Wow. What a hell of a response we got from that last piece, the one I posted last night, seriously pissed off with what I’d just witnessed on the park. I’ve had all manner of comments and criticisms, and that’s alright, it’s part of the reason I do this. Debate is good, not bad.
I’m surprised that what I’ve done here isn’t better understood by some of those on the green side of Glasgow. Not all criticism is done to stick the knife in. I questioned Neil Lennon’s tactics, his ability to stand up to the board and his team selections. I did not question his courage. I said his record could be better, that he had underachieved. I didn’t say he hadn’t achieved anything.
I said our board of directors have failed in their duties to grow the club, and so made the playing side the funding mechanism for the commercial side instead of the other way about. I did not say that they were running the club akin to the way the custodians of the one that was formerly know as Rangers did, and nor, and I have to point this out, and I’m amazed that I do, I did not at any point suggest our board was in the process of robbing us. I just think they’re not as good at the financial wizardry as some would have us believe.
Finally, I never said we were now a tier 2 team, or that we belong in that lowly order. I said our board’s policies make us look like one, and they will have knock-on effects which could lead to us being one in years to come. For the record, I think we’re a top tier side, a Champions League side, a side that should not only be getting to the Group Stages every year but should be seeking to qualify from them more often than not.
Our present “strategy”, of selling whenever a player reaches a certain valuation, will never allow us to develop to that point. I am amazed that there’s anyone who doesn’t see that, and understand the point I am trying to make. How can we hope to build a squad that can compete at that level if the guys at the top of our club see the playing squad as nothing more than a funding platform?
Henrik Larsson graced our pitch for seven wonderful years. With this strategy in place, we’d have had him here for half of that time, and some of the greatest events in our recent history – including that epic night in Seville – would never have come to pass. There would have been no Thompson, no Sutton, no Hartson.
Those days would never have been.
The people who, last night, pissed me off the most by saying we’re not ready for the Group Stages are whitewashing faster than a squad of painters preparing for a royal visit. This time last year we had a squad that wasn’t just in those groups, but qualified from a deadly Group of Death involving Benfica and Barcelona. We were more than capable of holding our own and that team was only going to get better. That team was dismantled, and if we’re not ready for that stage it’s precisely because people inside our club took a calamitous series of decisions that have weakened us.
I’m sorry – truly sorry – if that hurts people to read, and I have no interest in waging war against the board. Deep down, those men in that room will know they have failed us here. They will be aware, acutely aware, that their gamble has resulted in one of the most humiliating experiences in our collective football memory, and they will be braced for dire consequences should the team be unable to overturn this deficit next week.
They will look at their point man Peter Lawwell and some of them will blame him – as I do – for this staggering reversal of fortune. Last season ended on a wave of optimism for the future. This season has begun with a disastrous gamble, and our place amongst the elite – where we belong – hanging by a thread. There should be no doubts as to who screwed up here, and they’ll be demanding answers. If Lawwell thought this game of poker made him look smart, he knows better today. He looks like a monumental fool, taking stupid risks based on ego and arrogance.
It’s his failures that have placed the forward progress of this club in jeopardy, aided and abetted by some of the worst team selection and tactical decisions I’ve seen in many a year.
But let me take a moment to give Lennon an alibi, of sorts, here. I have serious questions over Neil Lennon’s aptitude as Celtic manager, something that sounds ridiculous when one considers the towering performances last season against Barcelona. Yet, those doubts are real, and they were enhanced last night with that dreadful display.
Despite those doubts, I cannot apportion all the blame to the manager on this one. That team of his has been gutted, and left without a core. Few managers in football could cope with the pressure of a game this size minus so many key players from last year. His tactical decision to put one man up front was born of that pressure, and fear, and his selection of Charlie Mulgrew in midfield was a clear response to the gaping hole left by the departure of Wanyama. Whether he fought, behind closed doors, for replacements, or if he acquiesced in mournful silence doesn’t really matter once he was faced with the dilemma of picking last night’s team.
One way or another, Neil Lennon has been sold short by the people above him. They have wasted time, they have dithered, they have failed to do their jobs. I don’t care whether it was over-ruling his wishes completely or just being unable to close the deals at this point; the result is the same, and it’s the manager who has to live with the embarrassment of presiding over that result, and that shambles of a display, and in this his bosses ought to be ashamed.
Still, there are people who’ll criticise me for daring to voice such views. I would ask that they do what I did last night before composing a word. Take a deep breath, and chill a little. Oh yes, believe it or not, that was not me at my most ranting, and angry. Had someone taped me in full-on mode after the second goal I would probably have been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.
You see, my fellow Hoops fans, I don’t believe offering criticism – even the venomous sort in that piece – is a bad thing at all, although I understand that a lot of people might not want to read it. But when I think of the biggest criticism that we’ve levelled at the supporters of Rangers – that they did nothing as their club collapsed, that they fiddled whilst Rome burned – I cannot help but hear echoes in the way some of you would rather react here.
What brought down Rangers was this attitude that criticism is wrong. That the fans and the club should be at one. That a united front is better than looking fragmented. It’s a load of old cobblers, and anyone who gives it a moments consideration should see that. Airing our differences in outlook is healthy. It’s good for the soul, and it’s good for Celtic too. Debate needs to be encouraged, not shut down. There should be differing views as to the way forward, and I hope there are as many in our boardroom as there are in the chat-rooms or forums.
Because without them, we’re on a rocky, rocky road.
It is not disloyal to ask questions about our manager. It serves the greater loyalty, which is the betterment of Celtic Football Club. It is not subversive to demand answers from the people who spend our money. It means the strategy will be subject to the wishes of the fans. It is not treason to acknowledge the very real failures from the boardroom to the boot-room which led to last night’s disgraceful result. Not to acknowledge them allows them to fester, and the problems to grow, until we’ve been reduced to an irrelevance everywhere but on our own doorstep.
We all have the same ambitions for this football club; to be the best that we can be. Some of us have higher ambitions than others, and can see things with optimism. Others are content to live within the constraints of the Scottish football environment, and to believe no forward progress is possible whilst we stay here. Some want us to seek a new footballing landscape, and some of those would be willing to see us trade away our very soul in order to get there.
I believe Celtic is more than just a football club. It is a social icon. An institution which is above and beyond what happens on the pitch, and I am as angry at our being represented at boardroom level by a member of this coalition government as I am about the failure to sign a new striker, because I think that thoroughly offends and betrays the nature of what we’re supposed to be about. The notion that this club, that was founded to help the poor of the East End of Glasgow, welcoming to its upper echelon a man involved in a shabby political program which has devastating impacts on that very same community, bothers me more than any on-field reversal.
I believe we are bigger than the football environment in which we find ourselves, and although the rulers of the game here have allowed corruption and cheating to flourish, unpunished and unrestrained, for years, and without our best interests at heart, I think the game here is bigger than they are, and that we have an ultimate loyalty to it, and to serve it better than we have.
Furthermore, I think as the last remaining superpower in this game it is not simply in our best interests, but that it’s our duty, and responsibility, to reform the game here, to transform its out-dated structures and clean out its upper levels of all the corrupt chancers who have held onto their power for far too long.
I think it shames us that we don’t lead this revolution from the front.
I say all these things not because I like to complain, but because I want to see my club do better, on the field and off the field. I can say all these things because I am beholden to no-one, depending on neither the club nor its goodwill in order to do it. I write for myself, to clarify my own thoughts, to develop better my own thinking, and if people read it then great, if they agree with it then wonderful and if they disagree with it then even better, especially if they tell me why in a forum that sparks a debate. Because debate is healthy.
Debate is how we get better. Debate is how we move forward.
I am faithful through and through, but I put that faith in the institution itself, not necessarily in the people running it right now. I believe in our future. We are too big a club, too important a social icon, to stay, forever, locked in a downward spiral.
The notion that criticism from people like me can damage Celtic, in any way, by speaking our minds is as ludicrous as the notion that human beings can destroy the Earth. It was here before we were, has coped with crises beyond count and taken everything the universe can throw at it.
And this little blue and green ball is still spinning, and still living.
Celtic was here before us, and it will be here after we are gone. Celtic endures. Last night’s result was a catastrophe, but the people responsible are as temporary as the Hooper’s and Wanyama’s.
This club will be great again, in spite of them, if not because of them.
I believe in that.
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