The Killing Fields

JS90873954So yesterday the registration deadline for the third round of Champions League qualifiers came and went without our club bothering to make a signing. Just how big a problem is that?

Well, in the first leg of the last round we played Efe Ambrose at central defence, with the predictable results. Such was the magnitude of that disaster – our worst result in our history – that we dropped him entirely from the second leg and played three at the back with our young full-back Keiran Tierney deputising for the night as a centre back instead.

Brendan Rodgers knows we have problems in that area. He has asked the board repeatedly, publicly and privately, for the signings he needs. One of the names he and his assistant have trailed over the weeks has been Shane Duffy. Today we discovered that the club is yet to make a formal bid for the Blackburn Rovers defender.

It makes you wonder how hard people are trying.

This is a perilous place for our club to be. Brendan Rodgers is the huge managerial appointment the Celtic supporters wanted. His is the name we craved. But we didn’t get this guy off the slag-heap. He wasn’t waiting around for our call, and willing to go anywhere. The chances are very good that if this guy hadn’t been appointed at Celtic Park that he would have been unveiled as the England boss this very week. Forget Allardyce and others; England’s FA would have passed over these second raters for Brendan in an instant. That’s how good a boss we’re talking about.

There’s a caricature of Brendan in some parts of the English media, that he’s vain and ego-driven. They point to frivolous stuff like his having his teeth done and hair fixed and the diets he went on. They point to his good looking young fiancé, who he proposed to just after formalising his divorce from his ex. In short, they think he’s a bit of a Jack the Lad.

As far as Celtic fans are concerned, all of it is nonsense because it has nothing to do with his ability as a boss.

Yet there’s undoubtedly truth to a lot of it anyway, and that does give us some insight which might be important.

Brendan has a very healthy self-regard.

He likes the limelight and he likes to be seen to be doing well.

This is not a negative. This is a guy who won’t settle for second place, or for failure. That’s why we appointed him.

It’s also why we will struggle to hang onto him if the board of directors continues to fail him when it matters.

There’s a moment at the start of the fantastic 1997 movie Twin Town where two corrupt cops are having a discussion about a piece of corporate art, etched into the stonework outside Swansea Train Station.

It reads “Ambition Is Critical.”

As they discuss the meaning, the older of the two men claims that it’s a response to an alleged Dylan Thomas quote, that Swansea is “the graveyard of ambition.”

A local poet wrote the three word answer to that. He worked for the council.

They adopted it as the town’s moto.

I always laugh at that scene, especially Dougray Scott and his assertion that it’s a dreadful slogan. His own three word take on Swansea a “Pretty Shitty City” at least rhymes.

He is scornful of the notion that anything, far less ambition, can thrive in such a place.

Ambition is critical though, and if someone had inscribed those words on the stairs at Celtic Park I think most of us would get the point at once. What I’m not sure of is that everyone who stepped over them on the way into work in the morning would.

Ironically enough, Brendan made his name in Swansea and it wasn’t the graveyard of his ambitions at all.

It was the proving ground for them. It was his performance there that took him to Anfield, and made him a contender. It was the place where he showed the world what he could do, where he’d have first come to the attention of Celtic.

He arrives at our club via a sojourn at Liverpool, where things went spectacularly right and then horribly wrong.

Is he here to rebuild his reputation?

No, I wouldn’t go that far. He says Celtic is a natural fit for him, and I agree. We are still a massive club, with huge pull for the right man, someone who “gets it”, someone who understands.

I was furious last week when, in the aftermath of the Red Imps result, Brendan Rodgers offered his glib, unconcerned response to the club’s stunning defeat. The result was easily the worst over 90 minutes in our history; some have argued that, but none has been able to find another occasion where we lost a competitive game to such a side.

There are simply no comparisons that come even close.

In my heart of hearts I know Brendan was angered by that result, and that his comments in public hid a deep frustration in private. He knows how that result makes our club, and him, look in the eyes of the world.

He’s not the kind of man to take that lightly.

He’ll know something else; he’ll know that good managers have come to Scotland before and died on their arses.

Some say Scottish football is the graveyard of ambition; it’s not.

These are the killing fields.

It’s not widely talked about, but Scottish football hasn’t just stalled careers. It has wrecked them. For such a small place, such a little corner of the footballing universe, this place has a helluva reputation for ruining folk, and Glasgow in particular.

Look back over the recent history of football in this city.

There are a parade of names who have come here, and then gone bust.

At Celtic, John Barnes career was obliterated before it had properly begun. He didn’t manage at another club for nine years, when he went to Tranmere, who sacked him after just eleven games.

Kenny Dalglish, who was a hero in English football, especially at Liverpool and Blackburn, wilted under the pressure of trying to steer the team after Barnes was fired. He won a League Cup but it was nowhere near enough. The Celtic board’s decision not to give him a permanent crack at the job was vindicated when they appointed Martin O’Neill instead.

It would be almost a decade before Dalglish returned to management, for a brief spell as caretaker boss at Anfield.

On its own, success in Scotland doesn’t guarantee the kind of advancement one might expect either, but failure here, even perceived failure, can undo good work that might otherwise count in your favour.

Martin O’Neill had a right to think he would have been a contender at any top club in England when he got Celtic to the UEFA Cup Final in Seville, but when he left the club the league title resided at Ibrox and that must have been a bad sign for some down south.

He ended up at Villa, then at Sunderland, instead of one of the clubs he craved.

The same could be said of Gordon Strachan and Neil Lennon, good men both, one of whom got us out of two Champions League groups in a row and the other who masterminded a win against Barcelona. Gordon left Celtic having lost a league title. Neil left after a Champions League group stage car-crash, but one no-one could blame him for. Nevertheless, only Bolton offered him a job.

At Ibrox, the same pattern emerges.

Alex McLeish became Scotland manager after leaving there but his managerial career petered out with moves to Birmingham, Villa, Forest and finally a move abroad, where he took over at Genk. He was in Egypt managing a club at the turn of this year, but they sacked him after just a few months in the job.

Even the big names to take over there encountered disaster.

Dick Advocaat left Ibrox to take on the Dutch national team, and ended up at Zenit St Petersburg with all their money, yet it could be argued that his career ran onto the rocks in this city when Rangers dispensed with his services after Martin O’Neill proved he had the mastery as Celtic stormed to two titles on the bounce.

Advocaat arrived at Ibrox with a huge reputation. He could have ended up anywhere, at a top European club, but this country exposed his limitations with a brutality that must have taken him by surprise.

The same thing happened to Paul LeGuen and in even less time; his was a glittering CV which less than a year here absolutely shredded. He was never to recover the ground he lost in that 12 months. He went to Paris St Germain from Ibrox, before money transformed that club completely. They were 17th on the day he was appointed; no other club in France would touch him.

What I’m trying to say here is that no-one should be under the misconception that Scottish football is some kind of soft option or doss. None of the guys named above left on a high, save maybe for Lenny. Even Gordon and Martin left after surrendering league titles.

Ronny Deila is an exceptional case because he actually lost his job despite winning the title.

But none of these guys was head-hunted by a bigger team.

None went on to “better things”.

Failure here is like a near-death experience and these are the guys (Barnes excepted) who got out without being absolutely humiliated.

Tony Mowbray had his reputation as a title winning boss at West Brom to fall back on, but his time at Celtic Park had made him toxic to most clubs in England; ironically, he replaced Gordon Strachan at Middlesbrough shortly after Celtic let him go.

Which is to say nothing for Ally McCoist, whose failures at Sevco were about as colossal as one could ever hope to see.

I predicted in 2012 that he would never manage a top flight team again and I see nothing at all to suggest I was mistaken then or now. Indeed, he may never manage in football again; that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

Brendan Rodgers doesn’t see Celtic as a “stepping stone” but that doesn’t mean he’d be willing leave our club with his reputation in the toilet. The current squad isn’t good enough; he knows it and the more dreadful events of last season have left us in no doubt about it. If we needed further evidence of it we got it last week. This is a side that more and more resembles one needing radical surgery. Sticking plaster solutions just aren’t going to cut it and we’ve got big problems ahead unless we refresh it with some new blood.

If Brendan Rodgers thinks he needs certain players to take the Celtic team forward I know for sure that he will fight for them; he has to. Never before in our history has second place been worth less to us, never in our history has it been so absolutely unacceptable, and if that’s the case for the fans it’ll be even more so for a manager who does think a lot of himself and who might still fancy managing at the highest level if and when he leaves Celtic Park.

Hell will be paid for failure, and not just in the manager’s office, but it’s the manager who will pay the highest price and it’s to be wondered if his career would recover from it. His days of managing top clubs would certainly be at an end.

Brendan Rodgers won’t accept that.

He knows, furthermore, that only a quantifiable success in Europe will keep his career from ending as those others did.

That quest was dealt a shocking blow last week.

With Astana next up, there clear potential for something just as bad.

Brendan Rodgers will not accept that.

He won’t tolerate having his hands tied.

This guy has a deep affinity for Celtic, but I absolutely believe he would be willing to walk away and scorch the Earth behind him if he thought his own reputation was being damaged by working here with no backing. He won’t do it right away, of course, but he’ll already be angry and concerned and if, in Astana next week, Champions League horror follows on top of last week’s Champions League horror, when all the signs were there, when the need for at least one signing who could play in the team was acture, I think he’d have valid concerns and be harbouring serious doubts about the commitment of those above him to make good on their own “ambition.”

This is a man who will not quietly fall on the killing fields.

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Exile On Kerrydale Street

celtic-virgil-van-dijk(A Guest Blog by George Paterson.)

I love the Rolling Stones. No secret there, I suppose.

They’re one of my go-to bands if ever I want to feel like an (ageing) rebel, drive my Prius a little faster or just party like the rock star I wish I once was.

53 years after their formation, they remain the industry standard for rock rebellion, standing firm – with their thick lips, tousled manes and suspiciously bulging jeans – as the greatest and most balls out survivors in popular music history. A red hot streak of albums from 1968’s ‘Beggars Banquet’ to the seminal ‘Exile on Main Street’ a mere four years later cemented their legacy and created the blueprint from which every other bad boy rock band has subsequently sprung.

It’s been 10 full years since they released a studio album. ‘A Bigger Bang’ was another in a long line. A collection of jagged riffs, forgettable lyrics and nondescript fillers that is best left in the bargain basements.

In fact, the last 32 years have seen them produce 6 studio releases, with about half a dozen tracks worth recalling between them.

Not a great average, I have to say.

But the Stones aren’t about being relevant anymore. They are more than happy to trade off on past glories. And the public lap it right up.

From their much talked about Glastonbury appearance to their magnificent ‘Sweet Summer Sun’ farewell in London’s Hyde Park, they are masters of giving the people what they want.

And what they want is the hits. Lots of them.

And played by the guys — 60% of them anyway — who brought them to us,

50 odd years ago.

Past glories, like I said.

Like a one hit wonder who can still get beers bought for him on the back of a single smash hit.

Yesterday, I compared Celtic Football Club to a Rolling Stones type band, and James asked me to amplify that and write this piece.

It seems to me that there are key similarities.

What we have is a merchandising juggernaut, trading on past success, knowingly retro but constantly angling for your hard earned while dropping in the occasional reference about the regard in which the brand is held throughout the world.

Thinking about it again, in more detail, I think that this is actually unfair.

On the Stones, that is.

They know what they’re about and they know where they’re going.

They don’t have to remain relevant.

They’re the Rolling Stones.

There are amoeba in ponds in Ulan Bator that could hum ‘Satisfaction’.

We are a different case altogether.

We were only briefly ‘the biggest rock band in the world’, and in that respect we’re more like Neil Young, to be honest.

Or we should be. Consistently trying to push the envelope while retaining affectionate links to a once heady past.

Because Young can still surprise and shock, even in his dotage.

He’ll never sell out stadia like The Stones but he’ll pack them in at a more reasonable level and more importantly, never sell out his principles.

He knows his market and adapts when he feels it suits.

He’s influential and relevant, even now, and he probably never compares what he does to The Stones.

We should be aim to be Neil Young.

But that dream is too much of a stretch for our current custodians.

The model they have for us is more like The Drifters, in more ways than one.

The most lasting of the doo-wop R&B bands of the 50’s and 60’s, The Drifters’ legacy is one that’s nowhere near as secure as it should be -or as secure as the previous artists I mentioned – despite being ever present on oldie/hit radio stations.

Constant chopping and changing meant that legendary vocalists such as Clyde McPhatter, Ben E. King and Johnny Moore only rarely reached sustained heights and virtually never together.

Money was a major factor in the regular splintering of The Drifters.

Rather than keep a settled line up, their managers reckoned that if Clyde wanted too much money, they’d release him and get another cheaper version while keeping the name going.

Sometimes it worked (the aforementioned King and Moore being the prime exceptions) but given that there have been over 60 vocalists in various versions, it’s absolutely certain that the quality was diluted.

They may have had their successes but they lacked the stability of a Four Tops for instance; 44 years without a single personnel change, by God! Think what that might have led to for The Drifters!

The Stones themselves — on the rare occasions they’ve had to — have replaced top men with even better ones, even poaching Ronnie Wood from a rival powerhouse, The Faces.

See, they know what our club’s custodians haven’t twigged yet.

Substandard signings diminish the brand and with it the selling power declines.

Look at where The Drifters are playing now.

Clacton and Cleethorpes instead of Las Vegas and Paris Olympia.

Anyway, the point I’m trying to make is that if you set your sights low, changing your personnel regularly by taking the cheapest road, you find that tends to take you to Cleethorpes Winter Gardens, or in Celtic’s case The Aker Stadion, Molde instead of the Nou Camp.

Of course football is a sport, not the entertainment business (though these days, I’m not totally sure the purity of sport is as cherished by the custodians as it should be but that’s for another rant). And granted, we are hampered by Sky’s massive investment in English football but this may be where we’re going wrong. Perhaps we shouldn’t try to compare ourselves to the giants of their league, their Rolling Stones and U2.

Look at the Neil Young’s of the game. The Ajax’s, Benfica’s, The Anderlecht’s.

Sure, they can’t always get what they want — our first Europa tie is against the former Dutch powerhouse — but they rarely sell themselves short in the attempt at self betterment.

None of the sides I mentioned has the cushion of a huge TV deal and they all realise that though their fans are desperate for another ‘Exile on Main Street,’ they’re unlikely to get it.

But it doesn’t mean that they should continually serve up sub par crap like ’Bridges to Babylon’ and expect their fans to pay through the nose for it, just because we’ve obediently kept our end of the bargain, over and over again.

There are plenty of failed businesses who gambled on the continued loyalty of an increasingly choosy public.

Our recent dwindling attendances might be a symptom of a greater malaise.

In short, we need to forget about being the Stones – but just as importantly, stop acting like the short sighted management of the Drifters – and concentrate on being a bit more Neil Young, albeit with a heart of Green, White and Gold.

Bizarre rant over.

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A Forgiving Mood

chris-sutton_1490674cHow nice life must be as a cossetted, ex footballer.

To be retiring on good earnings, with millions in the bank.

To know that you are considered an authority on the sport, in a way the average punter never will be.

To realise that you are still the idol of tens of thousands, that you can do quite literally no wrong in their eyes.

To have the right to pontificate on the goings-on at all the clubs you once played for.

How nice that must be.

Not that Mr Sutton knows this … I’ve just found out that he’s been declared bankrupt. Which explains a lot.

You know what makes certain players legends, and consigns the rest to the status of “those who once played for us”?

I’ve increasingly come to believe that it isn’t goals, and it isn’t honours and it isn’t being able to sing the words of all the fans songs, and mix with them in the pubs, caging free drinks from people who’ve already paid enough to you.

No, I think the legends are the ones who have as much respect for the fans, and for the club, as the fans have for them.

That’s why a guy like Paul McStay, who played in a lousy Celtic team, with lousy players, in front of lousy crowds, is a legend and Chris Sutton will forever be “a guy who played for us once.”

I’m going to make a confession about Chris Sutton right now. I never wanted us to sign him in the first place.

When he was at Blackburn, playing alongside Shearer, I thought he was the better player of the two, for the way he laid on so many of the other’s goals. I thought he had more to his game than Shearer would in a lifetime of lifetimes, yet it was his strike partner who got all the glory.

When he went to Chelsea and flopped, I revisited my opinion. I thought that to have failed that colossally was a demonstration of how much I had underestimated Shearer and his ability to make the players around him look better than they were.

When I heard Celtic were going to offer £6 million for Sutton, I thought it was the craziest thing I had ever heard of.

I thought it a monumental risk, one that we would certainly regret.

Dermott Desmond, as it turns out, had doubts of his own, and he communicated those to Martin O’Neill, who told him, and quite rightly, to butt out, because as the manager the decision was his and he would stand or fall by it.

It turns out that I was dead wrong about Chris Sutton, in that I had changed my mind. Sutton was not simply a good player but a truly exceptional one, and playing alongside Henrik Larsson created a better partnership than those who had raved about Sutton and Shearer could have dared dream.

Chris Sutton was a great servant to Celtic, and I don’t doubt that, in a way, he loves the club.

Yet, I have grown honest-to-God tired of the way he expresses that, and I have no respect whatsoever for his decision to use the pages of a newspaper that loathes us in order to do it.

Before I get on to Chris Sutton, I want to say something about that paper.

Over the course of the last few months it has become clear, even to those who do not follow football, that there is no daily in print, in Scotland, which is quite so dishonest and unscrupulous as The Daily Record. That’s something when you consider that the competition includes The Scottish Daily Mail and The Scottish Sun.

If that paper had to stick to writing the truth it would have very little to write.

The contempt in which it holds its readers – to print, day after day, such flagrant, blatant, lies, propaganda and PR fluff masquerading as fact – is absolutely breath-taking in a commercial enterprise.

Not since Gerald Ratner and his tat-selling stores has there been a company that has so openly charged people money for the privilege of being insulted.

Both during, and in the aftermath of the independence referendum, it went well beyond a publication merely taking a side and printing only one side of the story. The Daily Record went full-tilt negative, and when that looked like it might not deliver the result its editor, and his political allies, wanted they got creative.

In the fullness of time, The Vow will do for the remainder of its credibility what Thugs & Thieves did. Whether you voted Yes or whether you voted No, the dishonest way in which they promoted that and are now scrambling madly to pretend the Smith Commission vindicates it is a gross insult to the intelligence of every person who has ever bought a copy of their rag.

During the week past, one of their journalists wrote a mind-boggling article suggesting that Celtic should send Alexander Tonev back to England, branded a racist, because of what a guy thought he heard for two seconds at a noisy Celtic Park.

Their reason? To spare the SFA from having to properly argue its own case.

That’s the level of this paper. That’s the calibre of what passes for “journalism” in its pages.

This discredited rag, more useful as novelty bog-roll than for “educating and informing”, is where Chris Sutton chooses to voice his “expert opinion” on everything that’s wrong at Celtic Park.

And what is his “opinion”? That one day Virgil Van Dijk will leave the club.

Did he really have to fire up brain cells to come up with that?

Does he actually believe it represents any kind of breakthrough in knowledge, or insight?

Way back in the days when I was writing for E-Tims, one of their other writers posted a wonderfully sarcastic article wherein he used a number of Daily Record buzzwords and phrases and constructed a story that was headlined “Celtic Fans In Shock At Larsson Revelation.”

And what was said revelation? That one day Henrik Larsson would be too old to play professional football.

That’s the level on which Sutton’s latest piece belongs.

He was a fine footballer, Big Chris. One of the best I’ve ever seen in the Hoops. But he is no journalist.

He doesn’t belong in a newspaper, far less that particular one.

In carving out his “media career” he shares a common space now with Derek Johnstone, who’s writing is just about foundation level in High School; Andy Goram, who can barely speak in complete sentences far less write them and Barry Ferguson, with his room temperature IQ.

It was a space once occupied by Craig Burley, whose piece on Scotland’s smaller clubs during the Sevco league vote of 2012 was so contemptible and contemptuous of everyone in the game – from the fans to the men in the boardrooms – that it ended his career at a stroke.

For their own good, these people should have been kept away from the word processor, yet here they are, spreading their “wisdom” and revealing their ignorance in the most shocking fashion.

Nothing could more acutely reveal the contempt in which the people who run our media hold us.

Sutton’s comments have riled me on a number of levels.

The first of which is the sheer disloyalty to Celtic and the fans that rings out in the piece. Can he not give credit to the people running the club? They’re trying something new with Deila, and the man needs time to get things together. The shoots of recovery have budded slowly, but they are there and we can now see them. Sutton and others are trying to create controversy where it doesn’t exist.

He thinks the club isn’t ambitious enough any longer. I agree with him, but only to a point. We ought to have invested for the Champions League. We didn’t, and it has cost us, but that’s something I’m willing to put down to it being Ronny’s first year in charge. He will know what he requires to crack it next season, and I sincerely hope he’ll get what he needs.

Everyone knows how I feel about that issue, but time will tell.

I’ll tell you this; ex players raving in the papers and stirring the soup … it won’t help the club one iota.

Sutton says the lack of ambition is one of the reasons for the empty stadiums.

The second is no Rangers in the top flight.

Let’s leave that one for a moment.

Like I said at the start, it must be nice to be a professional football player, with all that money in the bank.

Less so these days to be a football supporter, paying through the nose, and over the odds, to help enrich the likes of him.

I know this will be hard for someone like Sutton – who I assumed, wrongly, was a multimillionaire several times over – to fully grasp, but for some people life is tough. Every match attended is a sacrifice as much as a privilege. Some of these people spend way more money on football than they should. Others spend only up to the level that they can afford.

One of the reasons I am so thoroughly and completely pissed off with this “everything will be alright when Sevco are in the top flight” nonsense is that it makes a wholly unreasonable assumption about the fans; that many of us stay away because of the “lack of competition.”

How about the lack of money? How about the concept that maybe, just maybe, some can no longer afford to attend as many games as they used to?

The buying of a season ticket has become, for some, an expression of loyalty as much as intent to get to matches.

When you add in the cost of travel, the cost of food and all the other paraphernalia involved in going to the games these days you quickly realise that we’re talking about a bloody expensive pursuit here.

Not only will the NewCo not make the top division any more attractive, but the more the media pushes this line like a drug – that it’s the answer to all the problems – the more sure I am that if, and when, there is an Ibrox club in the top flight again they will push the prices ever higher to reflect the new “glamour” of the game.

That would be ripping the arse out of supporters who are already paying too much. A lot of the fans who are left will vote with their feet. The fragile recoveries of some clubs will be set back years, out of greed and stupidity.

The rising cost of football is not just a problem confined to Scotland, of course, but it’s here where my club plays and it’s here where my friends attend games.

Sutton believes the half empty Celtic Park is simply an expression of boredom. He is entitled to his opinion, in this case, which I think is an elitist view from an ex-player, and someone who ought not to have been counting pennies at this stage in his life.

For most people, financial hard times are just where it’s at, and George Osborne and David Cameron can rejoice at the “end of the recession” all they want, but people know there’s less money in their pockets than there was before.

They know football is not a necessity when we live in a time of soaring prices and salaries that are remaining stagnant.

You know what though? It’s not disloyalty or the blindness of distance that bothers me here.

What really bothers me is that Chris Sutton seems to be in a more forgiving mood than is rational.

I remember Chris Sutton on the point of strangling a TV journalist on the day Rangers won the title with their win over Dunfermline. I remember it like it was yesterday. He was furious, and he accused the East End Park club of “lying down.”

Sutton was up here long enough to understand certain fundamental truths, and one of those truths is that he lost league winners medals to a team that won them by cheating. Apart from anything else, that league title gave them a shot in the arm without which they’d have been in deep trouble.

It was the era of EBT’s. It was the time of financial doping.

You cannot look at the present shambles at Sevco without developing the distinct feeling that this is an organisation that learned nothing from those days. There is no sign of humility or self realisation.

The same arrogance permeates the place. Many of its fans remain ungrateful bigots for whom hate is the default position.

The club is still spending money it doesn’t have, and the whole of Scottish football is still being run as if they are the only team that matters.

Why in God’s name is Chris Sutton joining the horde of those who’re pushing this notion that Scottish football needs this club? That Celtic do?

He should know, as well as anyone, what damage they’ve done.

Chris, I loved you as a player but you should be flogged before being allowed near a keyboard.

Even if some of what you write were not disrespectful to the people who’re working at Celtic right now, even if it were not horrendously disloyal, any good sense you speak would be automatically lost, and devalued, at once, by your decision to choose the most dishonourable rag in the business in which to do it.

Your lack of understanding of why fans are going to games is shocking, but I would have excused that point of view, as one from behind lace curtains and gilded windows. Except that you no longer have those, which explains how you’ve wound up writing anti-Celtic crap for that lot.

Worst of all though is that you are pushing the Victim Myth and the Survival Myth and, most horrible of all right now, the Scottish Football Needs Rangers Myth, the consequences of which I’ll be writing about later this week, in a little more detail.

It disrespects every other club in the land. It promotes dangerous attitudes amongst our media. It gives succour to the enemies of the game, those who will hide behind your “Celtic credentials” as the proof that it’s us, the people who are opposed to the concept and the potential rule bending it might usher in, who are the real outsiders, who are the one’s who’re out of touch.

One of the marks of a great striker, which you undoubtedly were, is anticipation. It depends not only on being sure of your own position, but of being able to read what your opponents, as well as your team-mates, might do.

How the Hell did it fail you so badly here?

Why are you in such a forgiving mood all of a sudden?

This article has been amended from the original, due to some people drawing my attention to a piece on Chris Sutton filing for bankruptcy.

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The Second Chance Saloon

2118786_w3I’m a huge fan of The Killers, and their song Andy You’re a Star opens with the line “On the field I remember you were incredible …”

A later line states that “In the staffroom the verdict is in.”

I don’t know if there’s someone at Legia Warsaw, or at UEFA, called Andy (I daresay the latter is more likely than the former) but I’d like to offer him my thanks regardless.

On the field we were anything but incredible, but the backroom verdict has secured us a bizarre place in the next round of the Champions League.

We are now two matches from being in the group stage draw when it is made in a few weeks.

We do not deserve it, although the decision is clearly, unequivocally, 100% right, but we are there.

Now we have to earn it. We have to justify that place, and we have to add to the squad. We can bring in one player, and we have a short time in which to do it. Celtic, and in particular Peter Lawwell, are in the Second Chance Saloon, but in many ways it’s also the Last Chance Saloon.

Talk about a left-handed gift from the Gods.

In the song The River Is Wild there’s a lyric which says “You always hold your head up high, but it’s a long, long, long, long way down”, and I don’t think there’s a single person in the Celtic support who doesn’t realise that well by now. If we go into the group stages with the present squad there is every chance we will be trounced, no matter how high we hold our heads. Ronny Deila knows this team is inadequate to the task at hand, and knows he needs to bring quality in. On top of the one player we can add to the squad before this game we can add another two for the Groups, as straight swaps for players already registered, and for the good of the club it simply must happen.

Where do we need to strengthen? Who’s out there who we could get, who’d come in and do a job for us? Well as another song says, “If I only knew the answer I wouldn’t be bothering you …” One would assume we have a list of players somewhere, who’ve already been scouted, and we can presume that the manager has ideas of his own on that score, so there will be no shortage of candidates. I would think we need a central defender, one iron midfielder and a striker. The striker is going to be the make-or-break signing. If we get the right guy, not only will we stand a better chance of winning games on that stage but we’ll be very well placed to roll over all comers in Scotland.

The more one looks at the off-field activities of young Leigh Griffiths the more I see my own question of when he was signed, and which I asked in a piece on this site, coming back to haunt me. I love this guy as a player, but it’s become increasingly hard to defend him as a person and I think we’re probably going to have to cut our losses on this guy and sell him before something he does compels us to act far more harshly, and at great financial cost to us.

Tony Stokes, who I’ve always believed was a player perfectly suited to Scotland but not really cut out for playing anywhere else, is another who’s reportedly got some off-field issues. I don’t want to come over all moralising, but it does our club no credit to have a player going to court over an assault charge. It might have been dealt with internally, and he might have agreed to watch his step in future, but that will be of little consequence when his case comes up.

I am more concerned with how he does on the park anyway. He scored a goal last night, and set us on our way to a 3-0 win, and his record in this country is generally excellent, but he’s never going to be a Champions League player, as has been proven over the last year.

Both players will be under pressure now that a tough disciplinarian is in charge. I actually expect both to be allowed to leave, with persistent rumours that Griffiths is on his way back to Hibs on loan. This seems, to me, an ideal solution all round as long as we can bring in a replacement. He would add firepower to a team which will run Sevco Rangers close this season, and that, on its own, the chance to throw a spanner in their works, is a good reason to let him return to a club where he’s known, loved and appreciated, off-field antics and all.

But I repeat again; only if we bring someone else in.

Celtic needs something more than either of these two can offer.

The club needs a proven scorer, who can do it at that level. They are out there. Scott McDonald and Gary Hooper were not in the Larsson bracket, but they proved themselves on that stage, the Australian in particular. We need someone of real quality, good with the ball at his feet, composed and able to beat world class goalkeepers.

The American striker, playing at AZ in Holland, Aron Jóhannsson, appears to tick those boxes and speculation has linked with a move. He would be a welcome addition to the squad, and a belated sign of ambition.

The talent is out there, and I accept that some of these guys won’t come to Scotland. We only have to look at the French midfielder who prefers Belgium to playing in the SPL to realise that. But like everything else in football, money is going to talk.

The wage cap at Celtic Park is the biggest barrier to us bringing players into the club. Ronny Deila has said, worryingly, that he has the transfer cash but that wages are going to be the problem. It’s tempting to see this as a stalling tactic, especially when it comes with “jam tomorrow” suggestions that perhaps the January window might bear more fruit.

Now, before I go on, let me state that I’m not suggesting we pay players whatever they want, or whatever it takes to get them to don the Celtic strip and keep it on, because I believe there’s an argument for saying that in some places football wages are utterly obscene. Yet, I do believe there is a “market value” for football salaries, separate from some of the over the top ones that are paid in England and by the top teams in Spain and elsewhere.

This notion of a “wage structure” is common sense, but to cap it at a level which will never allow us to attract good players is nonsense, and the argument in favour of it – that it will affect morale in the dressing room if certain players are better paid than others – is sheer baloney. We all know that there are people in the Celtic dressing room right now who barely justify the salaries we are paying them at the moment. The idea that signing a top class finisher and putting him on £25,000 a week would have Tony Stokes or Charlie Mulgrew banging the manager’s door and asking for wage parity is, as I think most of you know, laughable.

They wouldn’t get it anywhere else. Why should they get it at Celtic Park? Pay players what they are worth and not a penny more.

Beyond that point, you don’t bow to the insanity of paying someone £50,000 or £100,000 a week, because even if that was within our reach it’s not something I ever want our club to “aspire to”, but make your very best players feel appreciated, give them a comfortable living, show ambition by surrounding them with other quality footballers and I would stipulate that you’ll find, for many of them, they have a fair idea in their own heads as to when it stops being about money, and that is how you turn the head of a Celtic first team player who is being courted by teams like Southampton.

Take Gary Hooper. He’s at the sharp end of his career now, playing in England for a mid-table team. His best football might yet be in front of him, but the glory days, of playing in the biggest club football tournament on the planet, in front of 60,000 fans, of winning trophies, league titles, having not only respect but the status of a hero … they’re behind him now.

Am I saying giving Hooper £30,000 a week would have kept him in a Celtic shirt? I don’t know, but I do know he realised the team around him was going to be dismantled in short order. He had no reason to believe we were going to build on it, and get better.

No matter how much money you are paying a player, if the chance of glory is going to elude him you won’t keep him, no matter what. Look at the players down south, at clubs like Spurs, who have lobbied for moves to City or Chelsea or Barcelona or Madrid. It wasn’t all about money. Spurs could have offered Gareth Bale anything he wanted, but he wanted to go to a club where he thought he would win things.

Some footballers have ambitions beyond money.

For all that, I think Gary Hooper probably regrets the move. He’s doubled his salary, doubtless, but ask any top class player, in they years after the game, how much of their money they’d swap for title winners medals, for cup final memories, for playing on the biggest stage of all, and I think you might be surprised at the answer you’d get.

Celtic has been granted one Hell of a reprieve here, and only the maddest person who’s ever been handed a Get Out of Jail Free card tries to manoeuvre his or herself back between those four walls. If this club demonstrates ambition, with just one signing of quality, before this window shuts I will take it as the most positive thing we’ve done in a long, long time. If we get through the Maribor tie, two more statements of intent will give the manager something to work with and give the supporters a genuine reason to believe.

Ronny Deila’s ideas impress me. They can work, and they can make Celtic into a real force again, but only if he is given the support he needs, the support the board never properly gave Neil Lennon.

Celtic has to be about more than the balance sheet, about more than just buying to sell. We have a chance, under a young manager with big ideas, to develop a squad, keep them together as long as we can – as opposed to selling when the first crazy offer comes in – and making something special happen. If, and only if, we alter course and start acting like we mean business again.

The board has been handed a stunning reprieve from even tougher questions than we’ve been asking. They have one last, golden, opportunity to re-energise the whole club.

Hell mend them if they waste it.

This is their last chance to prove they are worth the sweat of those who’ve defended them these last few weeks.

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Oh My God, They Signed Kenny!

killed-kennyIn The Art of War, Sun Tzu writes about studying the enemy’s actions, in order to understand what he is thinking, and from there to infer what it is he intends to do next.

This is the basis of the present day art of “military intelligence”, and its offshoot, which some in the services call Enemy Intentions, a specialist unit whose name is usually clipped to only the second word.

In Intentions they study the enemy 24 hours a day, theorising on future events by studying their own predictions from the past and how they panned out. In Intentions they believe in learning from experience. They don’t make the same mistake twice.

How about watching your opponents making the same mistake three times? How about watching a strategy unfold which appears to make no sense whatsoever? What if you were peering through the haze at an enemy who’d already been completely routed once, and who’s response to it seemed to be little better than the one that saw them defeated so comprehensively last time around?

You’d conclude you were either facing an enemy of almost galactic cunning, or one so stupid he shouldn’t be allowed to command troops in the field.

Which are we facing, as we look across the city at the moment?

I would stipulate that the Royal War College won’t be handing Ally and the board at Ibrox any strategic planning awards in the near future.

What in God’s name are they doing?

They’ve allowed talented young players, like Andy Little and Charlie Telfer, to waltz off into the sunset, so they could find the money to re-sign a thirty-four year old trying to earn one last wage packet out of the game. It is illogical. It is nonsensical. Yet it’s happening, right in front of our eyes. What are we to make of it?

Sevco fans are no wiser than we are, even those who believe Miller might actually be a good signing., albeit for the short term. They all acknowledge that he won’t be around for their club’s first foray into Europe or probably beyond this season. This is not “one for the future.” This is a club surviving hand to mouth, trying to cobble together the resources to get from one day to the next in a state that looks halfway organised.

But it only looks organised if you’re standing really far away … with your eyes shut.

The absolute absence of any kind of strategy at all is encapsulated in this signing. In it is locked every form of myopia and lack of imagination which bedevils the club. These days when I think of Sevco Rangers I find it instructive to think of Ibrox as the Amityville Horror House. There’s a different family in the house now, but the ghosts of the one before it still whisper in the hallways at night. The same malefic spirits that drove the previous inhabitants mad are weaving evil spells around the new tenants.

That madness has led to the wholesale repeating of every mistake that sunk the OldCo like a stone. Pursuing glory with a chequebook is not an original idea in sport, far less in football, but ordinarily the chequebook actually belongs to the club in question, and there’s not usually much chance of the cheques bouncing. At Ibrox now, anything could happen. Even the shareholders find it hard to get verification on how much money is left in the kitty, and in particular those who’ve loaned the club what it needs to keep the lights on thus far.

The Miller signing has been spun in some quarters as a response to what ails them, instead of a symptom of the disease. It’s been labelled a necessity, to keep the forward momentum going. Those of us with a modicum of sense know this is sheer nonsense. This is not about forward momentum. For a club in the financial chaos of this one, forward momentum is best served by staying alive, not speeding towards the grave. Hearts fans know they had to go down in order to rise up again. Hibs fans are coming to realise that what’s just happened to their own club might be a blessing in disguise. They need root and branch transformation, and that can only come with a period away from the top flight.

Those clubs will develop their forward momentum the right way. They will reinvent themselves, putting the pieces in place one at a time, with the objective of returning to the top flight in a better state than they were in the years before they went down. Those clubs will improve for what’s befallen them.

Sevco Rangers, in their rush to get into the spotlight, are trying to make the journey in a boat that’s got more holes in it than the plot of a Jerry Bruckheimer movie, and this is only the beginning of their peculiar insanity, because if they make it to the SPL next season it will not matter what state the books are in, because some deluded halfwits in their support and in the media will still insist they try to “catch Celtic.”

There was much hilarity on the Sevco websites – and on RangersMedia in particular – about Celtic’s apparent pursuit of Roy Keane. They argued – and I agreed with them, by the way, as our last article demonstrates clearly – that it would have been a risky and potentially hugely destabilising move. I went much further on Facebook than I was willing to go in the piece, but not only did I not believe Keane would be appointed manager because of the huge contradictions between his way of doing things and “the strategy”, but no matter my feelings on the failures of that strategy, I didn’t want to see the whole thing thrown over the side for a manager with a reputation for being hard to work with.

The mooted appointment of Ronny Deila is much more like it from the club. It fits into the strategy in many ways, but in others it is a break from the “comfort zone” of appointing people who have some emotional tie to Celtic. In other words, it’s daring, ambitious, thinking outside the box … the kind of appointment that could take Celtic over the hills and far away, leaving Sevco trailing in our wake for a decade or more.

It is thinking beyond the horizon. It is the kind of appointment only a board of directors who see the bigger picture could have, and would have, made.

It’s the polar opposite of what is going at Sevco. At the very moment we’re showing our hand and moving into the future, Sevco are reaching back into the past to sign an overpaid has-been. Whilst we are building for the long term, they are abandoning strategic planning entirely and going for the quick fix … and that always ends in tears.

Few outside Ibrox see the Miller signing as anything other than one born of desperation and lack of imagination. I suspect many inside Ibrox see it the same way.

What can you do, though? Peering through the fog on the battlefield I don’t only see an opponent without a plan, I see one bereft of leadership, a headless, disorganised rabble.

Everything I’ve heard about Deila thus far suggests he’s a long-term thinker, a planner, a tactician. If he is, he has more in his locker than in the whole of Ibrox Stadium. I hope tomorrow’s piece welcomes him to Celtic Park.

If it does, then it’s “welcome to the future.”

Doesn’t it look an awful lot like the past in some ways?

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