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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