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.

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Back in the hunt?

February 10, 2010

After the Kilmarnock game a week ago, I didn’t think I’d be writing this. And I know it could yet bite me on the backside, but as I type I just don’t care. My feelings have fluctuated from huge optimism to wanting to jump off a bridge when I consider Celtic’s season. However, a good result tonight against a well-organised Hearts side has seen us lay the ghost of last week, and that is boosted by Rangers dropping points at Motherwell.

Now, the lead is down to 8 points. Of course, if you read the papers many will tell you that the title is good as over, and we may as well give up the chase. Nonsense. However, it will take a degree of consistency on our part. A run similar to the one under Strachan where we put 7 wins together to nick the championship at the death.

However, if come the first day of next month we’ve put three wins together (against Aberdeen, Dundee United and Rangers) and are within 5 points of our Old Firm rivals, make no mistake about it, we’re in this title race. Indeed, with the strength of our squad, the ludicrous notion put forward by Lee McCullock last week may hold some water.

But there are a lot of ‘ifs’. Right now, despite the huge lead Rangers have, we can only worry about ourselves. That means working hard on the training ground to cut out silly mistakes. It also invariably means Robbie Keane taking the chances he’s currently missing, and possibly means ‘Mogga’ putting Rasmussen in the starting 11.

But whisper this quietly: if we’re 9 points better off come the 28th, we could just do this.

Keep the faith, Bhoys and Ghirls…

And so the window begins…

January 13, 2010

So the moment we’ve been waiting for…a bit of transfer activity at Celtic Park. Gary ‘Heid’ Caldwell has left to join Wigan and been replaced by 6’3 Dutchman, Jos Hooiveld from AIK. It also appears that Willo Flood, Chris Killen and Barry Robson look set to sign for Middlesbrough as Tony Mowbray clears some of his squad.

Now I’ve been quite critical of Caldwell this year, and I genuinely believe his contract situation has affected his performances. However, he has been one of our best defenders the last couple of years, so he leaves with my best wishes and thanks. That being said, there is part of me that is looking forward to seeing a combination of Titus Bramble and Heid at the back for Wigan. I’m pretty certain that partnership has ‘calamity’ written all over it!

I won’t pretend I’ve seen much of Hooiveld, but at 6’3, I’m quietly confident that he will help shore up our leaky defence. I’m also hopeful that having a fellow Dutchman in the defence will aid Glenn Loovens, which has to be a good thing. However, I still wouldn’t be surprised to see another centre half brought in, as it seems clear to me that Mowbray is not a fan of big Mick McManus.

As for the other transfers, I’m not overly surprised to see either Flood or Killen go, although neither have had a real run in the side, but I am quite disappointed Robson is off. Barry Robson epitomises a good Old Firm midfielder: he can pass the ball, shoot, is good from set pieces, has a bit of vision and loves a tackle. I can only hope that Ki-Sung Yong is fully fit and ready to go into the side, otherwise we’re alarmingly short in the midfield.

Now though I’m left to wonder if we’ll actually strengthen in the area we are crying out- up front. We are desperate for a goal scorer, and there seem to be a few options. Personally, I like the idea of Dave Kitson, who seems keen to sign for us. Another option could be a cheeky bid for Jermaine Beckford of Leeds, a striker who is out of contract in the summer and would be a bargain at £2 million. And with Skippy McDonald out for a couple of weeks after a hernia operation, goals are severely lacking.

One thing that my opinion keeps swaying on right now is the future of Aiden McGeady. It would appear that we have rejected a £10 million offer from Birmingham for him, which does at least show a little ambition on our part. However, that must have been a very difficult decision, as £10 million would allow us to rebuild our creaking squad.

Hopefully, the board will continue to back Mogga, allowing him to really develop this squad and start playing the type of football we all want to see. However, if Hooiveld is the last signing of this window, we’re in for a tough few months.

I’m not the biggest fan of the Daily ‘Ranger’ and Jim Traynor, but two days ago he said Mogga had 22 days left to win the league title, and he is absolutely spot on.

Tick tock, Tony, tick tock.

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.

So here we are again. Another European night, another European defeat. Tony Mowbray is rightly furious with his under-performing players and if I was one of them I’d certainly be fearing for my future at the club. Indeed, earlier this week I encouraged him to wield the axe in January as there are no doubts that the squad contains far too many passengers.

But how have we declined so drastically? After all, in the last 4 and a half years, we have beaten Manchester United, Benfica, Villareal, Shakhtar Donetsk and AC Milan in European games. However, I don’t even think Lincoln City would fear a trip to Celtic Park right now.

We have certainly lost some quality players in the last few years. Shunsuke Nakamura had more quality than most, and we are definitely missing his creativity this year. Then Paul Hartley was always solid for European games, and Jiri Jarosik had bags of European experience, and in my opionion always saved his best Celtic performances for Champions League nights. We then had a big Dutch international at the top of his game in Jan Venegoor of Hesselink (with the clear exception of last year, when we’d have been better off picking a turd in a box) and as much as this may be unpopular, Kenny Miller put in a couple of big performances in his single year at Parkhead.

All 5 of these players had something which our squad now lacks, which is European and International experience. I put the blame for these type of players not being replaced solely at the feet of the board. No side can afford to lose that amount of international players, so a decline in quality is inevitable. The board should be aware of this, and as a result a bigger budget should be given to the manager. After all, 3 of these players were lost this summer alone. Mr Lawwell is always happy to tell us we are nearly ‘debt free’. We may well be, but we’re also the poorest Celtic side in the last 15 years. Even John Barnes’ team had more quality than we do now (what we’d give for a Berkovic, Petrov, Viduka or Moravcik in this team, not to mention a certain legendary Swedish striker).

However, we also need to completely overhaul our scouting network. It’s painfully obvious that we are unable to compete with the big clubs in England anymore, but we should be able to bring in good young players from around the world for nominal fees. I’ve mentioned PSV in a previous blog and I think we need to follow in their footsteps of selling best players for massive profits and investing those profits back into the playing team. They have become a conveyor belt for quality players, and in leagues like ours that philosophy MUST be adopted.

As a result, when we receive offers for McGeady in January I’m sorry to say if I was Mogga I’d accept them, providing I had assurances from the board I’d be given every single penny of the fee to reinvest. An £8m or £10m offer, along with the other £2-£3m he has left of this year’s highly publicised £7m budget would allow Mowbray to bring in 3 or 4 quality players that will completely revitalise our squad.

That alone should allow Mogga to go to his favoured 4-3-3, and perhaps some of his promised “attacking, attractive football” will come to the fore.

It is only with this reinvestment that we can look towards a more succesful European campaign next term. If we don’t, our deterioration will intensify until our situation becomes irreversible, and that prospect alone strikes terror into the heart of Celtic fans everywhere.

Don’t say you haven’t been warned, Mr Lawwell.

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.

Mowbray must wield the axe

October 19, 2009

Well, it’s a frustrating time at Celtic Park right now. Tony Mowbray must be scratching his head at just how poor Celtic have been since the season began. The highlight of the season so far was undoubtedly the win in Moscow, but that aside we’ve been ordinary at best.

I can only advise ‘Mogga’ to rip the squad apart in January because it’s painfully obvious we aren’t good enough right now, and the problem is the same as last year; We just can’t take our chances.

I think there are a few too many players who need to be moved on, and if I can see this, I’m certain Mogga can too, and this means quite simply that Peter Lawwell has to put his hand in his pocket and support his manager.

I’ve already heard a bit of grumbling about Mowbray and his team, but let’s be honest, it ISN’T his team yet. He’s not been able to put his stamp on the side, and we’re still playing with Strachan’s players.

The other week at Ibrox we were a shambles defensively and toothless up front, and this cannot be allowed to continue. Gary Caldwell whining about a new contract whilst we are at our worst at the back for years won’t have gone unnoticed, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him punted in the window, along with other underperforming players.

What is certain is we need to see the board invest. A new commanding centre half and a striker are obvious targets, but I’d like to see us change our system and try something different. It was good to see a couple of changes for this weekend, including giving McGinn a start and seeing Robson back in the side but Mowbray must be thinking about going to his favoured 4-3-3 soon.

But let’s be honest here. Celtic are dire. Only time will tell if the board are prepared to resolve that by backing their manager.