Defensive frailties…again

December 21, 2009

This weekend has seen yet another example of the defensive frailties plaguing Celtic this year. Firstly, we go three nil down after a mere quarter of an hour in our Europa League game, and then the lack of communication between Gary Caldwell and Glenn Loovens saw us fall to yet another league defeat. Simply put, it isn’t good enough.

Big Mick McManus hardly covered himself in glory on Thursday night, but Loovens looked like he’d never even played the game before. He was certainly at fault for one of the goals, probably for two, yet somehow managed to keep his place at Tynecastle. And let’s get something straight here; Heid’s red card was the Dutchman’s fault, not his own.

It was Loovens who took the decision to let the ball cross his path, and Caldwell had no choice but to make a challenge. On another day, he might have got away with it, but even through my green-tinted specs I think it was a penalty. However, Loovens didn’t learn his lesson, and looked like an amateur throughout the match. The quicker we can get O’Dea back the better, but we also have to question big Mogga here.

As an ex central defender, the performance of our side at the back will be giving him nightmares. However, he has a responsibility to improve this on the training field, but I can’t see any evidence that he is. Perhaps he is trying to roll with the punches, waiting for January to bring in two new centre halves. However, if we keep playing like we are at the back, we may be out of the title race come the end of January.

Mowbray then has a responsibility to get hold of his centre halves and improve their performance. I think the time has come to tell these players that unless they start performing, they will be gone in January. This then brings me on to the board.

Now despite what we all think, the board are not idiots. They can see the dwindling crowds, and they can also see the errors on the pitch. They will be aware of the positions Mowbray needs..sorry, MUST..improve on, and it is up to them to provide the additional cash boost. They will also be aware that 2nd leads to having to qualify for the Champions League, even if they are somewhat unaware of our expectations as supporters (which they clearly are not, hence their constant ‘no debt’ argument. I’d like to see the trophy that’s awarded for having no debt) and after the experience of last season, I am confident we will see a reasonable amount of money given to the manager.

Otherwise, we’ll find ourselves slipping even further into mediocrity. We cannot allow that to happen.

PS Did anybody see Soccer Saturday on, well, Saturday? I’m a big fan of the show, but I was a little perturbed at about three o’clock. Jeff Stelling read out the team sheet of South Korean side Pohang Steelers, who had just beaten Atlante on penalties to come third in the World Club Championship. He and the panel then joined in a game of ‘laugh at the funny names’, and assured us that ‘Kim must have scored one of the penalties’. As a good friend of mine said ‘Isn’t that like assuring us that the goalscorer of Cameroon’s winner is black?’

Am I being a bit sensitive to this casual racism, or did anybody else feel a little uncomfortable with what was happening on your screen? Please do let me know.

There are a few thing in the game which really frustrate me right now. One of those is diving, but I’ve covered that one before. Another is defenders not being penalised for obstruction when they make no effort to play the ball as it rolls out for a goal kick, yet they do everything they can to stop the attacker from playing it. Thirdly is the number of players who aren’t penalised in the box at set pieces, despite their actions belonging in a WWE wrestling ring. But the biggest one by a million miles is players being penalised for slide tackles, despite winning the ball.

There were a few of these over the weekend. Celtic captain ‘Mick’ McManus was penalised on the edge of the box for a tackle where he clearly won the ball, but the worst one this weekend was in the La Liga match between Sportin Gijon and Real Madrid. Sergio Ramos made a fantastic tackle, clearly winning the ball, and not only was he penalised but he was booked too!

Now I appreciate that an effort has been made to protect the more skillfull players, and to outlaw the type of defending we used to see from the Italians and ‘Chopper’ Harris, but now it has gone too far. I don’t know about you, but when I go to games I like to see players showing commitment, fighting for the shirt, and the crowd can get just as excited about a great sliding challenge as they do when their team wins a corner.

However, FIFA’s new requirement to referees to book players for ‘violent intent’ is a nonsense. It makes me wonder if the rule changes are dreamt up while some clown watches the NBA, and is seriously something which needs to be reversed for the good of the game.

I want to see attacking football as much as the next man, but I also want to see a midfield battle and I appreciate ‘the art of defending’. However, the way we are going any type of contact at all is leading to a free kick. This makes an absolute mockery of the sport.

What is particularly annoying is that while fair tackles are being penalised, we also get to see actions like those of River Plate striker Ariel Ortega in yesterday’s River-Boca game. Ortega did his bit to get Boca defender Julio César Cáceres sent off by going down holding his face despite the tiniest amount of contact on his chest. Seriously, it was like Dida and Rivaldo all over again, and there is only word that accurately describes his actions: cheating.

The net result of this is a poorer game (or ‘product’, as some insist on calling it) all round, played by cheats and wimps more concerned with their hair gel than playing for their fans. Is it any wonder that English Rugby players know the Premier League as the ‘Brylcreem Premiership’? Football is supposed to be a contact sport, yet some players would be better off on a diving board, or maybe starring in the ‘Scottish Play’ than being on the football pitch.

I’d humbly suggest that FIFA sit down and reassess their priorities with the way the laws of the game are changing, or they’ll slowly start turning fans away from the ‘beautiful game’.

Still, there’s always basketball eh?