a favourable merchandising deal.

They are at least ten away from being able to navigate beyond the earliest rounds in Europe, should they ever manage to get there. Without real European income, their chances of catching a Celtic side that has that advantage are somewhere between slim and none. To open up that gap, we have to do our own part but even that isn’t as difficult as some would have you believe.

I would suggest that a better manager than Deila would, with the players to hand, have gotten us past Maribor and Malmo and possibly even Legia Warsaw. Those who say our chances of qualifying are getting worse by the year are looking at the world through blue tinted glasses. We had the measure of these clubs. Our squad is better than theirs. Managerial failings are what made the difference.

Even without Champions League qualification next season, however, there should be no question of us failing to reach the Europa League groups at the very least and this, in itself, will put us on another financial plane entirely unless Warburton – completely untested at that level and with a second tier squad of players – was able to achieve the same; unlikely if we’re being generous.

It’s been five years since Rangers was washed away in the aftermath of Craig Whyte’s disastrous reign, but what Whyte did was simply acknowledge the truth that still dare not speak its name; Rangers was a financial basket case.

What we think of as that club’s strength and power was built on sand.

Stripped of the bank funding that allowed their glory years, they fell into complete ruin and then oblivion.

Whatever the club playing out of Ibrox might call itself, no matter what history it might shamelessly and fraudulently claim, the similarity ends with blue jerseys and the logo on them.

I cannot accentuate this point enough, and yet I’ve had to over and over again.

The Rangers we knew never really existed; it was smoke and mirrors, a shadow on the wall. They were never a financial superpower, merely a club whose owner was hyped up and feted by a bank that was out of control in an era when reckless spending seemed almost virtuous. Without the criminal indulgence of Masterton and Cummings there’d have been no nine in a row, no Gazza, no Laudrup.

On its own, Rangers could never have bought these players, and these before EBT’s gave them another advantage they wouldn’t otherwise have had and which is denied to them today.

When Murray and his flexible friend were no longer on hand, that club was only heading one way;

“Express elevator to Hell … going down.”

Without a sugar daddy in charge, this was inevitable and if Sevco is ever to scale those heights it’s going to take another one to get them there.

And those are in short supply.

In the meantime, as King goes cap in hand to his fellow directors and Paul Murray pulls up the sofa cushions looking for loose change, over at Celtic Park, a long dormant engine is growling back into life. The gears may need a little grease and some of the spark plugs might need replacing, but this machine is essentially sound and when it gets rolling it will be a ten ton tank next to their refurbished Vauxhall Velox. Oh they can pretty up theirs as they like, but when the time comes we’re going to drive our war machine right over it.

But first, a period of turmoil when to the outside world it will look like we’re mired in crisis.

To Brutus and Cassius, Marc Anthony’s political manoeuvring must have looked a little like that, like the scrambling of a desperate man, determined to hang on to what little he had left in the world.

They were wrong, as so many of those looking at Celtic are wrong.

They ought not to feel bad when the reversal of all they thought they knew finally comes about. The historical tendency of those who win a major victory is to believe it’s the same as winning the war.

One of the most potent examples was on 7 December, 1941 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, achieving as they saw it the conditions that would allow them dominion over the Pacific.

One senior admiral knew it was not so, and although there’s no evidence he used the words which are often ascribed to him, Yamamoto’s foreboding proved warranted. “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

Sevco fans, take note.

Celtic is awake. You’re the ones who did it.

Enjoy your moment.

For you, this is the calm before the storm.

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Are Foriegn Clubs Trying To Tap James Forrest?

imageOne of my favourite films of all time is The Big Lebowski, a movie which speaks to me in so many ways. Jeff Bridges has never been finer, in all his career on-screen.

What makes the movie great? Three things. First, tremendous and witty dialogue by the Cohen Brothers. Second, a complicated and brilliantly told story and third memorable characters who get into memorable (and often wacky) situations.

The launchpad for the story is a bizarre case of mistaken identity; a group of heavies for a porn kingpin target low-down bum Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, an unemployed former radical hippy who lives in a slum apartment and who’s one major interest appears to be bowling.

They break in, see the state of the place, and realise he’s got nothing except junk. (When his car is stolen later it gets abandoned with the tape deck still in it. They don’t even steal his Creedence tapes!)

What this tells them is simple; he’s not the guy they’re looking for.

The guy they’re looking for is a millionaire.

A millionaire who just happens to have the same name.

They pee on The Dude’s rug instead and, because “it really tied the room together”, he goes looking for a replacement from the man he blames for the whole mess, The Big Lebowski himself.

I won’t go into any more of the film, which swiftly becomes a cross between Raymond Chandler and Monty Python. None of it is important, neither to this article or actually even to the movie itself, which is more a series of wonderful little moments than a coherent whole (although it does have all the constituent parts of a film; a beginning, a middle and end).

What’s important is The Dude, and the Big Lebowski.

Mistakes happen, even if you sometimes can’t understand how.

In the movie, The Dude, played by Bridges, is an unkempt shaggy, bearded scruff who lives on the down side of town. The Big Lebowski is much older, rich, an apparent go-getter. He has lost his legs, and is in a wheelchair, which he claims never held him back from becoming a success. (That’s a bunch of BS as it turns out!)

The contrast between them is summed up beautifully when, at their first meeting, The Big Lebowski asks if The Dude is employed. “You don’t go out looking for a job dressed like that, do you? On a weekday?”

And for a moment, The Dude is momentarily taken aback.

“Is this a … what day is this?” he asks, absolutely without a clue, or a care.

How could these two be mistaken for each other?

Easy, apparently.

Because I get emails every single day asking me if I’m James Forrest the footballer.

I’ll tell you what I tell them. It’s an easy mistake to make.

He’s in his 20’s. I’m 39.

He is a professional athlete.

As anyone who’s ever met me in person knows full well … I’m definitely not.

I write, not just about football but other things and some of them are even more controversial than what I put on here and much of it is freely available for public consumption on Facebook and elsewhere.

If our young winger held and expressed such forthright opinions on everything from politics to celebrity culture we’d definitely have read about it in the papers. My twitter feed ranges from jokey comments to shocking expletives and whilst there aren’t a lot of pictures of me online they do exist.

I also post, frequently, when games are actually being played.

If I was the football player I’m sure someone, somewhere, would have noticed that …

In short, I look nothing like him, I’m fifteen years older, outspoken in a way he wouldn’t be able to be and sometimes, like The Dude, I spend my working day dressed in a way you definitely wouldn’t turn up for the office.

Yet the mistake still happens.


And especially right now when my Facebook picture currently shows a wolf, and has for weeks.

So let me tell you why we’re here.

Last night, I’m sitting going over an article on Jeremy Corbyn’s re-shuffle and Facebook is beeping away merrily on comments and likes for the piece I’d put up on The CelticBlog about young Aidan Nesbitt and how I reckon he’s our next mega-star.

Facebook now has a filtered inbox; that means there are some emails that get stuck in what they intend, I’m sure, to be something like the Spam folder you get in your ordinary email account. I check it every day, because sometimes people send me stuff and because they’re not on my friends list or connected to me except by six degrees of separation their messages get slung there.

Last night, there was a new message, from a guy in Moscow.

His name is Fedor Burdykin.

I’ve never heard of him, but I read his email, which seemed to be addressed to me, personally.

I couldn’t quite get what he was trying to say, or ask, but I had initially put that down to poor grasp of English.

(His, not mine!)

I was talking to my girlfriend at the time, and asked her what she thought.

She, too, was none the wiser.

And it was only when I realised that he, for some reason, had mistaken me for the footballer that it actually made sense.

I read it a couple of times and had a good laugh over it.

It reads thus:

“Hello James. Happy New Year. How are you? I’m Fedor. Agent from Russia. I looking winger Russia and Turkey. I like your game. What do you think?”

That’s it. Word for word.

So my attention, and curiosity, was awoken by this and I had a look at his Facebook page.

On it, he claims to work for a company called Sports Focus Group, who I Googled of course but couldn’t find anywhere.

There’s a link to their Facebook page on his, and I checked it out and it’s unimpressive to say the very least.

The page itself has only existed since last year.

It has a logo, but not a shiny special one. The kind you could do on your own.

There’s a single post on that page, written in Russian, but with a helpful translation.

“Agency activities: Standard Services Sports Agent – Search Club or tournaments for participation, the negotiations on the optimal conditions, permission of contentious situations, the involvement and support of the advertising and sponsorship of the contracts. We negotiate with dozens of sports clubs. Our main task, to create for the sportsman of the maximum comfort, with nothing to distract him from the game. We’re working the maximum openly, honestly, and at the result. Cherish our every client.”

A little broken, but understandable.

His Facebook page also contains pictures of a dozen or so footballers, but they don’t appear – on the surface anyway – to be clients of the same companies. His friends list is a little more interesting; amongst those he’s recently added to it is a youth coach at an Israeli club, an “intermediary” at the US Soccer Federation (who’s LinkedIn profile suggests he, too, has spent time as an agent) and a whole host of others, mostly minor players at minor clubs throughout the world … agents, footballers, coaches, PR people … you get the drift.

And who is Fedor Burdykin himself?

Well, as it turns out his Facebook page highlights the town where he was born; Voronezh. That was a big help when trying to identify him properly because that information is right there on his full profile on TransferMarkt.

He’s a 26 year old goalie, no longer at a club since leaving Russian side FK Khimki.

He’s played for five or six clubs in that country, all apparently lower league ones, since 2007.

All of which is to say that he’s genuinely involved in the sport, in a professional capacity, but appears to no longer be a player. He wouldn’t be the first failed footballer to go into the agent business, and it looks as if that’s what he’s done.

Now, I have no way of knowing if he’s registered or not, if he’s “official” or not, but that hardly matters less.

On the surface all this looks like amateur hour … but he’s not the first person to make the mistake and think I’m James Forrest, Celtic player.

Google James Forrest and Celtic and you’ll see how easy this mistake would be to make, for someone who wanted to contact him and ended up getting me.

So amateur hour, yes but only to a certain extent.

Because, of course, the objective of a back-channel approach would be to do it through the individual and not his registered representatives and, for sure, to keep it at arm’s length from the club.

I’ve read stories of agents and the dodgy ways some of them go about their business, and I also know that registered/unregistered, these are simply tags for those who serve as the public faces of those companies and that behind the scenes a lot of folk are doing leg-work on their behalf who don’t even work for those agencies in a formal sense.

If you were a big firm, or representing a big club, and you were looking to feel out a footballer in the last year of his contract and you wanted to do it in such a way as to arouse no suspicion and set off no red flags, well there are a lot of freelancers out there who could provide you with the deniability you need, keeping yourself at a distance whilst they do the graft.

I find the use of language in his email somewhat … specific.

“I looking winger Russia and Turkey.”

If you were a wannabe agent looking to set up a new business, would you care what position your clients played? This is more like a fishing expedition, an assignment, to go out and find a specific player type, like scouting, which I’m sure some agencies do.

But mostly on behalf of clients.

The reference to the countries themselves?

Well he’s clearly not looking for players from those countries, because mistaking me for James Forrest is one thing, but you’re not going to get someone’s nationality wrong, are you?

He’s looking for players to play in those countries …

So who is Fedor Burdykin, really?

Failed footballer, now agent, or so it seems … but working for who?

Who employs him now?

And who are they working for?

Someone in Russia or Turkey?

Well, that covers a lot of ground.

But there’s money in those countries, lots of it, as we saw when Fenerbahce came to town recently boating Robin Van Persie and a host of other big names. Russian football’s reputation as a big-spending, and somewhat lawless, football environment precedes it.

James Forrest isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (neither myself not the footballer!) but Ronny Deila rates him and he has actually been critical of his agent in the past month, wondering aloud in a press conference why he can’t get the guy on the phone.

Celtic, apparently, wants to tie the player up in a long-term deal, as his current one runs out in the summer of next year.

As it stands right now, he’s not technically free to talk to interested parties for another twelve months and I am sure that both he and his representatives are observing the regulations on that to the letter.

This article in no way relates to their conduct.

This is one of those weird wee moments I live for.

Sometimes I have to go and find stories.

Sometimes stories find me.

We’re not in any imminent danger of losing James Forrest to another club but it looks as if people are fishing around the margins.

Oh this might just be a young kid, representing himself, taking a punt … but that seems off, doesn’t it? Everyone knows that this isn’t the normal way agents approach footballers … it’s unprofessional at best.

As bizarre as this one is, it looks like something a little sneaky, something deniable, something that’s being undertaken on behalf of someone who doesn’t want to get personally involved.

And if that’s the case, Celtic should be keeping an eye on it.

I hope they are.

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)


Coffee’s For Closers

A-1Alec Baldwin has probably never had a finer seven minutes on screen than those he gets in the magnificent David Mamet film Glengarry Glen Ross.

His character, Blake, was not in the Pulitzer Prize winning stage version of the story; Mamet added him later, and Baldwin was cast knowing he’d only be in the film for one scene.

When he read the script, he didn’t hesitate to accept the role.

His little cameo towers over the whole film and haunts the other characters, the “deadbeat” sales force who chase the “good leads” at Rio Rancho Properties, a real estate office where desperation fogs the air like the steam that rises from the pavements outside at night.

None of the three men forced to sit through his speech that night is a natural “closer”. Whatever skills they once posssessed are gone. None are now capable of making a high pressure sale, getting some poor sap to “sign on the line which is dotted.”

They are losers, all bit Ricky Roma, played by Al Pacino, who is riding high and therefore doesn’t need to there, sat at the “sales conference” where Blake gives them the most de-motivational motivating speech that’s ever been put on film.

“Your names Levine?” he asks Jack Lemon, with the deepest contempt.

“You call yourself a salesman, you sonofabitch?”

Shelly “The Machine” Levine looks back in shock. He was once the “top name on the board” and is now a man almost weighed down by a “streak” of constant failure, of doors closed in his face, of telephone hang-ups, of a daily grind of humiliation. He was standing with a mug in his hand, waiting to fill it, when Blake singled him out for the first battering.

“Put that coffee DOWN!” Blake shouts from across the room. “Coffee’s for closers only.”

Blake isn’t kidding around.

He’s been “sent downtown from Mitch and Murray”, the big bosses, on what he says, without a trace of irony, is “a mission of mercy” to give these guys the news; “We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest,” he says. “First prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Wanna see second prize?” he asks, brandishing a set of steak knives, which seems like a lousy substitute for a car until he tells them what’s next.

“Third prize is you’re fired,” he says, looking venomously at the three men – two of whom will be “hitting the bricks” at the end of the month – and asks them, “You get the picture? You laughing now?”

No-one is, and thinking about the scene neither am I.

At its blackest moment, he’s sitting across the desk from Moss, played by a waspish Ed Harris, who at first thinks he can meet Blake’s aggression and contempt with his own. But Blake isn’t in the least bit intimidated by this joker.

He takes off his watch and brandishes it in Moss’s face.

“This watch cost more than your car,” he tells him. “I made $970,000 last year. How much did you make? See, pal, that’s who I am … and you’re nothing.” As Moss’ expression changes to betray his own stark self-loathing Blake hammers it home to him. “Nice guy? I don’t give a shit. Good father? @@@@ you! Go home and play with your kids! You wanna work here? Close!

Which brings me to the point of the piece.

Yesterday, Celtic scraped through a disturbingly difficult 90 minutes at home against Partick Thistle, a game we’d have dropped points in but for Leigh Griffiths, who’s become an indispensable part of our team in a way no player has probably since Larsson.

I find it alarming that we’ve become so reliant on one player.

We’ve got the biggest wage budget in Scottish football, and without Griffiths God knows what state our season would be in. To say he got the manager out of jail yesterday is to put it mildly. One Celtic site says a lot of our bloggers would have been tearing up their match reports when he stuck that ball into the net; mine didn’t change one word.

I lost faith in Ronny Deila months ago. A late goal from a player who was thrown into the mix because the manager didn’t have any other card in the deck, any other plan, has done nothing whatsoever to restore it.

I don’t know if it can be restored any longer.

We were awful yesterday. The playing style is awful. The tactical system is awful. The manager’s refusal to change it is awful. The mounting sense of dread many of us get watching this team play, knowing Champions League qualifiers will expose our weaknesses more horribly than SPL teams are capable of – as has been the case in the past two years – is awful.

The eternal optimists – or those who just can’t bring themselves to think, let alone acknowledge, that there might be something wrong at Celtic Park – have wondered aloud if this isn’t the moment that “sparks” the team.

I don’t know whether to laugh at the sentiment or cry about it. I don’t know where such hope comes from; it’s the very definition of having faith – “a firm belief in something for which there is no proof.”

I’m pretty angry today, I was even angrier yesterday, and that’s make me quite snappy when it comes to this subject, and in that I’ve probably said things I shouldn’t have said – and didn’t even mean – in public, and in private.

But this is what comes from frustration and the realisation that things aren’t going to change in a hurry, that for this to be over, barring the miracle we all hope for but in which I simply don’t believe, something awful, something irrevocable, something disastrous, will have to come to pass.

And right now, it feels like all we’re doing is marking time towards that, and it’s like waiting to be shot.

One guy on my Facebook page – Peter Murray, thanks mate – cut to the heart, this morning, of why days like this are so rough and why, invariably, they see us arguing with, and falling out with, each other, which is the very last thing we should be doing.

“This is like a loving family watching someone they all love dying in front of their eyes,” he said, and whether you think that’s overdone or not, you can’t argue with the next bit. “We all care about what happens to them but end up arguing amongst ourselves about the best way to help them.”

And that’s the crux of it, right there.

None of us wants to see things get worse. We’re all trying to analyse this thing and find answers, all of us, that is, but for that small and shrinking number who refuse even to accept that there’s anything wrong.

But you know what? Families always have those folk too.

In time, even they won’t be able to deny what’s in front of their eyes.

There are some amongst us who, whether they believe in Ronny or not, honestly think he is the best manager we’re likely to get at the present time. The question as to who we’d replace him with haunts them, even more than the bad performances do. Their fear over there is so consuming that it’s paralysed them into apathy.

I think they’re woefully underestimating our pull, but I don’t doubt that their belief is genuine.

At the same time, others think we would attract David Moyes or someone else, but those guys would want money, or full autonomy to run things, neither of which they are likely to get, and I’m not sure where those folk get their own eternal optimism from.

The stuff that’s wrong at Celtic Park doesn’t begin, or end, at the manager’s office.

We can change the guy in that room – and in my opinion we should, we must – but his replacement would probably be another punt, another shot in the dark, exposing us to even greater uncertainty.

Deila is not the only person at Celtic Park in whom I have no faith.

But for him I do at least have some sympathy.

In my brutally honest opinion he is shockingly out of his depth, in a job that is now threatening to overwhelm him, and he’s been the architect of much of his own trouble with an inflexibility that would be understandable in a guy who was sweeping all before him aside but seems here either to be the height of arrogance or the complete absence of a Plan B.

But not all of this is his fault.

I have some sympathy with what he’s had to put up with up since he planted his flag on Scottish soil. Much of it has been unbelievable and even hateful. The media, right from the start, were outrageous and determined to sink him, and their own arrogance and dismissal of his achievements in Norway were typically petty, small-minded and, in many cases, simply anti-Celtic.

We could appoint Guardiola and many of these people would find a reason to sneer.

This is why I understand, above all, the enormous reluctance amongst our support to even seem like we’re throwing our manager to the wolves and giving his critics a warm body to dance around.

But I’m not interested in what the media writes and I never have been. The day we let something they print or say or even don’t print or say get in the way of what’s best for our club is a bad one indeed.

It pays, at a time like this, to be able to detach yourself from the screaming and analyse things dispassionately.

And on that basis, his jacket’s on a shoogly peg and it ought to be.

Yesterday, a lot of people took serious umbridge to some of the commentary on our match, particularly that of Pat Bonner. In their haste to simply dismiss anything the media had to say about Ronny on the basis that it’s all negative anyway, they slammed our former keeper for the simple act of telling the unpalatable truth. We were rank yesterday. The criticism was deserved.

We’re not tossing our manager to the snarling pack by acknowledging that.

These people aren’t always wrong. I would rather they covered us honestly, as Bonner did yesterday, than have a host of ex-Celt’s lining up to tell us transparent bullshit about everything at the club being just tickety-boo.

Another club’s supporters swallow a constant diet of that, and it hasn’t done them the slightest good.

We took a risk on Ronny Deila, and I supported that risk.

I didn’t start out opposed to Ronny but neither am I a bandwagon jumper.

Time, performances, the stuff I can see, eroded my confidence, especially over the last eight or so months.

What do I think of Ronny Deila on a personal level?

He seems, from a distance, to be a Good Man.

Even the media hacks who’ve spent the year baiting him agree that he’s a Nice Person and pleasant to be around.

Yet when it comes to what’s best for Celtic, I don’t care about any of that.

Because coffee’s for closers, and I want to win, every week.

Beyond that, I want us to be more than a provincial Scottish club with a once proud name.

I want to see signs of life, that we’re moving in the right direction, that we’re still committed not just to football success but to winning it the right way, and what I’ve watched lately would get a game stopped in a public park.

This is business, not personal.

Football management is a tough environment, where sometimes nice guys finish last.

Ruthlessness is sometimes part of the job description and I think he lacks the killer instinct as much as the requisite tactical skills.

My disquiet on that front preceded my doubts about his ability in the dugout.

I knew from the start that this guy was going to be under intense media pressure, and that some would look at his record and conclude that he was a “yes man” hired because he wouldn’t rock the boat.

I knew there would need to be an early show of strength.

Yet there, at his first press conference, he was embarrassed and upstaged by the chief executive in a moment that still boils my blood today, when John Collins was forced on him in front of the whole of the Scottish media.

I wrote an article about that at the time, and I didn’t hide my fury or my belief that accepting this would be a mistake and one that would hamstring our coach right out of the starting gate. I feel unhappily vindicated.

Rumours continue to circulate about the negative impact Collins has on the dressing room. I have no way of knowing if these reports are true, but they are the sort that have swirled around him for years and which haunted him at Hibs and Livingston.

In short, I don’t think the manager operates in harmonious circumstances, and I don’t think he ever really has.

He was denied his own people and perhaps there’s a little bunker mentality set in with him now.

I wouldn’t hold that against him at all.

But my sympathy doesn’t extend very far.

I think of his last two press conferences and I shake my head in disbelief at his lack of concern over what we’re watching right now. For him to have said, after the Hearts game in which I thought we struggled, that he had his “old team” back again, and to have watched yesterday’s all too predictable horror show and then heard him express his delight … something just doesn’t compute. It’s just wrong.

I cannot conceive of this man taking us into next season’s Champions League qualifiers.

Our performances in Europe since he took over have been beyond bad, and he’s not exactly put teams out against the best clubs in Europe. One shining moment – against Milan – does not cover a record of disaster and disgrace, and that’s how I think it’s been.

Disastrous and disgraceful.

He’s a nice guy, but so what?

Good father? Then he should go home and play with his kids.

If he wants to work at Celtic Park his team has to close.

They have to start burying teams week in week out, first to demonstrate to all comers that we’re the biggest and best side in this country bar none, and not simply one that relies on having no competition.

Progress in Europe is beyond him.

If he takes us into the Champions League next season that will be an unacceptable risk from our club for which more than one person would have to pay with his job.

I love our club too much to keep these views to myself, much as a lot of folk wish I would.

A few weeks ago, Jonathon Wilson, from The Guardian, wrote a magnificent piece on Jose Mourinho, and in it he mentioned the “three year cycle” which claims so many managerial scalps, and which has haunted the Portuguese boss on the only two occasions in his career when he has stayed at a team beyond two seasons.

The theory, proposed by the Hungarian coach, Béla Guttmann, who managed Benfica to two European Cups, is that “the third season is fatal.” By then, a manager’s tactics are known to his opponents and his style of play is easily exploited.

Few coaches, a very few, buck the trend and even at Celtic we can see Martin O’Neill’s failure to win three in a row and the way Gordon Strachan very nearly didn’t, taking his third season to the final day.

Deila’s team selections and tactics are already being found wanting, and we’re midway through season two.

The best does not look as if it’s in front of us.

If Ronny Deila isn’t willing to change the way his team plays, and we don’t see some improvement on the park – and one that isn’t simply a “one game wonder”, forgotten the next week in a return to lethargic, geriatric football – then, to quote Blake in that searing seven minutes of screen time, I don’t care how nice a guy he is, Ronny can “hit the bricks pal, and beat it … because you are going OUT!”

This is no time for cheap sentimentality.

The longer it takes for change to happen at Parkhead the more days like these we’re going to go through.

I don’t know about you, but I’m already fed up with it.

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)


Apocalypse Soon

_76287225_ronny_deila3On Saturday I saw things in the Celtic team with the potential to haunt me from now until the Champions League qualifiers next season.

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?

Well, no.

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.

From Walsall.

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.

(Writing these blogs is my full time job, and I couldn’t do it without the support of my readers. If you like what I do you can make a donation at the below link. Thanks to those who have.)


As Good As It Gets

Malmo-FF-v-CelticFew things in football focus the mind like defeat.

Victory can eliminate all thought about the “bigger picture” and can cover a multitude of sins. Had Nir Biton’s perfectly legitimate goal been given last night, had we gone on to take something from the match, much of what I am about to write would have been ignored or scoffed at.

I still expect it to be in some quarters.

This article would have been the same regardless. Because I said in my last piece that win or lose this tie, it would not define the season.

It won’t. This season was defined before a ball was kicked in these matches.

It was defined by a strategy which has already failed on several levels and which our club is locked into like a death grip.

As you all know, I’m a movie fan and there’s a scene in one of my favourite films which speaks to me particularly loudly today.

In the movie Jack Nicholson plays Melvin Udall, a best-selling author of women’s fiction, gushy, romantic, warm and open-hearted stuff which makes his readers swoon. But he’s an appalling character in person, a misanthrope, a guy who says what he thinks without filtering his words, self-centred, egotistic and absolutely without compunction.

He also has obsessive compulsive disorder, and in the scene in question he’s just barged into his psychiatrists office without an appointment, and been sent packing. Angrily, he steps out of the office into a waiting room full of people. He looks at them all, sitting there, each already several steps down their own personal path to being “whole” and he knows exactly what to say to shatter all their hard work in a single moment.

“What if this is as good as it gets?” he asks them.

You might as well walk into a bar of Hibs fans or Aberdeen fans or St Mirren fans or Motherwell fans after their side has been knocked out of the Scottish Cup of a season and ask them the same question.

This is what it feels like no longer to be shattered by defeat.

To have, on some level, been mentally prepared for it because you realise, deep down, that your side simply isn’t good enough to be anything more.

It’s the question I asked my mates in the pub last night as the reality of the result was sinking in. In European terms, the Europa League is, without a doubt, the level at which we presently belong.

They say that success has a thousand fathers but that failure is an orphan; that’s never more true than when Celtic are doing well. Certain people at our club can’t wait to have their faces front and centre and in the papers and on TV.

When things go wrong, they bunker.

In this case the line of those to blame for last night’s result stretches around the block and back. But foremost amongst them are the Usual Suspects, the people who cause me to exile myself from Parkhead; Bankier, Lawwell and Desmond.

Managers who fail get sacked. Players who don’t cut it get punted. Only directors and CEO’s at football clubs have the arrogance to hang on in there year after year, presiding over garbage like this. They, alone, of football’s leading figures never quite pay the bill for failure.

It is beyond question that the Celtic “strategy” is deeply flawed. It has cost us tens of millions of pounds in income, money that ain’t coming back. It has placed us in the perverse position whereby we are a football team which funds a business rather than the other way around. Our commercial department has failed to crack Asia and the United States, despite huge efforts.

People talk about us being “risk averse”, but I’ve long argued that it doesn’t get more risky than the way we do business at the moment, rolling the dice in this competition year in year out.

There are ways we could change all this, and move forward. But those ways are anathema to a board of directors and a CEO who, in their arrogance, won’t budge. It doesn’t matter how many of these reversals we suffer … they are locked in, and unwilling to change.

That strategy can be summarised best like this; buy them young, “develop them” and then move them on.

We don’t buy quality anymore.

We buy potential.

That this often explodes, like a hand grenade, in our faces shouldn’t be surprising.

I think the squad does have potential. I think if it was left to “develop” it would be promising.

But I know it won’t be.

Van Dijk has one foot out the door. Biton or Johansen will be next, and something tells me we might not need to wait too long before that happens. The signing of Scott Allan hints at plans for at least one midfield departure.

See last night’s performance would be more tolerable to me if I thought this was a squad at the bottom of a very steep learning curve, but one that would get a chance to grow and toughen up in the required areas.

What makes it worse is that transition is our permanent state of affairs, because the strategy has locked us into that. We’re never going to have a “settled team.” We’re always going to be walking the wire in this way.

There’s something about our strategy that only became apparent to me last night, and it should worry every fan.

It hit me when I looked at our back four.

Charlie Mulgrew, at 29, was the oldest of them. Van Dijk is 25. Boyata is 24 and Janko is only 19. That has to be one of the youngest, and least experienced, defensive lines in the Champions League. Mulgrew, who more often plays in a bizarre midfield hybrid role these days, was the “wise old head” in that back line last night and it showed.

That lack of experience, that lack of a cool head, someone who’s been there and seen it and done it and knows how to properly lead a defence and organise those around him, is precisely why they looked like rabbits caught in the headlights last night, why they were a shambles and conceded twice from set pieces, which over the tie is what’s put us out.

And this is deliberate.

It permeates the whole team, as does the paucity of ambition in our signing policies.

You want to know why we’re out of Europe’s biggest competition?

Think on it like this for a moment.

Our goalkeeper is a wonderful signing, but we were fortunate with that because he might still have been unfit. We took a risk, punting our first choice for millions and putting our faith in him, but that risk has paid off, by and large and we’re damned lucky it has.

Our right back was signed from Manchester United Reserves. Let’s get that straight from the off. He was not a first team player. He was a reserve. I think he’s a fantastic prospect … but it’s that word again, and all the connotations of it that continue to haunt us.

Our first choice central defender was signed from Holland, when he was just 21. He has a shot of going far in the game but he ain’t close to being the finished article and if we get the reputed £12 million for him we shouldn’t turn it down.

His defensive partner was signed from Manchester City Reserves. He is 24 and has made only 66 full time, professional, appearances since 2009. Ponder that for a moment. He too is potentially a very good player, but that we put our Champions League future on his shoulders last night, was lamentable and reeks of bad planning. The consequences of it are obvious when you watch his positioning for the goals last night and in the first leg.

Charlie Mulgrew was signed from Aberdeen five years ago. On a free transfer.

Our midfield is bossed by a player we signed from Hibs, albeit he is now our captain and a fine player, having matured into the role because he was given the time to. Few of his team-mates from last night will be at Celtic Park five years from now.

He was joined there by an often injured product of our youth academy, a player we signed from Norway, one we brought from an Israeli team for £700,000 and a guy who was at Dundee United last season. I think all four are excellent … prospects.

None but Brown is near 30.

Oh yeah, and then there’s the striker who was carrying our Champions League ambitions.

Like Scott Brown, his last club before Celtic was Hibs.

Here’s my favourite part; aside from Craig Gordon, not one of these guys was signed over 25.

Ponder that too for a moment.

Pop quiz time; who was the last outfield player we actually bought, for cash, who was over 25?

And who was the last one we bought for cash before him?

I’ll tell you this much; over the last five years we’ve brought in a few players over that age, but all were on short term deals or free transfers. None of them was at Parkhead longer than a year. They were stop gaps.

None was brought in to actually improve the team.

I’ll put you out of your misery; the last one we paid cash for was only 26.

He was Derk Boerrigter.

Before that, you’ve got to go back to 2011, and Kris Commons, who was 27.

Prior to that, we hadn’t signed an experienced footballer, who actually enhanced our squad, since Paul Hartley in 2007, who was 29 when he first pulled on a Celtic shirt and cost us £1.1 million, a transfer fee he repaid with virtually one moment, his memorable header against Spartak Moscow in the Champions League qualifiers.

Before that, such players were frequently added to our squad.

Were there some misfits?

Well, Thomas Gravesen was not a success but Jan Venegoor of Hesselink, who was 28 when he signed on the dotted line at Celtic Park, scored 34 goals in 78 appearances, including against Rangers, Barcelona and Manchester United.

You do get what you pay for.

That kind of quality justifies the outlay.

But those players are of no interest to Celtic.

Because experience and skill and maturity aren’t what we’re looking for in our signings.

All we’re looking for is “potential” and that’s not so much potential to grow as footballer players … it is only potential resale value that counts.

We no longer sign players who can lead the line, marshall a defence, rally a midfield, bringing to bear the lessons of years as professional sportsmen. Every player we go for is signed with a view to moving him on somewhere down the line. All are young. All are expected to grow under the weight of expectation that they can be be more than they are.

Those who do show something early – like Wanyama, like Van Dijk – are punted as soon as good money comes in.

As a consequence, we never move forward.

Last night is the all-too-predictable result of our flawed approach.

The strategy has failed to deliver on every level; we’re heading for five in a row right now and that will make a lot of people smile widely and happily … but the number is important and instructive and should serve as a reminder of just how little time has passed since the geniuses at our club were unable even to deliver our own domestic championship.

Indeed, we’ve only won six out of the last nine league titles, four of them without a major challenge.

If anyone thinks our procession towards ten will be unhindered and unimpeded, I would advise them to think again because that’s a long way from now and anything could happen in between times.

Perhaps that’s what it’s going to take to make this clear to even those who don’t want to see it.

Perhaps it really is going to take Derek McInness walking around Pittodrie with the SPL trophy, or something less dramatic but still calamitous, like the two domestic cups at Tynecastle.

Something that slaps people awake without the wheels falling all the way off.

There’s no prospect of any of this changing, which is why I said last night would not define our club or our season.

Those who “settle for” will “get behind the team” as we go into the second tier of European football, and they’ll “settle for” that and a domestic treble. Lose in the League Cup and they’ll “settle for” a double. Lose in the Scottish Cup and as long as we’re still heading for the next milestone in titles they’ll be perfectly content.

There is no appetite for pitchforks in the carpark and a demand that these policies are changed.

No revolution is just around the corner.

Instead, a lot of fans will simply not go to games.

There will be no banners in the stands, but there will be a godawful lot of empty seats.

Today the internet buzzes with threads about whether the manager should carry the can and whether certain players ought to be shown the door.

Those who would blame Ronny for last night’s debacle, those who say tactical inflexibility and poor coaching are responsible for it, and who point to how little we’ve moved forward in the last 12 months, may well have their point proved even more brutally than we just saw.

I’m not convinced by their reasoning, but I am not blind to some of the issues.

His one man up front approach is ridiculous without the players to make it work, so it’s not getting the results. That he persists with it anyway seems more about stupid pride than anything else and if he doesn’t realise that the team comes first that will cost him.

If the “Norwegian Experiment” ultimately proves a failure then his head will roll in due course.

But it will be a scandal if his is the only one because our problems start at the very top of the house and removing the man in the dugout won’t make them better because his replacement will be from the same mould and will have to labour under the same restrictions.

This is the way people at our club – and even sections of our support – want it though.

Risk averse. Bloodless. Settling for.

Last night was not only an echo of the past but a glimpse of what we can expect in the future.

As long as we’re run this way, this is as good as it gets.

(This article was amended. In the section covering the league titles it originally read that we’ve won 5 out of 9. It’s actually 6, so thanks for the guys who brought that to my attention.)

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)


Mouthy Malmo Need Shutting Up

Ronny-Deila-009I’ve seen a lot of managers cross the threshold of Celtic Park, and leave mouthing off. Football is full of these people. Win a league title, win a couple of trophies, and some managers believe they are a few games away from a call from Barcelona.

Rarely have I wanted to see the smirk wiped off a face as much as last night, listening to the Malmo boss, Age Hareide in the aftermath of that game.

We won the match 3-2, and their second goal came deep in injury time. Our keeper was barely tested during the match but they came away with what looks like a very credible result.

At least on paper.

In truth, we outplayed them for much of the match and had easily the better chances. Indeed, we could have been three or four up by the midway point in the first half, and if Stefan Johansen had scored when through on the keeper the tie would have been done.

It takes a special kind of arrogance to emerge from a close escape like that full of predictions of what your team will do in the second leg. It takes someone monumentally full of himself to predict, after a defeat, that his team is wholly confident of going through.

He’s basing much of this on what his team has done in previous rounds, and in previous years. But football isn’t about that; it’s about “what have you done for me lately?” It’s about the present day, the here and now, not the last game but the next one.

He leads a team which, itself, has way too much to say for a side currently sixth in their domestic title race and who’s last qualification for the Champions League Groups ended in a bottom place finish, with one win and five defeats in six games … a record even a Rangers manager would have blanched at, although they managed the feat twice.

I can understand a side giving out a bit of verbal if they are conquerors, although the actual conquerors, the super clubs, tend not to be so small minded and petty. They act with a certain class and dignity which Malmo simply don’t have.

The Swedes are far from that level though, appearing to take an inordinate amount of pride in a tendency to scrape through ties after poor first legs.

This “home record” of theirs is being talked about a lot, as if it’s comparable with the one we used to have at Fortress Parkhead.

Two years ago, they reached the Groups and this was their competition record at home.

They drew 0-0 with Ventspilis of Latvia, going through courtesy of a 1-0 win over there, they beat Sparta Prague 2-0 to overturn a two goal deficit from the first leg (4-2) and then they beat Red Bull Salzburg 3-0 after losing the away game 2-1.

In the groups they beat Olympiakos 2-0 before losing 2-0 to both Atletico Madrid and Juventus.

This season, so far, their European home record is a 0-0 draw with Žalgiris Vilnius, and proceeding due to a 1-0 win away as well as another 3-0 win over Red Bull Salzburg, who had beaten them 2-0 at home and shamefully couldn’t close the deal.

I don’t know … I am less than terrified.

They don’t appear to concede a lot of goals at home, but so what?

Aside from their Champions League Groups last season they’ve not exactly come across world beaters.

Red Bull Salzburg looked a good side when we were still trying to become one … Age Hareide reckons they are a better team than us, but I think he’ll be eating those words come this time next week. Red Bull’s own record is hardly staggering. I would have been wholly confident of taking them the distance had we drawn them instead.

Malmo have played 20 matches in their domestic league this season, and won 10 of them with seven draws and three defeats. Their defensive record at home is good there too, but that is where their weakness lies and it’s that we must exploit.

Score early over there, blow apart this grandiose belief that they’re something special at that ground and watch the dynamic of this tie change radically. You can’t have watched how we scythed open their defence last night, almost at will, in those first 20 minutes, and doubt that we’re capable – well capable – of going there and scoring not only once but a couple of times.

One of the criticisms Age Hareide levelled at us in the aftermath of last night’s game was that we don’t seem to have the legs for 90 minutes … worryingly, I do think we tend to fall out of games late in the day at the present time, switching off at stupid moments as we did against Kilmarnock and with the concession of the second goal in this tie.

But an analysis of their form this season shows, clearly, that they tend to peak in the first half. Their performance last night actually bucked that trend, which makes it all the harder to take.

This suggests to me an inability on their own part to effectively go the distance. I didn’t think they looked fitter or sharper than us last night, and but for lamentable defending at the crucial moment we’d have gone there by far the more confident team.

I see no reason not to still have that confidence.

My belief that we’d win this tie was never based solely on a strong home performance and then merely surviving the away leg. It was based on a belief, one that hasn’t changed, that we would win both home and away, and their record be damned.

They are a good team, and their defensive record is impressive. Indeed, at home it’s very impressive. But their record as comeback kings doesn’t hugely impress, or intimidate, me.

You play football according to those odds and sooner or later you get found out.

Sooner or later you pay the penalty.

Teams from Lithuania and Latvia have gone to their ground and kept clean sheets, so I’m not entirely convinced that we need to be mortally afraid of conceding goals … their reputation as a tough side to get the best of appears to lie more in their own defensive record than their ability to destroy opposing teams.

Whatever happened to Red Bull being the notable exception.

And let’s take a look at what actually happened there; Malmo scored all three of their goals in the first half, and Red Bull were unable to test them, even when the Swedes had a player red carded. To me, that suggests greater deficiencies with the Austrian team than anything else.

Their arrogance would be intimidating to a side from the lower echelons of the game, but it should inspire nothing but contempt at Celtic Park. In the 15th minute of the game last night, with Johansen clean through on the keeper, they were out of Europe for all their bravado and big talk … and that our midfielder didn’t wrap it up in a bow is the only reason they left our ground with something other than a right good hiding.

Their manager thinks this tie is over. Berget talks about “taking revenge” as though our club did something to him, except try to resurrect his career. It was his own failings at Celtic Park that packed him off to Sweden, not some vindictiveness on our part.

This morning their players are calling ours pigs and children.

Offensive, crass and very, very stupid.

Use that arrogance Celtic.

Use it to destroy them on their own turf.

There is no greater weakness in sport.

If you were trying to inspire a side to give you a good thrashing you couldn’t do more and that Age Hareide allows his players to do this, that he perhaps even encourages such disrespect and trash talking, reveals his own lack of respect and hints at his own flowering ego and the belief that the call from the Nou Camp is due sooner or later.

The task facing our club couldn’t be clearer.

Aside from the bounty which will be ours if we make the Groups, the inspiraton, the motivation, is screaming at us out of every headline and back page. Our players better read it all, and burn those words into their minds … and avenge them.

All we have to do is go there and not lose.

They have to chase us, it’s that simple, and they expect it to be easy, for us to sit back and try and hold on to our narrow lead.

That we might come and try and score early apparently hasn’t dawned on them.

That we might just go out there and try and kill the tie stone dead hasn’t entered their darkest nightmare.

Yet it really is that simple.

Forget playing for the draw Ronny.

Go out there, Celts, and play for the win.

Because if we do that, we’ll get one.

We have better players in every department. We have the hunger and the will. We have Norways finest manager, someone developing in the right way and who has a humility and decency his opposite number would do well to learn from.

Age Hareide and his team need shutting up.

Do it Celtic.

Go over there and do it.

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)


Sevco Losing Allan Is A Failure On Every Level

allan-e1439471240976-660x496I don’t have to tell anyone in Celtic cyberspace how I feel about the impending Scott Allan transfer to Celtic. My comments on it, over various blogs, do that well enough.

I never believed this deal would come to pass.

I never believed he was good enough to sign for us.

I never believed he would fit into an already overcrowded midfield.

It looks like I’ve been proved wrong about the first bit, hope to be proved wrong about the second and realise that with so many games coming up in the near future that there is some surface sense in having him.

From the moment he signs, Scott Allan will receive my absolute and unquestioning support.

He’ll have made an enormous personal decision, signed for the biggest club in the country, set himself up for all kind of abuse from across town and faces the toughest task of any player in the land, to break into a midfield that is loaded down with top class players.

The mental strength that suggests is enormous.

That bodes well if nothing else does.

If his footballing skills develop in the way he’s matured psychologically this may yet prove to be the steal of the summer.

Time and time alone will tell.

Scott Allan, welcome to Parkhead.

You will never regret making this choice.

As unusual as this deal is for Celtic, I do not believe for one second that it’s been done for the purposes of upsetting Sevconia.

We simply don’t operate like that.

We certainly would not devote resources to something so inane.

This deal obviously fits in to a larger plan, and I have to trust Ronny Deila on that score, and I do.

Allan is clearly buying into that, as Ciftci did, and as young Kieran Tierney just did by signing a brand new four year deal, and praising the manager fulsomely.

Something important – perhaps something very special – is happening at Celtic Park and the texture of it is only now becoming apparent.

The club is moving forward at a brisk old pace, and the future looks brighter than it has in some time.

That’s where the Allan deal clearly fits into a bigger picture, and a long term plan.

This has its mirror image in what this deal means for the club across the city, and that, in the short term at least, might prove to be just as important, and perhaps more so.

Because Scott Allan’s decision is a clear repudiation of the whole Ibrox strategy, from top to bottom.

It is a quite stunning – and I don’t use that term lightly – vote of No Confidence in the club, in its management team, in its board of directors and its short to medium term future.

It can be looked at no other way.

No amount of spin will transform this into anything other than a colossal snub, and the ramifications of it are enormous no matter how much certain people start to backpedal and change the narrative to suit themselves and their agenda.

Scott Allan is a self-confessed Sevco supporter.

He wanted to play for the club that rose from the ashes of his boyhood heroes.

He handed in a transfer request to that effect when the club’s bid for him was rejected.

There is no question about any of that.

That Scott Allan is not currently being paraded inside Ibrox, but has wound up instead at Celtic Park, is a harsher verdict on the current Sevco regime than anything else I could have written or imagined at the start of the summer.

If you’re a manager who wants a talented footballer you couldn’t ask for more than this scenario presented to Mark Warburton.

It was a slam dunk. Or it should have been.

Hibs, forced to play another season in the second tier, couldn’t afford to turn down a decent offer for any of their players.

As a supporter of the Ibrox club Allan’s willingness to sign wasn’t in doubt.

He has one year of his contract left, which always makes the team he’s playing for vulnerable to losing him for free.

Hibs would not have resisted a decent bid.

They couldn’t have.

Their fans would have understood, and the club could have re-invested some of the money.

Hibs’ reaction to this saga didn’t emerge simply out a desire not to see their best player end up in the hands of a rival team.

These things happen in football.

Liverpool sold Sterling to Man City during this window, and most notably St Mirren sold their most promising player to Hibs themselves.

It’s not like there is no precedent for such a move.

Dundee Utd didn’t like it when Celtic came in for two of their top stars last season, with a cup semi final in front of them against our own club.

They simply bowed to the inevitable market forces; we made an offer they couldn’t refuse, the deals were done and that was it.

They made the same choice this summer when we made our offer for Nadir Ciftci.

Had Sevco made a half decent offer in the first place, one that gave Hibs a genuine decision to make, Scott Allan would be their player.

I know that for a fact.

Their manager wanted him.

He made his position on it clear enough, and not only once.

Stubbs, in fact, was angry at the repeated attempts from Ibrox to make the player aware of their interest, even going as far as to slate “the ambassadors of Rangers”, as he called them, who were doing the club’s work through the press.

And that, you see, was part of the problem here.

Sevco opened this saga up with an offer that was frankly offensive.

I’ve heard from good sources just how ridiculous that offer was.

Hibs treated it with contempt, and it deserved that contempt.

I’ve also heard they didn’t, at that point, decide they weren’t prepared to do business with the Ibrox side.

Actually, they pretty much told them to “get serious” if they were making a second offer.

In other words, although Sevco weren’t presented with a hard number they had a fair idea what Hibs believed Allan was worth.

They knew what they had to do.

The first failure is on the part of the Sevco board.

For all the grandiose promises about spending “whatever it took”, they were unable to put together a financial package which Hibs found acceptable; and I’ve been told that would have been as little as £600,000 had they made that their initial approach, and that £750,000 would have been enough to secure the player even after the insulting opening bid.

King couldn’t find that sum.

A sum Celtic’s directors would consider a bargain basement price for a footballer their scouts rated.

Questions ought to be asked as to why King and his people were unable to complete this deal long before it became a standoff.

This site has suggested it’s because he can’t.

He doesn’t have the financial wherewithal to make this thing work.

This doesn’t confirm that our assertion is right, but King and his board could have gone a very long way to proving all the doubters wrong.

This guy is yet to show the colour of his money, and as a consequence of these delays and making excuses the player who was their highest rated transfer target of the window – a player one Sevco fan site said had the “wow” factor no signing they’ve made in the last three years has been able to muster- has ended up at Parkhead.

Aside from being a boardroom failure, this is also a PR calamity.

I’ve been following Phil’s story on what the Sevco board members are drawing out of the club, whether in their “directors” guise or in other job titles, with a lot of interest, but although it’s a fun story I’m actually just as interested in how much they are spending on outside public relations, helping to put a brand new dining wing on Casa De Traynor.

It can’t be inexpensive.

In the last few weeks, Level5 PR have been very busy on their behalf, doing all manner of work helping to generate season ticket sales.

But they’ve also been busy helping push pieces around the board in regards to the Scott Allan transfer.

Their fingerprints are all over some of the stories about this, and some of the people who have come out to suggest that Allan’s move to Sevco was inevitable have long standing links to the people at Level5, including Traynor himself.

It’s hard to think of a more offensive way of securing a players services than those operating on the club’s behalf have pursued here.

The first offer was bad enough, but Sevco then leaked it to the press that they had made a second offer, and from then on they started to pressure Hibs through the media, in the hope of making them crack.

It was this that led to Dempster and Stubbs rejecting the second bid and making it clear they would not welcome a third.

Yet even then, they would probably have been amendable to a serious offer.

Sevco continued to try and destabilise them and force the issue instead.

This is how King and his board do things, and they knew full well that it’s the strategy their PR company would pursue.

When the PR campaign kept on, relentlessly, pushing the player into handing in a formal transfer request, the Hibs manager’s patience snapped.

From what I can gather that was the point where he went to the board.

He told them it was a resignation issue.

The board did not even try to argue the point; they, in fact, were equally incensed and were only too happy to issue, collectively, the game-changing statement that they would not, under any circumstances, sell Allan to the Ibrox club.

Thus the PR campaign to destabilise the player’s relationship with Hibs and force the Easter Road side into a deal was disastrous and self-harming from start to finish.

The very public nature of it has made it impossible for the club to now claim Allan was not their key target, and it was a contributing factor in Hibs making the approach to our club for a cash plus players swap.

Hibs clearly relished the opportunity to throw a grenade into the Ibrox dressing room.

Sevco gave them every incentive to play Gutterball.

In short, it was Sevco’s own PR bandwagon that pushed Hibs to offer Scott Allan, on very favourable terms, to the team at Celtic Park and it was always likely that once he started down that road that he’d be wearing the colours of our club.

Forget all this “aye but he’s a Rangers man” nonsense the press has been spoon-feeding their fans.

This is another example of the media telling them only what they want to hear.

There is ample historical precedent for players from their background crossing the divide.

The lure of Ibrox didn’t matter to King Kenny.

It didn’t stop Danny McGrain.

It had no impact on Scott Brown’s ultimate destination and it was never going to matter here.

In fact, this ought to have been made clear to the Sevco PR department just from looking at Scott Allan’s own career history thus far.

He has had two previous chances to sign for the Ibrox club, and he spurned both of them.

Although Celtic sought private assurances that he was willing to sign for us before we made a formal offer, it was never really in doubt that he would snub the club he grew up supporting for a third time if he believed it would be to the betterment of his career.

Scott Allan has a healthy streak of self-interest that will serve him well from now until he hangs up his boots.

Without question, the means by which Sevco pursued the player have been a contributing factor in the journey that has ended with the inevitability of his taking a bow on the hallowed turf of Paradise.

If this is the kind of PR “expertise” they are paying for I hope they continue with it.

Long may they utilise the services of such eminent and highly skilled “professionals.”

Third and finally, this is a failure of vision.

Scott Allan’s friendships with a number of Sevco players are a well-known, highly publicised fact.

A lot of PR fluff has been in the press recently about how everyone at Ibrox is buying in to the “Warburton Revolution.”

But when you’re part of something, on the inside of it, you pretty much have to say that, don’t you?

Scott Allan will have heard all about it from his friends inside the club.

They will have had a chance to sell him on a vision of the future there.

It might even be that some of the Sevco backroom team have talked to him in private – I am not alleging that, mind you, but simply saying it’s possible.

It’s clear enough that Allan could have simply waited until December and then opened talks with the Ibrox side, with a view to moving there in the summer.

So why didn’t he?

If Scott Allan believed that Sevco were on their way to the Promised Land of King’s every press release – playing in the top flight, challenging Celtic, competing, eventually, in the Champions League and being paid well for the privilege – well that becomes a no brainer.

Who, from such a background, wouldn’t want to be part of that?

The trouble is … you do have to believe in it.

And clearly, Allan doesn’t.

The big picture didn’t appeal to him, even with the guarantee of being a first eleven starter week in week out.

Even without talking to the club directly, Allan clearly doesn’t get the sense that they’re going anywhere.

He’s doubtless done a lot of soul searching over this one, and just isn’t convinced.

Which means he’s smart as well as self-aware, because for all the bravado and ebullience of the Sevco supporters theirs is still a club deep in crisis off the park, and one which as yet only won a handful of games on it.

Warburton has already had a pop at Allan for this decision, telling the press that “we only want players who want to play here.”

That’s the worst comeback, the worst excuse making, I’ve ever heard.

When the guy hands in a transfer request to get a move to your club that’s pretty definitive proof that he wants to sign for you.

But when your club messes about, when it fails to make a reasonable offer, when it engages in the kind of activity that can only be described as amateurish and offensive, even a die-hard will think twice.

How do you think Allan feels, knowing how little the Ibrox club was willing and able to offer for him?

Talking about being disillusioned.

This isn’t a problem with Scott Allan.

It’s a problem at Ibrox, and that Warburton was allowed to get away with that nonsense today is proof, as if we needed it, that the media here isn’t fit for purpose.

Serious questions arise from this, about Sevco’s lack of a long term strategy.

This ought to have been an early sign of ambition, a triumphant demonstration of Dave King’s determination to create a football team that could actually achieve some of his stated goals.

Instead it is a humiliation.

It is a reminder of just how far ahead of them we actually are, on the park and off it.

We’re in another league, in more ways than one.

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)


John Collins & The Hypocrisy Of Our Press

article-0-06C5DFD4000005DC-881_468x286Well, well, well … the media is having quite a day today.

This is what happens when Celtic are doing when. When we’re playing football and things are going right. When there’s no hay to be made out of bad performances.

Some parts of our media go looking for anti-Celtic controversy.

They invent it when there is none.

I read what John Collins said over the weekend, and it’s very clear what he was trying to say.

He meant no disrespect.

He even used those exact words in the statement he gave.

Which of course, the hacks have roundly ignored.

Their narrative is that he was being disrespectful.

That he was knocking the standard of Scottish teams.

That he is arrogant and that our club is arrogant.

Like I said, this is what they do.

Was Collins wrong about what he said?

Of course he wasn’t.

His crime is that in the spur of the moment he was more honest than was good for him.

He talked about Scotland having lower quality teams and players than those we will come up against in the Champions League; who could possibly deny that is a stonewall fact?

In politics, they call this “the un-spinnable crisis”.

In real life we call it “telling the truth.”

The first guy the media went to of course was Derek McInnes, who I like as a manager but think has a gob that is way too big and a tendency to slag Celtic whenever the opportunity presents itself.

His reaction to this was typically hysterical, but then the media had been counting on that.

In my view, he was set up just as badly as Collins.

They knew exactly what he would say, and how he would go off on one.

They wound him up like a kid’s toy and, of course, he reverted to type.

He talks about Collins’ comments as “disparaging.”

He talks about how Collins “has a lot to say for an assistant manager” which, of course, is not disparaging in any way.

“I think what he said is a real slap in the face to the rest of the league,” he said. “It’s not what you want to hear, to be honest.”

He said this shortly after confirming to the hack who asked him the question that he hadn’t actually heard it, that he was getting information second hand.

I’ll tell you, just for the record, what I think’s pretty ridiculous.

McInnes, and his comments, coming just a few days after his own brand of tactical genius saw Aberdeen drop their best player at home for a Europa League tie, only to end up throwing him on at the end of the match to chase the game.

In short, he should probably stick to getting his own house in order instead of headline chasing just for the sake of it.

I found his next comment particularly witty though, because of the head-nodding reverence they’ve been given by our press.

“He’s entitled to his opinion. But if it was that easy they’d win the treble every year.”

Now, forgive me if I’m wrong but isn’t the media which is blowing this spectacularly out of proportion the exact same group which has consistently called Neil Lennon a failure for not having done that when he was manager?

Aren’t they the ones who said much the same about Ronny last year?

Aren’t they the people who have been patronising the rest of Scottish football for the last three years with this “Celtic don’t have a challenger and won’t until Sevco are back in the league”?

Maybe it’s just me who thinks the scribes have no goddamned right to take exception to Collins’ comments when they’ve said the same, and worse, repeatedly, over and over again?

No-one at Celtic expects fair treatment from some of these people.

But when they can’t even get their stories straight, when they betray themselves with stunning hypocrisy such as this, it kind of makes it hard to defend any of them when clubs show them the door and tell them they aren’t welcome.

Their role is to report the news, not manufacture it.

Andy Walker, speaking on Sky not long ago, said Collins had been “incredibly naïve”.

Which I agree with.

Because despite JC making it clear that his comments were not intended to be disrespectful he ought to have known our hacks are a generally untrustworthy lot, capable of any mendacity and would spin them that way regardless.

Walker then went on to repeat McInnes’ remark about the comments being “disparaging” although he clearly knew full well they weren’t intended that way.

Then, a mere two seconds later, he said Celtic were “miles and miles better” than any other side in the country, and were rarely tested here at home.

He followed that up with a spiel about how weak the SPL is without Sevco.

And we’re supposed to take this stuff seriously.

Then there’s Graham Spiers, who only last week said that Ronny Deila and his team, despite winning a double last season, haven’t proven anything themselves and will only be considered a good team when they play in the Champions League Group stages.

Being lectured by this lot, for “running down Scottish football” … seriously, it is like receiving family planning advice from Tom and Joan Bradford.

Where do they get off?

Their conduct is disgraceful at times.

Yesterday, following an excellent return to the Celtic team, capped off with a wonderful goal, Tom Rogic was accosted by a hack who actually asked him about the Celtic defeat against Morton in September 2013 … not surprisingly, the Australian responded with the appropriate level of contempt.

Ronny Deila defended his assistant manager today, reminding the hacks that if anyone has earned the right to talk about Scottish football it is the guy who has 58 caps for the national team, won things as a player in Scotland and France, reached a European Cup semi-final with Monaco, has managed twice, been a director of football and as a coach won a League Cup with Hibs.

Yet, if you’re following the media’s hysteria, we’ve to believe has no right to say what some of them – with no qualifications in the game whatsoever – spout on a daily basis?

Aye, right.

So today, and for the rest of the week, they’re going to every press conference hoping to get someone who’ll say what an evil man John Collins is, what a terrible person, what awful and offensive remarks are these.

Funny that no-one bothered to do this when Mark Warburton said playing Hibs in the Petrofac Cup was simply part of Sevco’s pre-season preperations. We’ll get used to that in due course … his getting not so much an easy ride as a free one.

John Hughes has been asked.

But he understood where Collins was coming from.

Stuart McCall (and where did they find him to ask? The dole office?) was asked and agreed with what Collins had said.

They got Paul Hartley to offer his two-bob worth and got Jackie McNamara to express his surprise … but they’re looking for outrage, for someone to suggest a period of purdah for our assistant manager if not outright stoning to death.

Tom English says Collins’ comments were “refreshing but flawed”, but defends his right to his opinion.

Which must be nice for JC … especially when English himself has written far more disparaging stuff about Scottish teams, and not too long ago, and is one of the media’s most notorious pushers of the “Celtic have no challenge until Sevco are back” line.

It is pathetic.

But it’s what we’ve come to expect.

Ronny Deila calls this “a typical media circus.”

He’s been here long enough to know.

And as we all know, you can’t have a circus without a few clowns.

There, the media always plays its part.

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)


A Terrible Week For The Hacks

JS69303298This has been an interesting seven days for those of us who watch the media.

First, let me say how tremendous it was to see Jim Spence talking to one of the blogs, on the record, over the weekend.

That’s what I predicted when he left the BBC and I’m delighted that one of his stated reasons for doing that was that he wanted to be less constrained in what he could say.

A guy like Jim, with integrity and passion, and who understands the fans, is a voice we should have articulating his views without fear or favour. He will be a supreme asset to our national sport debates going forward, and I am looking forward to his next intervention.

With other journalists, I have less sympathy and less desire to offer praise or support.

I refrained, at the weekend (although only just) from posting a full-on rant over Neil McCann’s latest spitting out of the dummy, over whether Craig Gordon should have been sent off against Ross County, this time complete with pamphlet waving as if he was holding the Ten Commandments.

McCann isn’t my favourite person. He can’t hide his dislike of Celtic (and yes, I know he grew up a Celtic fan; King Kenny and Danny McGrain grew up Rangers supporters and neither has a whole lot of love for the blue half of Glasgow) and that’s an appalling thing in a so-called impartial reporter.

I let it slide because there’s not much more to say on the subject. I’ve ranted about him a couple of times in the past and most people have a pretty clear idea of how I regard him; I would not let him into Celtic Park even if he was paying at the gate.

The club has, to the best of my knowledge, done nothing to keep him from our door and that’s up to them. Perhaps it’s not wanting to piss off Sky and perhaps it’s just that they don’t regard a torn faced hack and his ludicrous opinions as more than a minor irritant and they probably don’t want to give him the oxygen of more publicity, which a ban would do.

I can get behind that view and I can only imagine the squealing he’d do if he was given martyrdom to wrap himself in.

When we banned Keevins I thought it was about time, and his own wailing was sweet music. He, too, has had an odd seven days. I didn’t listen to Clyde myself last week (I never do unless there is an expanding crisis on or off the park at Ibrox, because then it is just beautiful; at any other time it is  a hellish drag, so pro the Ibrox club it would make you sick) but I heard about it afterwards from numerous friends, most of whom were incredulous.

Apparently the “poor man’s Gerry McNee” (and you can have no concept of just how low that standard is unless you once endured that eejits writing) thinks Warburton is a proven quality who will lead Sevco to the Championship title by ten points at least.

Let’s forget for a moment that he thought his mate Coisty (he freely admits this) was of similar skills and made exactly the same prediction last year … let’s focus on this one.

For one thing, he like many of his hack mates has been impressed by Warburton’s track record although none of them have been able to say just why. I’ve gone over that subject here before too, but in case any of the hacks is reading here’s a wee refresher course.

He’s in his fifties and has exactly eighteen months experience as a coach. He has won nothing in that time, save for a couple of manager of the month awards. He came from Brentford, not AC Milan, and only then because their ambitious and brilliant chairman made a decision halfway through last season not to renew his contract. Get that? He was let go and out of work and there was not a queue of clubs at the door, enquiring about his services.

If we contrast that with the way Keevins and others reacted to Celtic’s appointment of Ronny Deila we see the old familiar pattern; we aren’t a million miles away from the days when Jo Venglos and his signings were being slated without mercy.

Deila, apparently, “had to prove himself” and was seen as a huge risk. Despite being in his mid-thirties, with a national league title and cup to his name already.

These kind of “expert opinions” from lickspittle gutter grabbers are why Scottish sports journalism is viewed with such absolute and utter contempt. You don’t ask for much more than consistency, than some intellectual integrity, some basic honesty. What you get instead is spiteful, wilful idiocy designed to earn controversy points.

It’s because of people like Keevins that there’s very little sympathy going around for Chris McLaughlin and Graham Spiers, in light of their ban from Ibrox.

Now, as a guy who has called for Keevins’ ban from Celtic Park to be extended to everywhere within 100 miles of the stadium (or any stadium where we are likely to play) and who wants McCann to do his next Sky commentary at Parkhead from the carpark, it would be somewhat hypocritical of me to criticise Sevco for handing out bans to hacks they don’t particularly like.

Yet there is a difference and you don’t have to be a genius to see it.

Just take off the blue tinted glasses.

I do have some residue of empathy with Graham Spiers. I’ll get to him in a minute. But I find what happened to Chris McLaughlin almost painfully funny even if the club is disgracing itself in pandering to its lunatic fringe with the move.

All McLaughlin did on this occasion was to highlight that a number of the vermin who follow that club and who keep on shaming it had been arrested following the match at Easter Road and that the match delegate had noted sectarian singing in his report.

Now whether some Sevco fan sites and groups like it or not, that is news. It’s a big story and I was glad to see that the BBC was acting responsibly by covering it and not simply ignoring it and hoping that it would go away. McLaughlin was right to highlight it and the ridiculousness of the reaction from the Blue Room puts the writing on the wall for every hack in the land.

And it will work too, because most of them, and most of their papers, are gutless frauds. Not everyone has the integrity and courage of Jim Spence.

What laces this with deadly humour is that McLaughlin has been one of the most sycophantic pro-Sevco, pro-King supporters out of all of the BBC’s resident line animals. He is mocked almost constantly on Twitter for the way his nose is constantly pressed against the backside of whomever occupies the Ibrox boardroom at any one time.

He was entitled to better than this, he really was. The Dave King Medal of Honour at the very least. In my view he has been treated abysmally considering the services he’s rendered over the years, all of it whilst working on the taxpayer’s tab too.

Spiers is a different ballgame entirely, and his being singled out is significant and should be a big flashing warning light for everyone who believed, for a second, King’s claims that he wanted to run a more transparent club.

We’ve said from the start that you can’t believe a word that comes out of King’s mouth and it not greatly surprising to see the notion of openness go by the boards. These people, for whatever reason, are determined to avoid scrutiny of any sort, even when, as McLaughlin has done, all the hacks are doing is reporting the facts.

But Spiers has simply been critical and asked some questions about the club and how it’s being run. He’s asked the questions a lot of the supporters of the club would want a good journalist to ask. The decision to ban him reeks of fear and suppression of dissent.

It is the behaviour, frankly, of people with something to hide.

Sevco fans ought to be grievously concerned by that, instead of stupidly dancing on the tables at the purging of “enemies of the club.” Haven’t they ever heard the phrase “sunlight is the best disinfectant”? Do they not know what it means?

They are only following a NewCo In the first place because Whyte was able to bamboozle some of the media and silence the rest whilst he got on with running them into the ground. Murray only got away with his own disastrous policies because he was doling out the succulent lamb.

The media has been the club’s most effective ally in keeping the truth from the supporters for many, many years now … and every journalist who has broken ranks in that time and delivered the facts to those who needed them most ought to have been a hero amongst the fans.

Instead … they get this.

Witch hunted by the websites and the supporters groups.

Madness. They just never will get it.

In the meantime, the dearth of good sports journalism in Scotland has taken a battering and a half over the last seven days … with only Spency emerging with much credit.

It was ever thus, though.

(Writing is my full time job friends and neighbours, and the support of my readers is vital. If you want to support it, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)


Mouthy McCann At It Again

neil-mccann-sky-sports-pundit-hamilton-v-celtic-17th-jan-2015I’m a cynical man at times.

When I read in a newspaper how someone has said “I don’t have all the answers but …” I generally think that we’re about to be lectured by someone who thinks he does.

Today Neil McCann is imparting his “wisdom” to the rest of Scottish football, and as per usual it is arrogant, myopic and centred on one club.

I don’t know about you, but I can only take so much of this “Celtic and Scottish football” needs a strong Rangers” guff before I want to throw up.

Even if it were true, the entity to which the second part of the sentence refers is gone three years now, whether you believe in the Survival Myth or not. The inability of people in our media to acknowledge that – or perhaps just to accept it – continues to stagger me.

How many words have I written on this subject?

Thousands, certainly. Tens of thousands. Hundreds of thousands perhaps.

That’s a good sized novel right there, something with about 500 pages, and that’s just my output.

Other websites have weighed in, and not just Celtic ones.

Those of Hearts fans, Aberdeen fans, Dundee Utd fans, Motherwell fans, Hibs fans … and on and on.

All have had their say and they’ve all written the same stuff; that the era of the duopoly is over, that this is good for Scottish football and that it is arrogant at best for people to simply assume that if Sevco climbs out of the Championship (and doesn’t suffer an administration or liquidation in the process) that they will be Celtic’s main challengers.

It ignores so much evidence. It denies all reality entirely.

McCann’s “interview” is proof of the poverty of our press.

He resurrected that old chestnut about summer football, as if there is even one word that hasn’t already been written or said or published on that subject. According to the press this issue is now “back on the agenda” but the last time I looked McCann wasn’t an official with the governing bodies, who are the only people who are in a position to do any such thing.

Summer football would be nice. But how many times do we need to revisit it?

It’s not going to happen unless the clubs vote for it, and they’ve passed up many a chance to do it over the years.

Maybe it’s a Scottish thing.

Maybe we just can’t get behind the idea.

Maybe we prefer to see football played in the mud and the rain.

McCann has always baffled me anyway. Quite how he landed a gig on the telly in the first place is quite amazing. His commentary is obvious, his biases shocking and his looking for controversy where none exists is the hallmark of the headline chaser.

Last week, he was busy telling every media outlet who would give him airtime how Danny Wilson was a fantastic signing for Sevco, and had he left it at that there would have been no problem.

But McCann went further and said Wilson had chosen the Ibrox club over clear interest from Celtic.

There was just one problem with that, of course; it wasn’t true.

Celtic fans have a long history with this guy and the way he has a pop at us every chance he gets.

This site wrote an article about him after his gurning, spiteful performance on Sky Sports after Celtic had beaten St Johnstone 3-0 at Perth, on the opening day last season, when Derk Boerrigter won Ronny Deila’s team a penalty and was then the subject of one of McCann’s tirades.

McCann’s demand for a video review panel was granted.

It ended up in a disciplinary case opened against our player.

I said at the time that he ought to be banned from Celtic Park fpor that little stunt.

I value free speech, but that only goes as far as the front door of my house,

My view was that if McCann and others want to have a pop at Celtic every chance they get it would be better if the club didn’t let them do it from our own front room.

He had another mad rant a few months later, accusing John Guidetti of “conning” a referee, a move which prompted Celtic’s manager to praise the standard of refereeing and make it clear how little he cared what the hacks and the pundits say.

McCann had been demanding that the SFA do the Swedish striker. When that didn’t work he said Celtic would have no choice but to carpet him in house because otherwise Deila was a hypocrite. Ronny ingored that, because those comments are simply unworthy of a response.

On top of his nonsense about summer football this morning, McCann was also pontificating on how little money there is in the Scottish game, longing for the days when every club was in debt, overpaying sub-standard players.

We can see why he hankers for those times; he did alright out of them.

He was at Rangers during Murray’s years of crazy spending and mad salaries, and he then found himself at Hearts when Romanov was running up the wage bill to the levels which almost wrecked the club last year.

Two clubs at which he played, both of whom ended up in financial trouble.

He was but one player on their books earning more than he ought to have.

Few other eras in the history of our game here have so healthily rewarded those with so little ability.

He was also the recipient of a very generous EBT, valued at £500,000.

Can he really be so dense that he doesn’t understand that this move away from insanity has put the Scottish game on its best financial footing in years?

Oh I know I moaned last week about Celtic and our transfer policy but whereas we can afford to spend a little more the rest of Scottish football has adjusted to reality … and it’s no coincidence this has happened since a certain club from Glasgow went to the wall.

People sometimes talk like Murray’s arms race with Celtic affected only our club. it didn’t. Every other team in Scotland, many of them benefiting from the same relationship with HBOS as he had (but which we, notably didn’t) found themselves chasing dreams.

The consequences of it lasted years.

That McCann doesn’t realise this, that he doesn’t get it, is all the more reason the football world should simply ignore him when he’s on one of his rants, but I guess someone, somewhere, is sitting nodding and reading him and saying “I agree with that”, although who that person might be and why they are allowed The Daily Record in a secure unit I don’t know.

It’s the final bit of his interview that grates the most though, and I’m sure it’s not just me who feels this way.

He’s talked, as many before him have, of the need for an Ibrox club in the top flight, for the “good of the Scottish game” of course, and to “challenge Celtic.”

He even thinks that league reconstruction would be an acceptable way to get that outcome.

I’m sure that the fans of clubs outside of Glasgow, looking at these comments, will be purely and simply furious at the sheer presumption in his remarks.

You might as well suspend Scottish football right here and now, because the biggest issues have already been decided.

Celtic will win the SPL without a ball even being kicked and Sevco will win the Championship.

They will improve so dramatically that next season is a foregone conclusion as well, and so the rest of our sides better learn to adjust.

I mean seriously. This is what the man is saying.

I am well past sick and tired of this kind of crap, and if that’s how I feel as a Celtic supporter, I can only imagine how the supporters of the rest of the clubs react when they are written off or dismissed as irrelevant.

Ask the supporters of Hearts and Hibs, who must have borne the last close season with gritted teeth as they were told their clubs would simply be swept aside.

Ask the fans of Motherwell, who turned up at Ibrox for the play-off final first leg with the whole of the Scottish press engaged in an orgy of anticipation for the coming season, having already made up their minds that Sevco would be in the top flight.

The simple fact that McCann and others have yet to grasp is that the Ibrox team isn’t automatically going up this season either.

Hibs and St Mirren and Queen of the South and Falkirk and others will make that a hard, hard task for them and that task will be one hundred times harder if people at Ibrox believe all this nonsense about going back to “where they belong.”

(Here’s a hint for any Sevconians reading; you’re a NewCo that rose from the ashes of a liquidation. Where you belong, therefore, is the graveyard. That’s why we call you zombies after all.)

Should they make it – and that’s a big if – McCann and others are in for one Hell of a shock, because “challenging Celtic” would be a big enough ask on its own if we were the only team in this league (as some hacks appear to think.)

Sevco isn’t remotely ready for that, and it will take years before they are.

I’ve said before that when a genuine challenge to Celtic does emerge – and one will, it has to – it will not be from this city but from Edinburgh or the north of Scotland.

I would welcome that challenge, of course, wherever it comes from.

But if it comes from, say, Aberdeen or Hearts we’ll know, at least, that it’s built on solid foundations and not on the old methods, the ones Neil McCann seems to be touting, the ones Dave King speaks about with forked tongue.

Whether he’s serious or not, that’s largely unimportant.

What he’s talking about, what McCann wants to see, is a return to the old order, to the old way of doing things, and it’s high time the SFA got serious about Financial Fair Play and forced clubs to spend only what they earn, instead of leaving the door open for another bout of financial madness which does the game no good at all.

The coming season is going to be just as important for what happen off the pitch as for what happen on it.

We have a new head at the SFA, and he deserves to be given a chance, to see what kind of ideas he brings to the organisation, and what changes he makes. Introducing FFP would be a Hell of a start.

In the meantime, we’re going to have to listen to idiots like McCann, pontificating on the need to keep the balls round, to make sure we don’t lose sight of the importance of goal nets and to speculate on whether we’d do better if the pitches were multi-coloured and split into zones. (FIFA were asked to consider that some years ago. If it helped Sevco in any way the Scottish media would be all for it, so watch this space.)

Scottish football needs a strong media, as much as our media appears to need a strong Sevco.

It’s nonsense like the stuff McCann is running out today that reminds us – as if we need it – that we’re about a million miles away from having one. Our press are a joke. Our “standard of journalism” continues to not only scrape the bottom of the barrell but bore right through it.

Thank God for the Internet Bampots.

(I’m a full time writer and the support of my readers is what keeps me goingr. If you like what I do, and are able, and want to support the work the site does, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)


A Strategic Approach: Why Celtic Have To Get It Right This Year

maxresdefaultYesterday Celtic were drawn against the Icelandic champions FC Stjarnan, in the first of the three ties we will have to navigate if we want a place in the Group Stages of the Champions League.

Last season, with a new manager at the helm and a nice style of play to get used to, there was always the danger that things would not work out, that these were tests too great, that the wheels would come off the wagon.

What none of us could have expected was the pitiful way in which our board responded to the challenge, and in particular to the second opportunity which was presented to us when the Polish champions, Legia Warsaw, were correctly disqualified from the competition.

It was appalling, and no two ways about it.

In fact, if we’re being honest the last two Champions League qualification campaigns have been equally shocking.

Neil Lennon must have known the gig was up in his final season, when he saw the side weakened three times in a row before major games.

No manager would have stood for that for very long, and it was an insult to expect him to.

I knew he would leave when the board did that. When they made it clear that there would be no continuity, no attempt to build and develop a squad, no sign even that the money he raised from player sales would be reinvested in the team.

Ronny Deila arrived here seeing the Celtic job as a major step up in his career.

But this guy has grown in the job, and the better he does the more he will insist on doing things his way.

He, too, will see the writing on the wall before long, and if it continues to look like this, he too will walk.

Ronny Deila can be forgiven for what happened last season in Europe; not the defeats, but his failure to fight for the sort of players he knew were needed to take the team forward.

He has to show the strength this time, the self-regard to get what he wants and what the team needs, and the board has to learn – and they have to learn fast, because, it seems to me, that they haven’t learned so far -that in the absence of a domestic challenge (and we don’t look likely to get one of those for years) that the only thing that will make fans buy season tickets in large numbers are signs of life in Europe.

The deterioration in the attendances at Celtic Park has been blamed on a lot of things; the recession, the absence of competition, the club’s “political stance” and a general dissatisfaction with their perceived lack of real action on the Rangers-Sevco shenanigans amongst other things.

But at the root at much of it is something the fans believe in implicitly; a distinct lack of imagination and ambition at the club.

I hate writing these articles you know.

This message – that we don’t get everything right – is one few people on our side of the fence want to hear, but they are even more necessary than the Sevco pieces this site puts up, because it’s hypocritical to highlight the failings of that club without acknowledging our own.

It’s also dangerous, because like with politics when you make those at the top immune to criticism you foster arrogance, you let things stagnate and you make it impossible to fix (or even acknowledge) mistakes.

Remember, Sevco didn’t hit the rocks and shatter overnight; it drifted towards those rocks for years before it ran against them.

That is what happens when fans stop asking hard questions, when they cease to take an interest in the direction of their club and place unlimited faith in those running it.

At Celtic we’re better than that. Smarter than that.

Now, it has to be said before I go on that I am not knocking The Strategy; not all of it anyway.

But whereas some people may want to rewrite history on, for example, the Temu Pukki signing, there were those of us who, at the time, expressed serious disquiet about us going for a player without a proven goal scoring record when a proven goal scorer is what we were crying out for.

The same applied to Amido Balde, and these two have cost somewhere in the region of £3 million for no discernible return … which is the consequence of “experimental” signings or “projects” or whatever you want to call them.

Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet, and go for quality.

I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the modern transfer market is insane, and the cost of players is sky high. No-one expects us to compete in that market, but it says a lot that this club has spent £6 million or thereabouts on players three times; Sutton, Hartson and Lennon.

They all played in the same team and that team reached a UEFA Cup Final.

The last of them, John Hartson, was signed in 2001.

That’s fourteen years ago now and we have never come even remotely close to matching that signing in terms of cold hard cash since.

So even as costs have gone up in football, across the boards, including what fans have to pay for tickets, and whilst revenues have continued to increase from Champions League income and other areas, we’ve actually gone backwards and stopped even trying.

I am not advocating spending £10 million on a footballer. When Rangers spent that kind of money on Flo it was clearly sheer insanity.

But to haggle over a £4.5 million deal for Alfred Finnbogason was lunacy, and to have left a proven finisher like Aron Jóhannsson at AZ when £3 million would have sealed the deal is just a nonsense.

Those players would have excited the fans.

They would have got the blood pumping.

And in cash terms, for the fees, they would have cost only marginally more than the disastrous Balde and Pukki, who were stupid signings and proved it, when they couldn’t even manage to score goals in the SPL.

So no more experiments. No more “projects.”

Quality, proven goalscorers are what we need from now on.

And the need for it is as pressing as ever before.

The top drawer finisher we were looking for is still not in the Celtic squad. The board did a wonderful job in securing Guidetti on loan; the deal didn’t work out the way we wanted it, but it was the right move at the time.

His leaving his left a hole in the squad which someone needs to fill, and I’ll feel a hell of a lot better when we fill it.

Stefan Scepovic, by the way, does not represent a risk at all. He is a good player and will do a good job in the Celtic shirt and everyone knows how I feel about Leigh Griffiths; he will score goals in Scotland for fun.

It’s Europe I worry about.

Because neither player has thus far proved they are out of that top drawer, although I have a sneaking feeling that Griffiths could score anywhere.

Until he demonstrates that, he’s not the high calibre we are looking for and have been for quite some time now.

We also need at least one more central defender because if something should happen to Van Dijk (like getting sold) or Boyata then we’re desperately short in a crucial area of the team.

That might stand up reasonably well in Scotland, but in Europe we’ll be in big bother.

None of this is exactly new information.

We knew we’d be losing Denayer, so we brought in young Boyata.

But we also knew we’d be losing Guidetti and we all suspect that we stand to lose Big Virgil as well.

Nobody is suggesting that we spend crazy money on signings, but the fans need a reason to believe we’ll settle for more than just being in the Champions League draw this time around, and no-one ought to be fobbed off with John Kennedy rolling out pre-determined lines about Armstrong and Mackay Steven being “this season’s” signings who were brought in early.

That’s not going to cut it at all, I’m afraid.

In the final analysis, no-one is asking us to compete with Man City or Chelsea or sides from the big leagues.

Because it was a team from Poland who knocked us out at the second hurdle last year, and when we were allowed back in it was a team from Slovenia who finished the job.

The year before that, we got the fright of our lives against a team from Kazakhstan.

Let’s not kid ourselves that our failures have been simple matters of economics and our inability to compete with the top sides.

We didn’t compete with sides who we ought to have been miles in front of, and the reasons for that were obvious beforehand.

Let me repeat; Neil Lennon had to navigate three rounds of Champions League football in his final season with a weaker side in every round than he had the round before. That’s just scandalous.

Last season Ronny Deila had to attempt the same with a makeshift team bolstered by loanees.

That’s simply unacceptable. That’s failure at every level.

Last year there was an alibi, however weak, for what transpired.

This year … there will be no excuses.

The Strategy needs to deliver this time.

Lawwell and the rest have to prove that we’re about more than just money in the bank.

Robert Browning’s famous poem about ambition says that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?

Is the height of ours really only to hear the Champions League music?

We used to be so much more than that.

It’s time for us to be that again.

(I’m a full time writer and the support of my readers is what keeps me goingr. If you like what I do, and are able, and want to support the work the site does, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)


Celtic’s Loan Bhoys: Success & Failure

JS44171197At the start of the season, when Ronny Deila announced that he was going to bring a number of players to Celtic Park on loan I thought it would be a disaster, and in European football terms it certainly looked as if I’d been borne out on that.

See, I’ve never liked players on loan.

I feel that if a footballer doesn’t belong to your club that on those days when the going gets tough it’s all too easy for him to down tools because he has nothing invested in the cause.

In the case of Berget, he barely picked those tools up in the first place.

Aside from a few flashes of ability I never saw it.

The manager liked him and knew him from his days in Norway, where the player had come up with the goods for his club, but he had failed to set the grass on fire in England and failed to set the heather ablaze up here.

Wakaso didn’t do a great deal to impress me either, but there does seem to be a footballer in there somewhere, but we never got a chance to find out. Overall, he was a real disappointment, particularly as we’d all heard good things about him.

Tonev, as we all know, had a difficult time here.

He undoubtedly possesses talent, but all too often his play was wasteful. He was the guy who’d have a shot from 30 yards rather than deliver the perfect pass to a teammate. Any chance he did have of making an impact in Scotland was shot the minute the SFA found him guilty, with no supporting evidence whatsoever, of racially abusing an Aberdeen player.

The decision was, and still is, a scandal.

Our two other loan signings came from one club; Manchester City, the Premiership big guns, riding high, and able to assemble squads of talented players at every level. I was excited about one of them, and indifferent about the other.

Funny how things turn out, right?

The one I was excited about was John Guidetti, of course, a player I’d been hearing about for a couple of years.

He had gone to Feyenoord and scored a truckload of goals, and the City hierarchy liked him a lot.

He was clearly a talented footballer, capable of magic, and Swedish with it, so he’d have needed no-one to tell him what was expected of a striker here. A certain other Swede had already set the bar pretty high on that score.

And you know what? For a while there it looked to me as if he might be the first player in the Hoops in many a year who actually had the goods to rise to that level. In his early days here he was scoring, literally, for fun.

On top of that, he showed a tremendous ability to strike a dead ball, one Celtic Park hasn’t seen since Nakamura was firing them in from acute angles and impossible distances.

This guy looked as if he had everything … but it wasn’t to have a happy ending.

I think the very worst thing a talented footballer can be is a “confidence player.”

We famously had one of those in the Hoops for a goodly time until very recently, Georgios Samaras, who I thought had all the skill in the world but was always hampered – and was always going to be – by a tendency to go off the boil and stay in the same rut for an extended period of time because, frankly, after a while his confidence just went.

Don’t get me wrong, big Georgios – another guy we initially got on loan from Man City of course – always had the right attitude. He never stopped working for the cause.

But when the self-belief isn’t there a striker more often than not is snatching at chances, failing to get on the end of things and generally frustrating the Hell out of the fans.

Guidetti was like that at times. Without the work ethic.

After missing a few chances in a game, he tended to drift out of it completely. He never hid – another hallmark of big Samaras – but there were whole sections of the game where he may as well not have been there.

Sections of the season, if I’m being honest.

I think most Celtic fans were also highly unimpressed by his attitude towards contract talks with the club. All told, we’d agreed a fee with City at around December when he looked like a player we’d wanted to keep.

Those talks went nowhere, and instead we were treated to a drip feed of stories about how other clubs wanted him and how he was talking to them. True or false, real or imaginary, the contract Celtic put on the table remains unsigned and at least one club who’s people claimed to have been in advanced negotiations with the player were spooked by pay demands which he simply isn’t worth.

If he had been worth the kind of salary he was allegedly asking for, well Hell … he’d have been in the Man City first team in the beginning.

In short, John Guidetti isn’t one Celtic fans are terribly going to miss. In flashes he showed brilliance – real brilliance, no joking – but it wasn’t there enough and there were issues which left a bad taste in the mouth.

At Celtic, players are expected to give everything and, as I said at the start, it’s one of the reasons I don’t like loanees.

Yet there was one exception last season, one player who’s attitude was excellent, who’s performances were stellar and who I would have badly liked to keep at Celtic Park for another year at least, on a loan deal or not.

Because he does have all the qualities necessary to be a top, top player; Jason Denayer.

I was less than enthused by the idea of bringing in a young, untested, central defender on loan, even if he came with the kind of reputation that sounded too good to be true. People have been comparing this kid to Vincent Kompany for the last few years and that kind of comparison hasn’t been good for a lot of kids, talented or not.

But I’ll tell you what … this kid could go far, and fast, because he does have the tools. He was the one unqualified success of the five loan signings and City are right to want to keep hold of him.

He performed just as effortlessly in the SPL as he did on the European stage, where he and Virgil Van Dijk formed a quick, and easy, partnership which I wish could have lasted longer.

For one thing, he has that most central requirement of a good defender; positional sense.

He has good feet. He reads the game very well and he can pass a ball too.

I think everyone at Celtic Park was hugely impressed, and I know we made a big effort to keep him beyond the duration. He also has the right attitude towards the game; he’s not flashy, not big headed and he doesn’t think he’s better than he is.

He has a healthy self-regard and self-belief, but that’s not arrogance.

Over the piece, the loan signings vindicated my belief that it’s madness to try to build a team out of another side’s players but Jason Denayer played so well that my misgivings over him were certainly not justified at all. He will be hard to replace.

Not so the others, but Ronny has a duty to try anyway.

Let’s see what the close season brings.

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Obstacles To Progress

Ronny DeilaAs many of you will doubtless be aware, and have seen, I have spent the last few weeks focussed almost solely on the political situation as we entered the General Election, so I’ve not been able to devote much time to the football.

In the interim, Celtic has won its fourth title in a row (and congratulations to Ronny Deila and everyone at the club for it) and we can now begin to accurately measure his progress.

He is now a title winning coach with a League Cup on the side, a man who was robbed of a potential treble by an insipid performance from his team and a scandalous refereeing decision.

Progress, yes … good progress. Lots of progress.

But how do we measure it?

I laughed the other day when I heard Hugh Keevins give his verdict on our manager. Not Proven, he said.

Keevins is unintentionally hilarious. He believes comments like that are controversial. They are simply stupid; fundamentally, irrefutably stupid and he doesn’t come across as anything other than a clown.

Yet, in a certain sense he may not be wrong.

Ronny will not really have proved himself until he competes again on the Champions League stage.

We all accept that. It’s the ultimate challenge.

But how do you measure progress in as unforgiving an environement as that?

You cannot have watched the semi-finals this week without being acutely aware that an enormous gulf in class exists between the major clubs and the rest of football.

Damage limitation is probably the best most sides can expect against the colossal powers of the European game like Bayern, like Juventus, like Real Madrid and Barcelona.

Yet that’s not our biggest problem, or the biggest factor counting against us in terms of our ability to advance.

For that, you need look no further than the border and the green and pleasant land of England, which just re-elected David Cameron and whose top league is awash in wealth that enables even the likes of Wigan to spend millions we could not afford.

There are some Celtic minded individuals who are so blinkered in their passion to see us play in that league that they actually advocated voting No in the independence referendum last year, in part because that would have ended our chances of ever taking that stage.

They continue to believe that there is a place in that league, just waiting for us, and that market forces and historical trends will see us assume a position there before long.

In that land of milk and honey, which has sent wages soaring, ticket prices rocketing and has cast a dark cloud over the rest of the European game, with knock-on effects everywhere that remove it further from the fans with every television deal, they say we will realise our ambitions.

Their belief is misplaced. Their hope is nothing but a shadow on the wall.

Giving us the financial wherewithal to compete with Hull City is not what will unlock the enormous potential of our football club.

Let us, for one moment, look at how we might get there.

One possible route is to lobby the UK government, or our new crop of MP’s, to re-examine the financial arrangements by which this league essentially sucks money from the supporters of all the clubs in the game, with the aim of spreading it around more.

That would require redistributive measures to be forced on the EPL or the broadcasters.

I don’t think any of us sees the remotest prospect of success in that endeavour.

Another route is by a legal challenge, to crack open the qualification route.

I have long heard rumours that Celtic do believe they could successfully pursue this matter in the courts if UEFA or English FA regulations tried to stop us, but even if they succeeded, we’d need to start in the lowest tier of the game unless an invite came from within the leagues themselves.

That, too, appears unlikely.

I have long argued that this most likely way into the English game is via the franchise route – buying a lower league English club and transforming them into Celtic – and I don’t believe the FA would have any legal standing in trying to stop us.

Their one regulation – that clubs need to be based in England or Wales – would not stand up for a second in a courtroom and that would give us a ready-made place in the structure.

Yet we would have to leave behind our history and our Scottish roots.

To leave the game in this country would mean liquidating our club.

In short, our way in is not clear or even presently within the rules.

That we could challenge it – and probably successfully – is certainly true too, but any scenario would inflict huge damage on the sport.

That’s assuming all of us wanted to go in the first place, either by direct invite or by one of the hare-brained schemes I just looked at.

I, personally, think it would be an enormous mistake.

The English model is as badly broken as the union itself.

The cash that has flooded the game has changed it beyond recognition and whether it continues to be built on untrammelled greed or the oft-predicted crash comes, that road leads to disaster.

Because those are the possibilities, it is not a league in which I want our club to have a place.

There are other – there are better – options.

One of those options is to use our position at the SFA to push for wide ranging reforms in the European game.

We should be pursuing some form of regionalised league set up.

UEFA knows there is a problem with English football, and the growing financial strength of the EPL.

Their own flagship competitions – the Champions League and the newly formatted Europa League – were supposed to provide clubs from around the continent the chance to grow the game. The relentless flow of money to England is contracting it instead.

Outside of a few super-clubs, the EPL is now European football’s centre of gravity.

No-one wants that to continue.

Gross over-spending on top players is one thing, but almost all the English clubs are now spending vast sums of money on youth recruitment too and if they are able to succeed in securing the best young players in the world with the promise of huge earnings then the game really is going to crash, sooner or later.

Regionalised leagues need not necessarily impact on the two top competitions.

If they were UEFA organised and licensed (and they would be) they could be folded into those easily enough.

The Atlantic League proposals, when I first read them, legislated for the domestic season to be played alongside the regional one, and there would be ways of making it work.

Celtic has to start using its clout within the governing body in Scotland, and its wider reputation as a European side, to start pushing for these reforms or we are going to find ourselves in a far worse position than we are in today, where players already view moving to clubs like Norwich and Southampton as a career step forward.

This isn’t just about money. They want to play against top players every single week, and much as this season has been entertaining and interesting we know the likes of Adam Rooney and Nadir Cfiti aren’t that.

Guys like Van Dijk and Johansen will only stay here so long.

The lure of Celtic will keep them beyond what is normal or to be expected, but developing a squad takes years and we’re clearly never going to get that if things continue on the present course.

So we go into the European tournaments badly outgunned.

How can we examine the progress of Ronny Deila until that actually changes? What is a good result in Europe these days?

Just getting to the Champions League Groups?

Or do we need to go beyond that? Is it even possible in the growing insantiy of a sport drowning in greed?

It hardly seems fair.

There’s one other option, course; to chase the dream. To spend stupid money.

Not even I advocate that.

Like Hugh Keevins’ version of journalism, it’s a mugs game.

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Appalling Display By Officials Thwarts Celtic Treble Ambitons

A-League Rd 13 - Sydney v Central CoastAnybody who argues that officials don’t change games, and their mistakes don’t change destinies and have enormous impacts, wasn’t watching that game today.

At the end of the first half, we witnessed one of the worst decisions any of us is ever going to see. To say it was a shocker is an understatement.

To say that the officials were scandalous is to give them more credit than they are due.

At least two of them, perhaps three, had a clear line of sight to an obvious handball.

It was deliberate, it was a crucial factor in preventing a clear goal scoring chance and it should not only have been a penalty but a straight red card.

There are simply no excuses on offer here.

It was a diabolical moment in a game which flipped on its head.

The next major decision, to send of Craig Gordon and award Inverness a penalty, was unarguable. But had Celtic gone in at half time with a two goal advantage, far less against ten men, it would never have come about.

The whole second half would have had a different complexion … and with it, perhaps, the history books.

So much that is wrong with the Scottish game can be expressed clearly in that moment.

Some will scream Operation: Stop The Treble.

Others will simply point to a level of incompetence that would have people fired from another job.

It matters whether it’s one or the other, it matters a great deal, but what is not in dispute is that these “honest mistakes” cost clubs vast sums of money and change the trajectory of careers, and if the price for managerial failure – which so often turns on moments like these – is high, which it is, then our officials should not be immune from the consequences of these ghastly bad calls.

The officials who “missed” this decision – which happened right in front of their open eyes – ought to be doing something else on a Saturday. Because if they can miss something like that then what exactly is the point to having them near the pitch?

Not only the referee, and not just the linesman, but the extra official behind the goal – who arguably had the best line of sight of all – failed to spot a clear, and obvious, infringement and act accordingly.

That is simply unbelievable, and unacceptable.

It materially influenced the outcome of the match.

It impacts on the remainder of Celtic’s season and it has knock on effects beyond it.

Midway through the first half of extra time, Celtic’ treble ambitions were in shreds. John Guidetti then scored his free kick and that gave the team a zip they hadn’t had for much of the game but to ask any team to play this long with ten men was unrealistic.

It was always more likely than not that this would end in disaster, and it did.

I thought we should have won the match regardless, ten men or not, but it doesn’t matter now.

I didn’t have to play out on that pitch, covering much more ground than usual.

I didn’t have to labour under the enormous psychological pressure those players were under, pressure the officials did nothing at all to lessen and everything to enhance. An early booking for Scott Brown had the captain walking a tightrope, and that could have been avoided had the referee been at all level headed, which on the day he failed to be.

The treble dream is over for another season.

It is the toughest thing in football to accomplish, and days like today are a clear demonstration as to why. The slightest mistake – from a player or from a referee – is amplified 100 times.

I feel pretty gutted – of course – but more than that I feel angry.

To simply not rise to the occasion, to lose it because you just didn’t show up is one thing … to have a monumental and disgraceful decision so clearly impact the course of the game is simply unacceptable.

The team has come a long way though.

To ask them to go that extra mile, with ten men on the pitch for the whole second half plus extra time, has proved too much to ask.

Despite that, we can’t overlook that there are deficiencies in this team, most notably up front where we definitely lack a big, target man who can hold the ball up on a day like today, when we’re forced into playing with one up front.

But I’ve been singing that song now for near on three years. If our scouting system can’t find maybe it’s time to rip it up and start again. How much clearer can it be, for God’s sake?

That needs to be addressed. A tight title race and a reversal like today removes the alibis a treble would have given the board of directors.

They did what they had to do in the January transfer window, signing two players who will make an impact on the team for years to come, but there will be no excuses if they do not give the manager and the fans the players they deserve in the summer.

Congratulations to John Hughes and his team today.

I hope Falkirk trounce them in the final, but I like big Yogi and he deserves credit for what he’s accomplished.

But today belongs to the men in black. Theirs is the contribution to this season that will live longest in memory and infamy.

How much longer do we have to put up with such a staggering degree of ineptitude … or bias?

It matters which one, but not right now.

For now I have some drinking to do.

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