August 28, 2010

My apologies for the delayed blog, once again I’ve spent my weekend commentating (and I will be commentating again on the Cruz Azul v Tigres match tonight, too) so I have not had an opportunity to dissect Thursday night’s atrocity. Before I start, I’m sure some of you didn’t get to see the game thanks to it not being available on TV, so here is the YouTube highlights clip.

So what can I say that hasn’t been said before? Truth be told, not much at all. It was a woefully inept performance, and the great promise from the previous week’s comfortable victory had disappeared after 20 minutes. I don’t know about you, but after the second penalty had been given, I knew that only one side were going through.

But then there are the goals themselves. The first one was a naive challenge from Hooiveld, a guy who seems to have a mouth as wide as the Clyde, and he gave the referee a question to answer after just 12 minutes. (I’m sick of hearing about Hooiveld’s opinions in the press, declaring that he wants to be ‘our leader’ and the like, when he is frankly ordinary on the field. Here’s a hint, Jos, if you want to be skipper EARN it. Show us some leadership on the park instead of the press conference.)

The second penalty was even worse. There’s an infamous saying when learning the game of football of “if in doubt, kick it out”. I’m not sure what the Polish, or indeed, the Korean version of that saying is, but I’d suggest that Lenny looks it up pronto. Both Zaluska and Cha had an opportunity to put the ball out of play for a throw in, yet instead they manage to give the ball away and a silly penalty is the result.

Then after the second half kicks off, Lennon’s words surely ringing in the players’ ears, and the phrase “keep it tight” was surely that very message, we concede another ridiculous goal. Why could none of our defenders get a challenge in, or at the very least bring the winger down on the half-way line before he can get to the edge of our box? OK it’s cynical, but why not? Italian sides have done it since the dawn of time. At 3-0 the game is done, and the fourth doesn’t even need talking about.

So we have no European adventure, either in the cash-rich Champions League or the consolation prize of the Europa League.  Now I’ve heard many fans try and be bullish about this, claiming that our defeats will make us stronger over the course of the season, and that without the distraction of European football the squad will become more focused on the league title. What utter tripe.

The effect of this defeat will not be felt this season, but next, and the year after that. No, I’m not talking about the financial side of the defeat, but about the club’s reputation around Europe. Celtic is still a massive name, but that only gets you so far. Players of quality will not sign unless they feel the move can benefit their career, sometimes financially, but also on the field. Will a move to Celtic right now help anybody’s international prospects? Of course not, you’d be better off in the English Championship. The lack of European football this season will make players think not just twice, but three times or more about a move to Parkhead. Why move to a club that cannot give you that platform of Europe to play on?

However, the problem is not just limited to Celtic. Motherwell, Dundee United and Hibs are all out of Europe before September as well, and as much as it pains me to say this, Scottish football is a joke. Although it is becoming more competitive, this is simply because the standards of both Celtic and Rangers have slipped beyond recognition. Changes need to be made now from the SFA, the SPL and the SFL (having one football body would be a good start.)

We also need to move the time of the season. One of the reasons so many clubs struggle in these early preliminary rounds is because they are still rusty from pre-season. Clubs in Scandanavia and Russia start their seasons early because of the weather, but if the Scottish season began in May then late June or early July European games would see all of our clubs in full swing of the domestic campaign, and as such, rustiness is no longer an issue.

Sure, there are possible problems to this (the transfer window for one, and the possibility of a 12 month season if one of our clubs is lucky enough to make a European final again, and of course, the World Cup) but it has to be worth investigating, especially now there is only one Champions League spot up for grabs, and it could take THREE qualifying rounds.  This can hopefully lead to a couple of sides sneaking into the European arena again. This in turn will see a return of prestige, and more importantly, cash to the Scottish game.

This really isn’t a new idea, and that I accept, but without urgent changes the Scottish league will become as prestigious of that in Wales. Dark days then for the game north of the border, and it’s time for fans to make their voices heard.

A complete revolution is the only answer.

So, another European night has passed by, and still Celtic haven’t managed a win. Yes, this means we’re hanging on in the Europa League by the skin of our teeth, and Rangers are as good-as-gone from the Champions League. Not only this, but Scotland’s other representatives suffered defeats in the Europa League qualifying rounds to really damage the co-efficent.  A bad season in Europe all round for the game north of the border, but I’d argue last night provided a smidgen of optimism for Celtic at least.

Hamburg are one hell of a side. The German Bundesliga is one of the top leagues in Europe, and just this summer they spent £12 million on young Swedish striker Marcus Berg just to warm their bench . That is investment we can only dream of at Parkhead. That kind of money has taken them up to second in their domestic league table, and should see them in the Champions League next season.

Of course, we saw just how good they were when they beat us on our own patch a couple of weeks ago. So then, I’d imagine many shared my trepidation ahead of last night’s match at the Nordbank Arena. However, what was to follow was a thoroughly decent Celtic performance, and we were so unfortunate not to get the win we craved.

If Scott McDonald had taken a modicum of form into the match we’d have been two goals clear at the break, and Barry Robson should have perhaps done better early on. Granted, second half we were quieter, but Samaras should certainly have scored when put through by N’Guemo. And for once, we coped at the back. I’ve lost count of the number of away days where we’ve just surrendered goals without making our opposition work for them, yet last night I think we can be proud of our defenders.

Now that’s not to say we don’t have problems. I’ve said in previous blogs that Mogga should rip the squad apart in January, and bring in the type of player that suits his style of play. Indeed, our biggest problem last night was our inability to put the ball in the net, something which has haunted us since last season, so a new striker is a must.

However, I for one would like to congratulate the players on a thoroughly creditable performance last night. A few more like that and the title will undoubtedly be back at Paradise in May. After all, nothing else will do.

I believe it was Bill Shankly who once said “First is First. Second is nothing”. Touche, Mr Shankly, Touche.

Pressure in football management is par-for-the-course, but nowhere is more unforgiving than when you take one of the big jobs in Glasgow.

Tony Mowbray, who is barely a dozen competitive games into his new job, is already swatting away questions from reporters about his performance in the Parkhead hotseat.

“Hopefully, the vast majority of Celtic supporters understand the journey that we’re on,” Mowbray said. “This team will change as time moves on. It’s my responsibility to do that. With every window of opportunity you try to improve your team. As time goes on you do the best you can. A new manager surely he has a right to build a new team.

“You can only move people in the transfer windows, so when those windows open you try to improve on the quality you have. Nobody is saying here that [a specific player] will leave, but in time competition [for places] will be created, and people will fall by the wayside. That happens at every club. As the next window comes and signings arrive, you’ll see competition.”

The man talks a lot of sense. After only ONE transfer window, I can’t believe there are already murmours of discontent from the terraces to go alongside the questions raised in the press. Yes, the squad at this moment is very poor, with a real lack of quality but as I’ve said til I’m blue in the face, this is not Mogga’s squad. He made a couple of signings in the transfer window, one of whom got injured very quickly, but Mowbray didn’t really have the time to fully judge his squad when he came in. As a result, blaming him for the lack of quality is grossly unfair.

In my opinion, our best player is only just breaking back into the squad after a long injury (Robson) and with him back in the side our fortunes will improve. On top of this, Mowbray has already issued a warning to his squad claiming he’d be willing to bring in TEN players in during the transfer window.

By this evidence, Mowbray can see how poor we are as a squad. And yet we have clowns within the support calling him “a muppet”, “inept” and other, less printable insults. It has to stop. We as a fan base need to get behind our manager, who has the club in his heart and the drivel we see on the pitch hurts him as much as it hurts us.

Statistics tell us that clubs who back their managers achieve more success than those who constantly chop and change them. We know that Mowbray likes to play football, the type of football we want to see at Paradise again. For Mowbray to bring us that brand of attacking football again we need to show him some support from the terraces.

I’d like to hope that support will begin tonight in the Europa League game against Hamburg.