This is a hard sodding article to write. This is not what I’d hoped to be doing this evening.
There are some who’ve read the last couple of blogs, and who know my feelings on where our club is headed, as well as on the people who lead it, who will not believe that.
In some wee corner of their demented minds, they actually do believe that we, the critics, hope for nights like this so we can climb on our soap box. I caution them never to say that to my face.
Tonight, as the ball hit the back of the net for the second time, I got momentarily lost in anger and frustration and I did a little cursing, just one word, but repeated several times in an extremely aggrieved tone. I was hurting, as much as anyone, but mine was a different kind of hurt, the kind that comes from having watched an unfolding disaster you’d actually expected, something you had predicted in advance. It was an anger born of deep frustration.
That frustration has almost spilled over tonight reading some online posts, particularly from the supporters of what is laughably referred to as “the strategy.” In a previous article I mourned the growing attitude amongst Celtic fans of “settling for” less than what we can get, and are due, for the size of our club. Some of those who have defended “the strategy” are now talking about qualifying for the Europa League as a blessing because we are not cut out for the big stage.
Shame on you for that attitude. Shame.
But you know what? In one sense I agree with you. Celtic have behaved like a tier 2 team so far, and it will be only fitting if we end up in the competition reserved for them. This is the price we pay for putting the balance sheet in front of the team sheet. For pursuing a strategy that allows forward momentum only up to a point.
Some of you tonight are making excuses – pathetic excuses – for abject failure, anything not to face the truth.
Let’s have the truth.
Tonight, the blame goes in so many directions it staggers me. We have a majority shareholder who acts like an absentee landlord, and I would rather he sold up and pissed off than maintain such influence when, to the best of our knowledge, he plays no part in the day to day running of the thing.
I think if there were a fans poll most would feel happier if Dermott Desmond sold his shares and was never seen at Celtic Park again.
For the last four or five years I’ve felt exactly the same way about Peter Lawwell, a man who outlived his usefulness quite some time ago and ought to have resigned after his failure to sign a striker in the Willo Flood transfer window, an appalling event, which cost us three league championships. I also believe he went against the manager’s wishes on at least two prior occasions over players who were sold. I also question whether or not he’s had an influence in some of those we signed. I know for sure he acted as the point man in second guessing, and over-ruling, our current manager on some of the players we have signed, or failed to.
Lawwell has more influence at Celtic Park than he should. He is overpaid, and underachieving, to a fare-thee-well. I’ll get back to that point a little further on.
The person who assumes a great deal of the blame here is Neil Lennon. He put out a team tonight that was baffling. He stuck to staggeringly inept tactics long after it was obvious to every other person watching that they were never likely to bear fruit.
I told friends at half time that we could play all night with that playing system and not score a goal, but it took Neil Lennon another half hour before he saw what any one of us could see, plainly.
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I ask you, which high level, top rated manager would play one man up front – and said man not even a natural goal-scorer – when the opposition was playing five at the back? Even Cristiano Ronaldo would struggle to play in that system. It is abject. It is second rate stuff. It is unacceptable, and it betrays weaknesses which have no place in the Celtic Park manager’s office.
One or two people were wetting their pants this week over the In Search Of A Spine article, which I posted. I was even accused of calling Neil Lennon a coward, even though I had said – explicitly said – that Lennon was no such thing. Neil Lennon, the man, has shown the kind of courage that is an inspiration to all of us, and I would take a bullet for him. In his personal life, he’s been through as much as any man. It makes me laugh when I hear McCoist being given sympathy instead of criticism for “what he has been through.” It’s nothing on what Neil Lennon has come through.
For all that, Neil Lennon, the manager, gets no special favours. As a man once said “this ain’t show friends, it’s show business”, and in terms of tonight, and other displays, he simply has no hiding place. Some of his tactical decisions are a joke. Some of his team selection decisions have been frankly ridiculous, and in allowing his team to be so thoroughly gutted by the board without securing the personnel he required he has shown me nothing that leads me to believe he’s a strong enough personality to fight his corner against his bosses.
Outside of his job, Neil Lennon shows extraordinary courage. Within the confines of Celtic Park, he is a yes man, who knows his place and doesn’t rock the boat. This doesn’t make him a coward. It makes him human.
He won’t bite the hand that feeds him, and whilst understandable, in a sense, I would rather the manager of our club staked out his territory and enforced his own will, rather than have decisions taken out of his hands.
Lennon talked about bringing back the thunder, but in too many games his sides lose with a whimper, and in certain matches he seems chronically afraid of taking risks. In terms of his return in silverware, for a manager of a club our size, and in our uniquely strong position, he has drastically underachieved in domestic football.
There are no sacred cows here. His sacrifices for this club are undisputed. But he is well compensated for the job he does, and if he’s not up to that job then he ought to be treated like every other manager, and asked to clean out his desk.
Tonight is not, itself, a sacking offence. But it reinforces deep, deep doubts about his ability to move this team forward. Tonight’s performance did not come out of nowhere. It is a continuation of the same stagnant football we saw towards the end of last season, and the same horrendous stuff we watched in pre-season. Anyone who believes this team will, in a week, suddenly morph into a football juggernaut capable of over-turning this first leg result is watching through green coloured glasses and a bag of LSD. If we get through at all we will be damned lucky.
Tonight was a disaster, but it was a predictable disaster, and a preventable disaster. The two gaping holes torn in our team – in central midfield where the absence of Wanyama forced us to choose between an out of sort Kayal or Charlie Mulgrew (only the knowledge that under 18’s read this blog stops me from unleashing a string of expletives at this point) and up front where we had no-one, something this blog has been screaming for the last week, and its writers a lot longer – were the key areas of failure tonight.
The decision to play Samaras as a lone striker – a role he has never once played successfully – was without doubt crucial to our failure to score, and the lack of creativity in the middle of the park meant stretching that five man defence was never going to happen.
People have already said we’ll go through because this is the “worst team we’ve played in Europe for years.” Well, that “worst team” knocked out a very capable side in the last round (rated higher in the European rankings than we are), and beat us tonight without their keeper having to do a Hell of a lot of work. What, then, does that make us?
Those who’ve said they are, at best, a sub-standard SPL team better hope they are worse than Kilmarnock, St Mirren, Ross County, Motherwell, Hibs, Inverness and St Johnstone, all of whom beat a stronger Celtic team than this one in the league last season, with the Paisley club adding a cup win on top of it. Some of the comments about our opponents both before, and after, tonight’s game have been embarrassing, and the disrespect in assuming we will wipe them away in front of a packed Celtic Park is an ignorant opinion with no factual foundation.
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Last season, we failed to win four matches at home in the league, and we needed a replay to take care of Arbroath after failing to beat them at Celtic Park.
If more than two of our players have an off-night, the party is over before it starts. If Lennon gets his team selection as wrong as he did here, then we might as well not bother showing up. The opposition only has to come and defend like they did tonight … against a side who’ve sold their top goal-scorer and didn’t replace him. Failing that, they only have to score a goal. One. On the night, I am certain that would be enough.
At some point this evening, Peter Lawwell will have to look in the mirror. I personally could not care less whether he blames himself or not. I couldn’t care less whether he’s ashamed of his own performance or not. Lawwell likes to think of himself as one of football’s visionaries. He likes to be involved in discussions about the future of the game. He likes to think of himself as a giant.
Certainly, he’s paid the salary one would expect a leader of the game to be taking home. In August 2011, his salary was a reputed £507,000 with top ups taking it to the £600,000 level. He deferred a bonus of £200,000 but reputedly received a further £650,000 as part of a long term incentive plan. That year, he was one of the highest paid – if not the outright highest paid – people in Celtic Park. That year we posted a profit of £100,000.
Last year, we made a loss of £7.37 million, for the financial year. Our turnover was £51.3 million. That represented a fall in overall income, and is some £20 million shy of our high water mark of over £70 million from around five years ago.
In other words, Lawwell’s pot of gold has been increasing, year on year, even as turnover has been falling. And now players sales are being used to plug the gap.
If Celtic’s citizen journalists, those who have been busy destroying the reputations of the men who run Rangers, fancy a change of pace, what about taking a complete look at the compensation package of our own chief executive, and what exactly he’s doing for his money? From what I can see, our commercial wing is not growing one iota, which is why the club’s policy of strengthening the playing squad year on year has morphed into buying to sell.
In other words, Peter Lawwell is failing in his most fundamental job, the one he is paid handsomely for, which is to increase the off-field revenues so we can fund the end product on the pitch. Instead of that, we are in the perverse position of having the club’s scouting system working as an arm of the commercial wing, finding assets for us to dispose of at a profit.
Are we a football club, or are we a business? Is his bonus related to profits? If so, isn’t that a sterling case of letting the tail wag the dog?
Doesn’t it put us a risk of a strategy where the strength of the team sheet is a secondary consideration next to the balance sheet?
How else do you explain the sale of our two best players from last year and the utter failure to replace them prior to this game?
Let’s come right out and tell it like it is, with no bullshit attached. The Wanyama and Hooper money has been banked. It is not going to be spent, and it never was.
The PLC board would have earmarked a fraction of our likely Champions League group stages income instead, and that’s what the manager would have been given for his transfer budget.
There are two scenarios here which explain this situation. In one, our board is hoovering up money to plug some hole in the balance sheet that we’ve not been told about, or they’re shoring up our finances for some future calamity, although I have no earthly idea of what that could be. In the second scenario, the club is spending an absurd amount of money, at a rapid rate, and the commercial department – of which Lawwell is the head – is performing dreadfully.
Either way, it’s time he was gone. The commercial arm is no longer supporting the team. The team is bailing out the commercial arm, and that is his failure as much as the on-field setbacks are the failure of the manager.
Peter Lawwell can bank all the money he wants, but in a couple of weeks he will be in Monaco for the European draw, and this time he will not be the strutting, preening, arrogant example of smug superiority he was this time last year.
Either he’ll be at the Champions League draw, as the man his manager and team bailed out of a Hell of a hole, or he’ll be at the Europa League draw, entering and leaving the building under a blanket if he doesn’t want to look at the sniggering faces of Europe’s elite sides as he passes their way.
It will not matter whether it’s as the standing joke, the man who suggested last year that “this is where we belong”, only for his own complacency and arrogance to see us demoted 12 months hence, or whether he’s the luckiest man in the room. His peers will know he blew it. They will know he’s lost it, if he ever had it in the first place.
They will know that he is the man who sanctioned the sale of his club’s two best players before he had replacements, and who’s team, and manager, was asked to pay the price. Not a visionary, but the stupidest man in the room, by far. Think the big boys in the EPL would want him now?
Tonight, Celtic supporters across the world are sick and tired of paying through the nose to watch substandard stuff, in a substandard corrupt backwater of the game. Our board has failed to tackle the vested interests and the crooks and the cheats at the very top. They have failed to maintain the level of our playing squad, and the reputation of the club will undoubtedly suffer as a result if this team is unable to overturn the two goal deficit next week.
The players, the manager, the chief executive and others will still get their wages. £20 million will still sit in the bank, but it will certainly be eroded over the course of this long, hard year if we are reduced to the second tier tournament.
When you act like a second tier team – boasting about how you are a selling club instead of trying to build for the future – then this is what you deserve.
For the record, to those who have stated tonight that the Europa League is probably more our level, you are a prime example of what I said in a previous article about those who “settle for.”
Yet there’s an undeniable truth to what you’ve said. Right now that is what we are. This time last year we were riding high. That we are here is not an accident.
It is the predictable – indeed the inevitable – result of the strategy so many of you seem to love.
You will accuse us tonight of “enjoying” this defeat because it vindicates us. It gives me no pleasure at all to be right here, and I advise that no-one ever says this to my face.
You though, you should enjoy it.
This is what you’d have of us. This is what the policy is all about. This is what happens when you erode the team sheet to inflate the balance sheet.
This is what comes of “settling for.”
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