OK, I admit it. This blog is going to be a ‘filler’ piece because I have absolutely nothing to say about the dire Uruguay v France game, and didn’t really catch the opener to the World Cup. I may follow this with a post on England and my predictions for tomorrow, but first I feel the need to concentrate on my club teams, Celtic and Notts County. Bizarrely, and for the first time ever, I can do that in the same post.

Both sides have now appointed new managers. Both managers have appointed club legends with very little management experience. Both clubs are looking to appoint an experienced technical director to aid the young ‘gaffers’. And both sides can be tied to Sol Campbell over the past 12 months.

Now I’ve had a chance to get used to both appointments, I’m actually getting excited. I was a little disappointed about both initially as I’m always one of those annoying fans who calls for an “experienced head”. Indeed, I can be a little cynical at times, and I had questioned the ambition of both clubs with their choice of managers. However, I’ve since changed my tune.

Craig Short should be great for Notts, and Notts should be great for him. He is clearly ambitious, knows the club very well and has the basics of a decent squad already. The news that Stephen Hunt, Craig Westcarr and Mike Edwards have all signed new deals is good news, as is the earlier contract signed by Lee Hughes. Then there is a good young goalkeeper in Rob Burch lined up from Lincoln, and with a little wheeling-and-dealing, ‘Shorty’ should find a really good squad in front of him come pre-season.

Then there is Celtic. In those last eight matches of the season, Neil Lennon brought fire to the belly of a Celtic squad that had rolled over and died under Tony Mowbray. Of course, ‘Lenny’ is Celtic through-and-through, and he is well aware of the players at the club who have no right to pull on the Hoops. A new manager might have needed a few months to discover who was deadwood, but make no mistake about it, Lennon already knows and is planning on squad surgery even as I write this.

Both clubs are shopping in very different markets ahead of very different seasons, but both clubs are at an important precipice. For Notts, surely the priority is staying in League One, although Short will be pushing for much more, as will Mr Trew. Indeed, I’m hopeful that with a couple of decent signings (such as Lee Trundle, who is being widely touted as a candidate) that we may nick a play-off spot.

For Celtic, however, only one thing will do. The SPL title is the absolute minimum on Lennon’s list, and the board must back him with the cash to deliver it. Indeed, I’ve suggested on this blog that he should take the £10m for McGeady and buy two quality central defenders and a midfielder, trusting in the fitness of Shaun Maloney and Paddy McCourt next season. I’m even cautiously optimistic about the news of Sol Campbell’s signing (although I say that through gritted teeth after his debacle at Meadow Lane) and the thought of Keane or Bellamy back at Parkhead has put a smile back on my face.

Fingers crossed that smile is enhanced by a couple of exciting signings at both Meadow Lane and Celtic Park in the next couple of weeks. Failing that, Rangers and Forest going bust would be equally acceptable…

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Well, our pleading has been in vain. I think every single Notts County fan in the world wanted to see Steve Cotterill sign on the dotted line and lead us into the new season. I know I did. However, it clearly was not meant to be.

Now I can understand Cotterill wanting a little time to make his mind up. Indeed, he’d been out of the game for a little while before he got the Notts job, which clearly put his name back on the map. It is a testament to just how well he has done since returning to the game that so many clubs were apparently interested in his services. However, I can’t help but feel a little ‘strung along’ by his antics the last couple of weeks.

By constantly requesting ‘more time’ from Mr Trew and co, it seems like Cotterill was trying to give himself a back up in case the Portsmouth job did not come his way, but that is very disappointing. Let’s be honest here, I was desperate for him to stay, absolutely desperate. However, I was getting sick of him stalling, so in the end I’m glad Mr Trew made the decision for him.

Now we have to wonder who is lined up as a replacement. I’m certain that the club have not been sat on their hands for the last few weeks, and the longer Cotterill has played for time, the more this day will have been expected. Now who do I want for manager? I’ve heard several names mentioned. Indeed, the main one I’ve heard is Paul Ince, who wouldn’t be a terrible appointment.

However, there are many others out there. Alan Curbishley is still out of work. Alan Pardew is rumoured to be on a tightrope down at Southampton, and Chris Coleman is currently out of work, too. As much as I’m surprised at myself saying this, even Tony Mowbray would be interesting. There are many good quality managers out there and I’m confident that whoever Ray Trew appoints will be a success.

Just please don’t let that appointment be John Barnes.

Keane mark 2

February 8, 2010

Sorry this is a bit late, I’ve been otherwise engaged. That generally involves eating biscuits and pretending to do DIY, but don’t tell the mrs. Anyway, to the football.

I’ll admit it. I was stunned to see Robbie Keane at Celtic Park on the transfer deadline day. It was a real coup for the club, and one which has certainly captured the imagination of the Celtic support, myself included.

I always thought we’d see Keane at Parkhead one day, but like his namesake Roy, I thought it would be at the twilight of his career. And I’d have hated him for it. I was never Roy Keane’s biggest fan, although I’ll admit that was because he played for Manchester United, but I certainly respected him. I respected him for what he gave on the pitch, his commitment, and most of all, his ability. My respect for him started to diminish after his tackle on Alf Inge-Haaland (remember him?) and it disappeared after his Celtic signing.

At 34, his legs had gone, and he knew it. He thought the SPL would be better for him, and he’d win a couple of medals. However, that’s where his thought process stopped. As a self-confessed fan, he COULD have signed for us at a stage where he was able to actually contribute for the club. After all, after his £100,000 a week wages at Old Trafford, he hardly needed the money, did he? It was no surprise then that his Celtic career lasted barely six months.

That’s where Robbie and Roy differ. Robbie has confessed we may only have him til the end of the season, but he’s arrived hungrier than ever. At 29, he’s at the peak of his career, and he may yet help us to at least one trophy this year.

Of course, like Roy his début was a nightmare. There was obvious complacency in our side and we got punished, losing 1-0 at Killie. Are we out the title race? By the end of the month we’ll have a clearer picture. If we take maximum points, beating Rangers along the way, you just don’t know. Certainly it was good to see Keane’s first goal for us yesterday, but I’ve been most impressed with Rasmussen. He’s found his feet quickly, scoring twice, and shows all the instincts of a predator.

However, I have concerns in other areas of the park. Defensively, we’re still shambolic, and considering we have an ex central defender as manager I still can’t fathom why. But my biggest concern is the form of Aiden McGeady. I’d suggest he needs a couple of games out the side, freshen him up, and get him ready for Ibrox at the end of the month.

After all, the next Old Firm game truly could decide the title. A defeat against a tiring Rangers side and it’s all over. A victory, and the chase is on. Let’s hope it’s the latter.

Oh, and those going to Celtic Park on Wednesday: make it like a  European night. We asked for a lift from the board and got it with Keano’s signing. Now lets do our bit and help the players get themselves on a winning run.

Keep the faith Bhoys and Ghirls, it’s not over yet.

“When you walk……”

Well, I think we all knew it was coming. Hot on the heels of the sales of Barry Robson, Gary Caldwell, Willo Flood and Chris Killen, now ‘Mick’ McManus and Danny Fox could be on the way out of the club. Some may feel Tony Mowbray is tearing away the soul of the club with some of these sales, but I honestly believe he’s doing the right thing.

McManus has been out of form all season long, as was Gary Caldwell, so it’s no wonder Mogga wasn’t convinced. The Celtic support certainly weren’t, as shambolic defending cost us again and again. We were crying out for a change, and the new arrivals of Scandinavian defenders Hooiveld and Rogne, as well as the return of Darren O’Dea from his loan and the promotion of youngster Josh Thompson, the centre of our defence now has a very different feel to it. Then there is Glenn loovens to bring in, and it seems there is a much hungrier edge to our defence.

Korean midfielder Ki-Sung Yong showed some impressive touches on his début, and with Scott Brown only a few weeks away, our midfield is also looking better. Paddy McCourt showed us in glimpses what he is capable of on Sunday against St Johnstone, and if he keeps that kind of form up he may yet play every week. I think most Celtic fans would love to see McCourt get a good run in the side, as he has looked almost unstoppable at times. My main worry is McGeady, as he appears to have gone backwards this season. His finishing in particular has been atrocious, and he should have put the recent Old Firm game out of sight before we scored.

And that brings us nicely to our strikers. Marc-Antoine Fortune appears to be a very different player at the moment. Since his injury, in my opinion he has come back hungrier, quicker and his finishing has improved. We are missing ‘Skippy’, as both Samaras and Fortune seem to play outside the box. That being said, new signing Morten Rasmussen may change that.

He claims to be a ‘penalty box’ player, and the video below backs up that claim. He could be just what the club needs.Beating St Johnstone was vital, especially as it allowed us to close the gap on Rangers. Now, another win tonight against Hibs and the confidence should start flowing. Hopefully, the new signings get to play a part in that.

Welcome to Celtic Park, lads. Now, go and win the title back.

Cheers for reading, and I’ll appreciate any comments.

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.

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.

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.