Strategy? What Strategy?

Celtic-Celtic-FC-SPL-SPFL-Ronny-Deila-Leigh-Griffiths-576180My good friend Babs McMahon celebrates her birthday today, and she was probably hoping for a very decent present, like cup final tickets getting sent out in the post.

A year ago, she and most of the Celtic support probably had a killer hangover because 12 months ago today we were celebrating how we’d managed to reach the League Cup Final after beating Sevco, with what I described at the time as “embarrassing ease.”

They were in turmoil, with an interim manager at the helm who looked like he wanted to be any place in the world but at Hampden.

There was genuine optimism in the air at Celtic Park, and why not?

Our Champions League disasters seemed far behind us. We’d qualified from a feisty Europa League group and were looking forward to a match against Inter. We’d reached one cup final, and were top of the league.

A shaky start had been weathered, and early adversity overcome.

Twelve months on, how different the landscape looks.

That we’ve gone backwards is plain for all to see. We’re still top of the SPL, but there the similarity ends and we’re faced with more questions than answers, and I fear for what those answers might end up being.

Today the best bit of news so far is that we’ve confirmed our standing as a feeder club for Manchester City by taking an 18 year old kid on loan for a year and a half.

He may well prove to be a good player – in fact, reports suggest he will be very good indeed – but I would stipulate that you don’t need to be exceptional to look like a star in the current Celtic team.

Let’s not kid ourselves about this though; this is our aternative to having to spend real money on the wide position during the summer. A kid, with no experience of first team football on the European stage.

In the meantime, Ronny’s “number one target” from the summer has been allowed to leave on loan, a tacit admission that £1.5 million has been wasted on Nadir Ciftci, adding him to the long line of disastrous attempts to sign a goal-scorer in complete ignorance of the only criteria on which one should ever be judged; the amount of times he’s put the ball in the net.

Babs, the birthday girl, is from Dublin, and like many other fans she travels across the Irish Sea to watch our team play its home games at Celtic Park, and doubtless she is as in awe of the magnificent Celtic Way as anyone is.

Our stadium looks incredible right now, a true home fit for heroes.

The Way itself is special, and the host of memories it conjures up are wonderful.

It makes our club seem special, as special as the Celtic PLC advertising department is fond of marketing it as.

And looking at it, I wonder who the next “Celtic icon” to feature on it will be?

Those who defend The Strategy can help me by answering this question; how do you create legends, and icons, at a club whose policy is to acquire, whether by buying or loaning, young unproven talent and then moving them on before they reach their peak?

From the current Celtic team, there are a few obvious names; Commons will hit 100 goals. Brown will go down in history as a fine captain. Griffiths should make it if he’s at Celtic Park long enough, if the big offer doesn’t come in that Lawwell bites someone’s hand off for. Armstrong has the makings of a future captain, provided he doesn’t peak early and gets sold …

Beyond that?

Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it?

Who decides what an “icon” is?

Under The Strategy, Henrik Larsson would have been sold within two years.

Does Victor Wanyama deserve his own Celtic flag on The Way, by virtue of good performances and a hefty transfer fee? Would Patrick Roberts get one for dazzling us for 18 months? Should we consider Jason Denayer a candidate? Do you think Carlton Cole will ever earn the accolade? Can we hold onto Nir Bitton long enough to give him his?

Where does the current Celtic team fit into the pantheon of heroes?

Am I being unfair to say that if they’d won yesterday and went on to win the treble that it would be the poorest Celtic side in our history to achieve that feat, something better, far better, teams could never do?

Would future generations’ hearts have swelled with pride at the team that boasted Ambrose and Stefan Johansen?

Is this a team future writers would have judged to be worthy alongside Martin’s treble winners, or Stein’s?

Is making the cut the same as making the grade?

These are philosophical questions, of course.

There are harder questions to answer.

Do we still behave like a club that takes itself as seriously as the Celtic Way would suggest?

Our history is something in which we all take inordinate pride, but as we marvel at the triumph and tragedy that make that history up, have we completely taken our eyes off the future and how best we might go about adding to that special collection of memories and accomplishments?

What do we strive to be?

The biggest club in Scotland is a given, but beyond that?

Do we have ambition left for that greater stage, or have we accepted limitations set on us from elsewhere? Is there a plan? Because, as I said in an earlier piece, where I talked about that moment in Apocalypse Now when Kurtz asks Willard if his methods have become unsound, I’m with the captain when he tells him, “I don’t see any method at all.”

Today, on the day a Manchester City youth player arrives at Parkhead to wild acclaim from some quarters and entreaties to us to embrace our new found position on the food chain, one of our own, young Aidan Nesbitt, has left on loan, on the very day he scored (twice) against the Sevco youth development team for what is the umpteenth time, and was garnering the usual praise.

Aidan Nesbitt should be a prime-time candidate for one of the banners on The Celtic Way, a home-grown superstar with the attitude and talent to make it big. Yet I don’t think we’ll ever fly the flag, because I don’t think we’ll ever see him develop at Parkhead.

Even as he proves, yet again, that he has the attributes to be a top talent, we’re scrambling around the free transfer market, trying to bring to the club a player who’s attitude reeks, who’s personal reputation goes way before his footballing one, and who looks as if he will play in the very position young Nesbitt could be filling, if we had a club with any coherent strategy at all.

12 months on from a day in which we were all filled with optimism, the picture at Celtic Park looks confused and chaotic and those running things divorced from reality.

Out of the League Cup. A European campaign that was disastrous and humiliating. A playing style which has regressed, and where there’s none of the “faster, fitter, sharper” we were promised and looked, this time last year, as if we were developing nicely.

Nothing but short-term solutions being mooted to fix long term problems.

Far from building a team capable of making it to the Champions League next season we look as if we’re simply patching holes as we go, trying to make things seem like they make some sense.

So, Ciftci goes because he’s not scoring goals. In the meantime, a player arrives whose goal tally at 29 isn’t even what Griffiths has managed in a Celtic shirt thus far. He arrives with an armful of baggage and attitude issues which makes it seem like a risk whilst a player who has scored lots of goals in a Celtic shirt, Anthony Stokes, is loaned out to Hibs because his own attitude isn’t what the manager wants to have in the dressing room.

I’ll ask just one question about our latest signing; would we ever give him a place on The Celtic Way, no matter how well he plays or what he achieves in a Celtic shirt? We know the answer … and that should say enough, on its own.

Who thinks this fits into a coherent pattern?

Who thinks it makes even a fraction of sense?

I’ve stopped looking for sense.

It doesn’t exist at Celtic Park, and every level, from the boardroom to the boot-room, is lost in a fog.

Yesterday, when we brought on James Forrest, I realised, for the first time, that I’ve broken the habit of mentally adjusting our team formation when we make a substitution. Somewhere along the line, and I don’t even know when it happened, I simply stopped doing it. Because Deila so often puts players in places they should never be, in a system that doesn’t fit their skills, that trying to work out the game plan is an exercise in futility.

They say that a chess grand master playing against a novice will lose more pieces in the early part of the game than a lesser player would; it’s because the grand master assumes there’s a strategy unfolding, and spends time looking for a pattern where there’s none.

A lot of Celtic fans feel that way watching our team at the present time. We try to fit logic and consistency into a set-up where they just don’t belong. We’re looking for some underlying structure where there really isn’t any to find.

Babs McMahon and all the rest who walk down The Celtic Way every other week are rightly proud of what it signifies and are entitled to marvel at how our club must look from the outside, at how impressive it must seem, to those who perhaps don’t know all the details about what the Lawwell defenders call The Strategy.

We no longer behave like a football colossus.

Now we “settle for.”

Yesterday, those who were “settling for” a treble switched, in an instant, to dismissing the League Cup as having relevance, and got comfortable with “settling for” a double. Those who were expecting big names and signs of intent from this window are already “settling for” seeing all of our problems solved in the summer.

We’ve been here before, and before, and before.

Now’s not the time for questioning the manager. Nor The Strategy. Some people say, anyway.

But I find myself asking, again; if not now then when? 

See, looking at The Celtic Way right now, I wonder who will be the next Celtic Great to adorn that wondrous avenue. Maybe we should just skip right over the playing staff and give the CEO the accolade of being the first club official ever to grace the path.

To me, if we’re not aspiring to add to it, it looks like nothing more than a triumph of marketing and PR, an entreaty to spend your money by tugging the heart strings with appeals to the past by a board which is incapable of presenting a road map towards the future.

It looks, in short, like a scam.

Because right now I cannot conceive of whose flags will fly there in the future, or of how we go from where we are now towards something better … and no matter what they might tell you, either publicly or through their own PR arms, the people running Celtic at the present time don’t know either.

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20 comments on “Strategy? What Strategy?
  1. I’ve been boring people for almost 5 years about the inevitable decline in standards and stature we would have to endure. The club has stopped trying. We are limited not only by our own unambitious virtues, but by the declining and unappealing nature of Scottish football. The tartan ceiling as it was aptly christined.. What has that got to do with failing v Ross County, some may ask…well everything really. We appointed a man who imo had never done anything to suggest he had the qualities to manage Celtic. He seems a good guy, and may yet go on and do well either at Celtic or elsewhere, but the truth is we settle for cheap. People who simply cannot say no to the job..unless they are an out of work ( and I think he was at the time Roy Keane, or your the manager of such giants as Wigan or Burnley, as Martinez and Coyle where at the time…or even if you are in the job and decide you cant really do anymore , as Lennon seemed to do. Our stratagy is ,not going to change as far as I can see, and whilst we will be Scotlands top team, hardly a boast at all really, we will continue to fail in Europe, The club has shrunk to fit an ever declining domestic set up.

  2. Very good article James but one thing i would disagree with is “Armstrong as a future Celtic captain” never in a month of Sundays……especially on yesterdays showing and quite a few other games this season.
    You are bang on though about Deila playing certain players out of position and he does this repeatedly,
    Anthony Stokes is the prime example of that…..a left winger not,( at least he had some fight in him) Armstrong a winger most definitely not, The writing was on the wall for Anthony after his very first European match when he was substituted and refused to shake our so called managers hand….no way back after that.

  3. I enjoy reading your commentary and your refuerences to picture metaphors to make your point. I also admire your steadfast belief in the origins of the club and the ethos that underline it. However, and I say this with the greatest respect; I think the fundamental point that most Celtic fans are looking for first and foremost is a successful team winning every games and competition that take part in. That is the whole purpose in sport to win. Once that has been achieved then the other things will follow on because of the feel good factor of winning.

    I am not espousing a win at all costs mentality but to seek to call upon the philosophical spirit of the club when we are not addressing the fundamental needs of the support by winning everything that is in front of us then we will simply not be able to address the other social needs we are called upon to meet.

    With regards to the manager, I also believe he has been a poor choice and we have regressed in the 18 months or so that he has been in the charge but I would ask this – who would you replace him with right now?

  4. I think young Nesbitt will get his chance James.
    His talent is easy to see,i just hope the lad has the right attitude to fulfill the talent.

  5. James, Iyou make some good points, particularly in regard to future icons, and I share all of your concerns. Where we differ is in regard to how the Club is managed. We both know that money doesn’t grow on trees so how do you propose to realise your dreams dreams without spending money that isn’t there.

    I hope you’re not going to tell me that Dermot should get his cheque book out.

  6. James everything you have stated is absolutely correct.

    The Celtic marketing team is all about the past which of course is important but what about the future aspirations of our club?

    The only way we as a club can have any ambition is completely over haul the current structure at board level with a CEO and board of directors that have a good business acumen which currently we don’t have as we are controlled by a dictatorship being DD with PL following instructions.
    Now I understand that we are limited in our financial resources being the current structure of the Scottish game but please we are still fortunate to have the opportunity every year of making the Champsions League not only is it a good football objective but an even better business opportunity?
    What I think we the fans worldwide are looking for is honesty from our owner in that the current structure that we currently have is as good as it gets, but please stop trying to get my hard earned with the current level of quality you’re putting on the pitch!
    Stop coming up with the usual sales pitch ever year of past glorys of Lisbon in the sun well and truely over it?
    I have lived overseas all my life and fortunately talk to and share the thoughts of football with all nationalities the most common theme is what EPL team do you follow?
    In regards to my own great club we have completely diminished our standing on the European stage and I doubt we will ever get that back at any level with the current & past 10 years business model that is in place.
    To end with the appointment of Deila and the Football plan that we are on I understand the logic behind it in regards to our own homegrown talent and academy but tell me what experience or past results has this Deila had in completing this objective?
    I would have been more confident in a Manager not a Coach who has come from or been involved in a well established leading European Football club not a back water Norwegian structure which is a similar structure to our own back water of a league?

    So until we get an ownership or individual who sees the future being more bright & positive than our current Landlords outlook then we are and I quote a past great Manager MON “welcome to the slow lane”.
    Ironic quick note for this League Cup Final coming up how many ex Celtic academy & loanees will be on show, especially the Ross County boys one thing they showed in the semi was fight and determination wonder where they learned that from?

    HH KTF????????

  7. Not too happy with your blog today James.Young Nesbitt,needs some game time playing against the “Big boys”,and he will get this.Your seeming dismissal of Roberts is not like you.This boy is a real talent.Every pundit is in agreement with this,and City fans raging they have let him go.If he gets us into the CL next season,you will sound petty.
    You more than anyone,must know,we cannot live with most teams in the market.Stoke have just paid 18 million for someone I have never heard off.
    I will agree with you on bewilderment at some of the things going on.The Manager,is making me really uneasy,in some of the things he does.His selections baffle me.Just what does Scott Allan have to do to get a game in front of serial off form Johansen?.To play two accident prone CHs together yesterday,was a disaster the rest of us could see,not the manager ,it seems.
    I really just wanted to say,I am really disappointed in your piece tonight,for the simple reason it sounds like a gut reaction to a very poor result,which in the grand scheme of things means nothing.Its not like you.

  8. As my name suggests absolutely Scunnered and bewildered by what we are doing especially with our youth players. Can’t understand why we develop another teams youth player ahead of our own.

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