I’m writing this a mere 30 minutes after watching a truly shambolic performance from Celtic in the Champions League, a performance that is being widely gloated over by Sevconian’s and pored over and scrutinised by everyone who follows Celtic. Within minutes of the final whistle, this website had received an email, which I posted as a comment, which is available to view at the end of the last article, from one of our rival fans. I had expected it.
When I read it I smiled, and I posted it, and I thought “Enjoy your moment.”
This website has never pissed about when it came to writing about Celtic. Not for our writers the old tea and biscuits in the boardroom. We are not in the business of spinning for the strategy, and we’re not going to start now. There are people inside Celtic Park who ought not to be there, people who don’t belong anywhere near a club like ours, and whose presence keeps a number of supporters – and I include myself amongst them – from going to watch the team every week.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again; I am not funding this. I am not funding a business plan that tells us how special we are as a support, and how big we are as a club, and then treats us like mugs and worse, and results in humiliating nights like tonight. We will not be a genuinely big club until we start acting like one, and it’s been a long time since we did.
Other folk can do expectation management. It’s not our damned job and it never will be, and I don’t care how many apologists come out of the wood-work to tell me that this is like something the Daily Record might have written. Even a broken clock is right twice a day, and there were times when the criticism we got as a club, for our lack of ambition and bottle, was right on the money.
I am sorry if that doesn’t sit well with people. Well mediocrity doesn’t sit right with me. Shameful displays like what I just witnessed don’t sit right with me. If there is one duty for anyone in this game, above and beyond all others, it’s that we tell the truth, no matter how many people we upset, no matter where they come from or who they are.
At around this time last season, I wrote a piece on the night that FC Shakhter Karagandy beat us 2-0 in the final qualifying round for this competition. That night, and that result, should have been a watershed one for Celtic fans, with us having completed an almost mind-bending downsizing shortly before the game began, when we sold Kelvin Wilson, the manager’s first choice central defender, having already sold Hooper before the previous tie and Wanyama before the first round. The spine of our team, all gone and none replaced.
I have never seen anything like it in all my time watching Celtic.
That evening should have been the moment a lot of people woke up and understood that our club was heading backwards. Judgement was postponed, when it should have been delivered there and then. In the return leg, Celtic won 3-0, courtesy of a last minute goal. We bought Nir Biton and Pukki, and we were told that all of our questions had been answered, and those who had defended the strategy were even louder and bolder than usual.
In truth we’d been damned lucky, and I knew it and most of us did.
But the debate was shelved. The discussion was never had. During the season that followed we won the title, but at times the football was chronic. We were knocked out of both cup competitions in a manner that could best be described as embarrassing, and in the Champions League the credibility we had worked for years to earn was ruined, utterly, in staggeringly inept displays, culminating in a humiliating evening in Spain, and a bottom place finish in our group.
Still, the strategy’s defenders were out in force when we posted profits for the season and still won the league. They pointed to signings made, and some measure of success delivered, and they said “everything will be alright.” In the meantime, Peter Lawwell climbed the ranks of the SFA, working to “improve Scottish football” at a time when the business plan he’d “masterminded” at Celtic Park had regressed to the point where the team was funding the business rather than the business funding the team. Today he was re-elected to the SFA board.
His supporters must be very proud.
To be honest, I’m sick writing about this guy in the same way I’m sick writing for the “benefit” of those Sevco fans who can’t face the truth about their team. A lot of Celtic supporters really don’t want to face the facts about some of the people running ours, those like Desmond who are willing to live with mediocrity, or the Zionist Conservative peer Livingstone, a man of such disrepute and loathsome politics that he shouldn’t be within a hundred miles of a club that was founded to feed the poor. How in God’s name can we square the circle as a club which promotes charitable purposes and who’s supporters are active in food bank campaigns and other activities, but appoint to the board a man so egregiously unfit as this?
The kind of club that doesn’t pay its workers a living wage … and we look at Sevco and point the finger about their lack of scruples and moral purpose. Where is our own?
Yes, I am tired of repeating the same things over and over again in relation to what “the strategy” has done to us, but it is people’s refusal to get it that forces me to do it.
Peter Lawwell’s job as CEO is to deliver on the business side of the club. Yet if you subtract “player trading” from the equation, revenue and turnover are down. Is this because of the economic downturn? Yes, but only partly, because although season ticket prices have fallen, this is a marketing decision forced on the club by necessity, the result of falling attendances. Cup tickets have never been pricier. The Champions League package last season was extortionate. The club now brings us three new strips per year, every year, like clockwork, and there is more merchandise out there than there has ever been before.
Yet turnover continues to fall. The business has not grown in North America like it was supposed to and the success of the Far East strategy can be measured by the fact that from the moment Ki Sung Yeung left it was abandoned entirely. We have an international commercial development manager who is earning big bucks and delivering exactly what?
The failures of the whole commercial department, with Lawwell at the helm, have resulted in the perverse situation where the business no longer funds the football department, but the football department funds itself, and in turn funds the business. Here, at Celtic Park, the tail wags the dog. Lawwell and his people congratulate themselves on their “success” in posting profits, but the credit belongs to the scouts who find players, the coaches who train them and the manager who nurtures them and develops them into stars. Then Lawwell sells them.
I’ve said this before, and I will say it again; his job is to support the manager and the team, and find the resources to strengthen and improve the playing squad. That is the traditional role of the Chief Executive at a football club. Somebody, somewhere, decided that Peter Lawwell’s role should be larger than that, and in some ways more akin to that of a Director of Football.
Other writers might claim different, but no-one is going to convince me that this guy has not pushed players out the door who our managers have wanted to keep. Equally, no-one is going to convince me that he and others at the club have not occasionally brought in players our managers did not want, as well as deciding not to pursue, with all vigour, a number of those our managers did.
Neil Lennon left in the summer, as everyone knows, and I said at the time I would save an article about his possible reasons for another day. We know that he didn’t walk out of Celtic Park and into another job, just as we know that he didn’t leave to get away from management for a while, as was evidenced in his statement about wanting to get right back into the game as quickly as he could.
I left the idea of writing that article for two reasons. First, I was never particularly happy with Neil Lennon having got the manager’s job in the first place. I thought, then and now, that appointing a rookie as our first team coach was just plain wrong and that the job was bigger than him. I’ve said it from Day 1 and I’ve been taking stick for it just as long.
Off the field, he showed the most extraordinary fortitude as a man, making him a hero of mine now and forever more, but I disagreed with much of what he did in the dugout, and I was not disappointed to see him go. In the end, I thought his leaving was the best thing for Celtic, and, most importantly, getting away from Glasgow was the best thing for Neil Lennon and his family.
The second reason was that I believe in the new manager, that his appointment is a step forward and that he has the potential to be a huge success and I did not want to start his tenure at our club with a negative piece suggesting the previous boss left because of interference from above.
Those alert readers, and frequent visitors to this site, will, of course, be aware that no sooner had I made that decision but I was writing an article which warned Ronny Deila against people at our club who might be seeking to do exactly that. What inspired that piece was Peter Lawwell’s “suggestion” that Deila should appoint someone who “understands the Scottish game” as his assistant, something I found to be scandalous and a blatant piece of sticking his nose where it didn’t belong.
I did not understand then, or now, why it was deemed necessary to bring in someone with “local knowledge”, as if the ball is a different shape, or the goals have different dimensions here in Scotland than elsewhere. It reeked, then and now, of interference and suggested that there were some residual doubts about the appointment itself.
Since then, of course, the club has appointed John Collins assistant and brought in a player, in Craig Gordon, who the manager knew nothing about beforehand, in a deal which had been set up before he was approached about taking the job.
Then the man who promised a fresh start to every player had to explain why he shipped out Tony Watt after only a few weeks, and it seems he never got a look at Denny Johnstone, who’s leaving the club was a decision taken before he arrived, but never scrutinised. The same, of course, can be said about Samaras, who Lennon had wanted to keep but someone else at the club didn’t, perhaps the same someone who appears to have decided not to talk to Kris Commons about a new deal yet.
Added to that, circumstances have seen Deila reverse himself on two issues of huge importance. The first was when he said Charlie Mulgrew was a central defender and would play there (the rewards of that “local knowledge” paid off in the second half tonight, didn’t they?) only to be forced, by an injury to Scott Brown and the complete lack of urgency to bring in a replacement, to change his mind completely.
IT’s the second instance which should worry us most though. Deila explicitly ruled out signing loan players only to do just that. I cannot even begin to comprehend the disconnect between the rightness of his initial position and the one he took, apparently in panic, earlier this week and which he compounded tonight when a player the rest of the team had worked with for only a few days, and who’s contract with us is good only until January, started a Champions League match of enormous importance. Something about the whole thing stinks.
Do I still have faith in this guy? Yes, I certainly do. If he’s allowed to keep the players he wants and build the team he wants then I’m extremely confident that he will be a phenomenal success. Anyone who expected me to be calling for his head after one defeat ought to be sorely disappointed. He has to learn fast, and he has to show some steel in his team selections. Captain or not, Charlie Mulgrew had a disastrous night tonight and should have been subbed at half time, and the decision to leave him on was astonishing and had catastrophic consequences.
That kind of myopia will get him sacked if he lets it take hold.
I still believe we’ve got the right guy, that this is the man to take us forward. I have faith in that.
I have no faith in those above him at Celtic Park, and where there are grave doubts I have them in relation to the level of support he’ll get commensurate to that which he needs to do this job right. I think his hands are already tied, and if he stands for it he’s making a rod for his own back because it’s his career that’s on the line if everything goes wrong, and that result tonight is a clear sign that all is not well with this squad.
This is another watershed night, the kind that demands answers to all those questions some of us were asking ourselves after the failure in Ukraine last year. Then, the board’s luck held and that debate was postponed, but we got what our lack of ambition merited in the group stages and many of us feared a night like this one was in the offing with three qualifying ties to play.
Tonight all the chickens came home to roost. We are probably out, and facing Europa League football, and the board will indulge in expectation management to sell us on the “need” for further downsizing, to further protect the integrity of the balance sheet. Such is life when the football department funds the business instead of the other way around.
I will not blame the manager or the little time he’s spent in the job for what we saw this evening, because it’s an alibi the people above him simply don’t deserve and it’s an excuse I’ll not permit anyone to make on their behalf. The inadequacies in our squad are clear to us all, and Neil Lennon would have suffered a similar result tonight with those players at his disposal, and I believe that 100%. There is only so much you can blame the manager for.
We went into this match tonight with the same squad who were slaughtered in last year’s Champions League, and the manager was aware enough of their limitations that he backtracked on his own stated intentions, to bring in a player whose qualities he did know on a short term loan, and threw him right into the team. That speaks volumes, as does playing Mulgrew in midfield because of the injury to Brown and being forced, because there was no other central defender on the bench, to move him from there when Ambrose was sent off.
That we have showed such a staggering lack of ambition, and foresight, on the back of huge profits, leaves those above this guy with nowhere to hide and no excuses to make.
The constant scrutiny some people give to Sevco and the goings-on over there have allowed their eyes to drift from glaring issues facing us within our own club. I have tried to keep my eyes on Celtic as much as Sevco Rangers, and I have written about those issues with the same unflinching eye and honesty, and I will continue to do so, but I fear the same result.
The board has managed the expectations of some of our fans all too well. They have bought into the narrative of “too small and too poor to compete”, from the same people who’s entire commercial department constantly bombards us with messages about how great a club we are and about how ambitious we are and how forward thinking, all the better to get their hands on our money.
Shortly before I started writing this, and just after the final whistle, I got an email from Celtic, asking me if I wanted to buy a season ticket. I am glad there was no scope for sending a reply as I might have found myself in violation of several communications laws.
Sad to say, this is not uncommon for Celtic and mediocrity is a state many of our supporters all too readily accept, and they are willing to pay premium prices for it at that.
Tonight’s performance is what comes of expectation management. Some are already shrugging it off as if a shambolic display like that is acceptable, as if it’s nothing to panic about.
These folk are always very open to “settling for”, as in “this team isn’t ready, I will settle for a Europa League run and a domestic treble.”
The problem with that is that this becomes “Oh, the Europa League was a disaster, I will settle for the treble”, which becomes “oh we’re out of one cup. I’ll settle for the league and the other.” This becomes settling for last season all over again, winning the title whilst dismantling the core of the team, but with “signs of progress” only they can see.
I’m fed up with nights like tonight.
It’s time we took a long, hard look at where we’re heading as a football club, and as much as some people might not like the result of that I am determined that over the next couple of months, on this website, we’re going to do exactly that … regardless of the outcome next week.
This is a watershed result. It can’t be dismissed as a one off.
Some of us can read the writing on the wall.
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