I’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.)