An honest assessment…

March 1, 2010

Apologies for my break in blogging. I spent much of that time researching for my commentary of the Suwon Bluewings v Gamba Osaka, but more on that later. I’ve been especially quiet on the topic of Celtic, simply because I’m sick of repeating myself, but after yesterday’s Old Firm I guess it is only right for me to address them again, so here goes.

What a mess we’re in. The club has me tearing my hair out in despair right now, and our lack of quality and leadership is evident for all to see. But before I get into that, I have to talk about the fans actions in the minute silence for Gerry Neef, the ex-Rangers keeper who died last week.

Regular readers will know how I felt about the actions of the mindless few at Falkirk on Remembrance Sunday and I feel exactly the same this time. By disrupting the silence, these “supporters” shamed themselves and our club. My father-in-law believes we should go to a minute’s applause for all these periods of respect, to ensure the idiots can be drowned out. Whilst I totally understand his perspective, I still think this can be massively inappropriate. Instead, I’d suggest those who booed are pointed out by our own supporters and ejected from the ground. Now this may infringe the ‘right of protest’ in the country, but when inside a football ground you have to abide by its rules. If you don’t like it, stay at home and don’t embarrass your club.

And on to the game itself. Like many other Celtic fans, I felt greatly aggrieved by Scott Brown’s red card. Indeed, Kyle Lafferty has ‘form’ for play-acting, and I’d like to think the SPL will look at this, but once again it seems the major decisions have gone against us. Quite how Bougherra managed to get through 90 minutes I’ll never know, and yesterday I felt quite bitter towards referee Dougie McDonald. However, that truly is deflecting blame, and instead, we should be looking at the players and the management team.

In a match we HAD to win, we didn’t even win a single corner. We had 4 attempts on goal, only two were on target, compared to the 14 efforts on goal Rangers mustered. Quite simply, (and I say this through gritted teeth) Rangers were far superior to us on the day. As a result, the championship has certainly passed us by for another year.

We are bereft of quality in the midfield, with no creative spark, nobody with the desire to dominate the opposition, and utterly shambolic at the back. The amount of times a simple through ball destroyed our defence is no joke at all, and reminded me of the earlier game at Ibrox. So what does this show us? It shows us that despite giving Mowbray the time I and many others called for, he’s not up to scratch.

As an ex-central defender, he should have us organised at the back, yet all season long, the defence has been our achilles heel. His vision of expansive, attacking football can only be played with a water-tight defence, yet Mowbray seems to be incapable of this. I have toyed with the idea of allowing him another season to get it right, but now I want him gone as soon as possible. He seems to make some utterly bewildering decisions, too.

Looking at our side, and our form going into Ibrox, Ray Charles could have told you to leave McGeady out. His form is abysmal, and a period on the bench is just what he needs. Then there are our options up front. In a match we had to win, we needed to go with our best goalscoring line up. That does not include Fortune. Morten Rasmussen has proved already he is capable of scoring goals, yet he’s been brought in to keep the bench warm. Why? A front two of Keane and Rasmussen was the best opportunity we had of nicking a goal in a game where chances were at a premium, and if Rasmussen had the opportunity Fortune had, I’d have backed him to at least work the goalkeeper.

However, we’d have had an even better chance if we had changed our system to 4-3-3. If we had played narrower in the centre of the park with three central midfielders, it would have allowed us to really get on top of Rangers. This would not only help our young central defenders, it would also enable us to use the pace of Keane and Kamara down the channels, with Rasmussen playing in the 6-yard box. And if I can see this, why can’t Mowbray?

This next paragraph may be deeply unpopular with a section of our support, but say it I shall. Can you honestly tell me that you think Gordon Strachan’s Celtic side would have been effectively 13 points adrift by the first of March? Anybody who answers ‘yes’ is either a liar, a fool, or a Rangers fan.

Quite simply, to be 13 points behind Rangers to a team including Gascoigne, Laudrup et-al is horrendous, but understandable. To be 13 points behind THIS Rangers team is just downright incompetent, and Mowbray should pay with his job.

I’m all for backing a manager, but that manager has to be up to the job. Mowbray has given a clear indication that he is not. Pack your bags ‘Mogga’. The time has come to stand aside.

Since Gordon Strachan got the Middlesborough job, there have been a few quotes by him in the press about his time up at Parkhead. Most of them have made me smile, such as his claim he could be “Prime Minister after managing Celtic”. I can certainly understand the comparison, as it’s fair to see we’re a demanding bunch.

Generally, I was supportive of Strachan during his management. I liked his spiky interviews, and I would happily acknowledge he brought us success in his 4 years. Anybody who denies this is certainly misguided.

However, his latest claim that he left a side full of quality is laughable, to say the least. Strachan’s side lost the title to the poorest Rangers team in living memory, and the one true piece of quality in Strachan’s squad left at the same time he did.

I think even the few Celtic fans who didn’t rate Nakamura during his time with us will now hold up their hands and acknowledge what he contributed. We certainly lack his creativity this season, and as much as Shaun Maloney is trying to fill the void, we are struggling out wide.

So why do I disagree with ‘wee Gordon’? Well, if you’d seen us play I wouldn’t need to answer that, but I appreciate that neutrals may read this too, so here goes.

Defensively, we’re shambolic. We really struggle at centre half, and I’m yet to be convinced by any of the three central defenders we have in the squad. At right back, we’re pretty strong, with Hinkel being one of our best players this year. We also have good cover, with youngster Paul Caddis and Mark Wilson both reasonable alternatives. However, Strachan’s left back is woeful. Lee Naylor had one good season, but since then he’s been shocking. It is worth noting that his position was highlighted almost instantaneously by Mowbray, who brought in Danny Fox.

In the centre of midfield, there is a whole load of effort yet not too much quality. My own personal favourite player at the club is Barry Robson, but that is for his desire and tenacity. He does have some quality, but he needs a real footballer to play alongside him. Next we have Scott Brown, who is an enigma. I think we can all see he does have ability, yet he is so frustrating as time and again he won’t deliver. Next, there is Spanish youngster Marc Crosas, a player who is full of promise, perhaps the best passer of the ball at the club, and yet still unproven, even at SPL level.

Strachan also left Massimo Donati, a player who cost nearly £3 million, whom I’ll refuse to comment on in a family-friendly blog. And much like Nakamura, Paul Hartley’s contract expired at the time Strachan left, and so he was also allowed to leave.

Out wide, we have great potential. McGeady, Maloney, McGinn and the mercurial McCourt all have bags of ability. However, none of these players have the same quality as Nakamura. Indeed, McGeady and Nakamura had a great understanding, regularly switching wings, and in my opinion this understanding made McGeady a better player. As a result, none of our creative players are what I would call ‘in their prime’, and all are players for the future. Koki Mizuno can also be added to this list, another decent player, but one we are still undecided on.

Up front, we have real problems. Scott McDonald is our obvious starter, a striker who can score goals if he is given the service. However, Strachan made his biggest mistake in his time at Celtic by not signing a strike partner for him. Instead, we have the world’s most frustrating player, Georgios Samaras, an unproven Chris Killen and two youngsters (Hutchinson and Sheridan).

‘Skippy’s’ favourite strike partner was allowed to leave after a miserable campaign, but even he was a proven Dutch international. As a result, and this is a controversial opinion I know, our squad has deteriorated since he left.

The ONLY area of the team where Strachan truly did leave us with quality was in goal.

As a result, Mowbray has a massive job on his hands overhauling our squad. Too many average players who lack real quality. What I’d give for another Lubo in this current bunch! I agree entirely with him questioning players ability in public in order to force a reaction. However, I bet he can’t wait for the transfer window to open again.

If I was him, I’d start by calling Strachan and his newly-acquired Middlesborough chequebook.