Eddie Howe for Celtic?

I always thought Eddie Howe looked like my brother’s son Kevin O’Donnell, but only one of them is Celtic daft. Kevin, no doubt, will be asked to sign autographs soon. The deal isn’t done yet, but I guess we’re about ninety-five percent certain based on recent media coverage that Howe will be the next Celtic manager. It’s not inconceivable that Howe’s first job in charge will be Rangers away at Ibrox in the Scottish Cup.

A few years ago, Howe was touted to be the next England manager. He’d brought Bournemouth up through the English second division and into the Premier League—it’s all about the money. He kept them there for a few years while playing an attractive brand of attacking football. Then there were lots of injuries to key players. I’m not saying I was watching them or him, but on Match of the Day before I fell asleep having drunk three pints (Bournemouth was always last on the programme, or thereabouts) I thought he always seemed one of the good guys. He didn’t rant and waken me up, he kept calm and told it as it was. Even when they were sinking, he was thinking ahead to the next game, the next match.

 Playing the Celtic way. The transition shouldn’t be that hard. We all know where we failed. Defensive shambles. Almost fifty percent of goals lost from free kicks of corners. No one needs reminding Morelos breaking his duck at Parkhead from a corner. Another ball lost in the air and we don’t follow the runner and Morelos scores.

Howe is a bit like Brendan Rodgers. Sport scientists and training sessions mapped out. Opposition scrutinised and video-playback evidence. Inevitably, we’ll get the usual stuff about the playing staff being fitter than before (name your own manager here from Ronny Deila on). The media will make it sound like all the other teams have someone like Jim Baxter sitting on ball, smoking a fag and drinking halfs of whisky, while playing cards with Jimmy Johnstone to decide who has to buy the next round.

Players will be fitter and game smarter. They’ll all know their position. A few wins in and we’ll get the Eddie Howe bounce.

First up, we need to beat Rangers. A Celtic team with Howe in charge will be given time if we lose at Ibrox. I think we can win. Of course, I do. I’m a Celtic fan. But I’m also a believer in luck. Celtic have been unlucky not to win the last two games against Rangers. I know we’ll hear the Rangers’ faithful bemoaning the luck Celtic had when we won the League Cup final with Christopher Julien scoring from an offside position and a world-class performance from loan-keeper Fraser Forster. Our luck was in and now it’s out.

Second up, we need to beat Rangers. Rangers have had a season where everything that can go wrong has gone right. That can’t last. While everything that can go wrong in the Celtic dugout to the players on the pitch has gone wrong. It doesn’t help, of course, wasting £20 million in dud transfers and loan signings. It was no surprise when Kieran Tierney went, which just about balances our outgoings. Just the same as it’ll be no surprise when Odsonne Edouard leaves. We want rid of him pronto. Last year of his contract and he goes for nothing. It’s not been a good season for Edouard. He doesn’t score enough goals for me, or Celtic. A great Celtic striker should hit 40 a season, but I’d settle for 30. 20 goals or less is a very poor return. I don’t think he’s got it in him to make it as a top-class striker, and really, I don’t care, when he’s gone, he’s gone. I wish him well. But Celtic need to cash in now.

Similarly, Kristopher Ajer has been told by his Norwegian coaches, he needs to move to a better league. I agree. Cash in now, he’s overrated.  He’s great on the ball. And I’d keep him. But a Celtic defender also needs to be good in the air, as well as being mobile. Ajer loses too many balls in the air. The up-and-coming Stephen Welsh, is smaller, not as quick and better in the air, but still loses out to big, physical players. Perhaps playing with Julien, he’ll be better. I’m optimistic that way, but my preference would be for someone like Nathan Ake.

The deadwood isn’t just in the team, but loanees. Olivier Ntcham wanted away, he got away, but nobody wants to keep him. Jack Henry, anybody? Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo?

Roy Keane was touted as a favourite for the Celtic managerial post. The job looked his. Irish connections, Celtic background and knows Dermot Desmond. In a Yes or No vote, I voted Yes for Keane. All the usual guff about he would be too hard on the players and you couldn’t do that kind of thing anymore—sheer media shite. Celtic have been rotten this year. Anyone like us that have watched every game know that. Neil Lennon wasn’t too hard on them. He wasn’t too soft on them. We lost too many goals. Missed too many chances and Neil Lennon kept asking for more time, even when it was obvious his time was up.

His backroom staff remain in post. John Kennedy now picks the Celtic team. He’s a bit like when Rangers had Graeme Murty as interim manager before he had a meltdown. Murty was touted as the next great thing, just as Kennedy was favourite to get the Celtic top job. The idea of continuity.

Continuity of losing goals and losing games. Kennedy can leave any time, or he can go back to coaching the Under-23 team. From top to bottom, the rot has set in. I’d rather he wasn’t there, especially as a defensive coach his failings are on the pitch. Great Celtic teams should have players waiting to come through. Like shark’s teeth, when one goes another, like David Turnbull, should be ready to add a bit of bite to the team.

The major problem with Kennedy and Roy Keane to a lesser extent is they’re out of the loop. Eddie Howe with all his training notebooks and analysis of training methods lets him see a broader range of players. You couldn’t for example tell Jock Stein about any up-and- coming player in Scottish football. He already knew and had been to see him. He knew where they’d fit in with the Celtic way. 99.9% didn’t. Eddie Howe will have players in mind that he’ll bring in. I’m guessing that’s how we’ve took so long to announce him as manager. He want’s assurances about how big a budget he’ll have to spend. He’s not going to be a Ronny Deila type manager that had no leverage about who was brought into the club. Most great Celtic player leave. We’re a selling club. I look across at Ibrox and don’t see any of their players as worth buying. And I’m not buying into the media coverage that next year is an interregnum year and if we lose the league it doesn’t matter. One-in-a-row matters as much as ten-in-a-row. We’ve got to start somewhere. Win at Ibrox. Get us into the promised land of football riches, The Champions League. Win the league next year. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Couldn’t be easier, Howe? I’ve already told you.

Celtic 1—1 Rangers

Out for a cycle yesterday, and my mates and me all thought Morelos would break his duck and score in the Old Firm game. Being die-hard Celtic fans, most of us thought Celtic would win. The first ten minutes of the game nothing happened. Celtic were standing off Rangers. Both keepers had nothing to do. Jo-Jo Kenny had a few bad touches and put the Celtic backline under pressure. Morelos had a flicked header from which he was never going to score about summed it up. Then Elyounoussi scored. What a goal it was. Edouard found a gap wide on the left, darted to the touchline and whipped in a cross between Goldson and Helander. Elyounoussi launched himself at the ball and bulleted it past McGregor. We’re one up and literally cruising. We should have scored more.

Edouard should have scored twice. The first on almost the half hour mark he was booked for diving. A ball from his strike partner found him around ten-yards from goal. He should have hit it first time, but delayed his shot. Barasic’s flailing leg missed him and he went down. The second chance on the cusp of halftime was more straightforward. A step over and one two with Elyounoussi and the Celtic number nine was in on goal. Helander made a lunge, but Edourd’s shot was easily saved by McGregor.

Elyounoussi also had a free header from a corner saved by the Rangers’s keeper. Celtic, as they have done all season lose a corner and give the other team a goal. We lost the first and second ball. Morelos gets his goal.

Ryan Kent also had a great shot saved by Bain. In a game Celtic dominated they were lucky to be drawing.

The second half, more and less of the same. Celtic had more of the ball, created fewer chances. Edouard had another two chances. No goal. Not good enough. Defensively, sub-standard again. Epitomised by Conor Goldson winning headers on goal from corner in 87th and 92nd minute. Celtic had similar chances from corners, but we don’t seem to be able to score from the numerous chances we make, whilst conceding in almost fifty-percent of games played. I’m not going to say a draw was a fair result, because I’m bitter and biased and hate Rangers. But this was as low-key an Old Firm gate as I can remember. It was a nothing game and it ended up a draw. Celtic’s man of the match for me was Diego Laxalt. Rangers’ man of the match, Alan McGregor, without having to pull off any top-notch saves, which tells you everything you need to know about the game.  

Ten-in-a-row—No, No, were you at the game caller?

Ten-in-a-row—No, No, were you at the game caller?

Nah—and neither were the Celtic team. It was that bad we’ve even got Barry Ferguson sympathising with Neil Lennon. 

Martin Powell, the only MP I trusted, used to go for long walks when Celtic were playing Rangers. That was during the Martin O’Neil era.  I thought that was crazy. But he might well have had a point. I’m old enough now to take up golf.

During Scoreboard, Hugh Keevins  asked a Celtic die-hard, are you seriously saying that the league is finished with 28 games to go? 

Let’s go for a long walk.

Football management is like a game of poker.

Lennon went incandescent because his team was leaked before the game. Kenny Miller is being fingered as villain-in-chief.  He shouldn’t have been. Lennon should know who was going to play for Rangers, in what positions, and what they could do and couldn’t do. And what opportunities it offers Celtic. You’re only as strong as your weakest hand.

No surprises for Celtic. No surprises for Rangers.

Celtic played exactly how Steven Gerrard expected. They were predictable and pedestrian.

Rangers didn’t play well. They didn’t need to. Morelos was petulant, off the pace, and should have been booked earlier than he was for flicking his hand in Scott Brown’s face. Barker ran about, like the majority of the Celtic team, with little direction or purpose. Stevie G said in the post-match interview they needed to stay humble. They’ve a lot to be humble about.

Stevie G knows what cards to play and when to play them. In a game of poker, he’s called Lennon’s bluff and won twice at Parkhead. At Hampden, Stevie G can count himself unlucky.  No posturing at the final whistle for the Ibrox manager and players. They know they’ve got the beating of Celtic now.

Goalkeeper makes saves.

We used to have this conversation that no Rangers’ player would get in the Celtic team during the Martin O’Neil era, and more recently. Obviously, we didn’t include Rab Douglas and whether he cost us the final in Seville is a moot point. Goram, the flying pig, Kloss, McGregor and an older and wiser McGregor again are so much better.

If there is still reserve-team football during lockdown, it’s difficult to imagine the current Celtic keeper getting a game in Rangers’ reserves.

Celtic let Craig Gordon leave. The management team kept Scott Bain as back-up. There was talk of signing Scotland, and ex-Celtic keeper, David Marshall. We went for a Greek internationalist, Vasilis Barkas, and paying premium rates for a keeper than doesn’t  make saves.

The problem left back spot

Money wasted on buying a dud who flies to Spain and doesn’t tell Lennon.

Taylor is not a dud, neither is he Tierney. Neither is he Andy Lynch, Tosh McKinlay or Anton Rogan. He’s a mixture of the good, the bad and the Anton, I’ll kick everything for the cause, because, but Taylor doesn’t cut it.

We brought in Laxalt on loan because Lennon knows that.

Johnny Hayes, like Craig Gordon, has left the building? Why?

Celtic’s loan-signing policy.

Rangers had no loan signings in the team that outplayed us.

Loan signings are a try before you buy. In, for example, Charly Musonda and another few nameless faces. It’s been great business because you can just return them to their parent club. 

Craig Bellamy, Paddy Roberts, and Fraser Forster were guys here in the short-term that made a positive difference. Players we would have kept in a heartbeat.

In the Fergus McCann football business, you don’t have an extra Celtic jersey. Loan signings are giving other teams money. Or in Fergus’s case, other financial institutions.  Rangers had no loan signings playing in the Old Firm derby. Glen Kamara only cost £50,000 from Dundee and helped run the show. Remember Didier Agathe £100 000 from Hibs? Bargain basement. Rangers had Steven Davis playing. He was a loan signing that was made a permanent deal and cost zero.  Fergus would have liked that. Nobody was slating him because of his age, in the way Scott Brown is hounded. Steven Davis was another that didn’t have a particularly good game, but he was in the winning team.

We’ve come a long way from Jock Stein and the 1967 European Cup winning team. Eleven players that lived within a twelve-mile radius of Glasgow (Bobby Lennox, furthest away in Saltcoats). But Jock Stein wasn’t a cuddly bear that was lucky. He was ruthless. Jimmy Johnstone when his legs were gone was sold. Stein was hesitant to let Johnstone play in a pre-season friendly, and have a final hurrah, before he was sold to Dundee. That too was a must-win Celtic game. As Scotland manager, he told Ipswich player, John Wark, if you can’t go box to box and score goals, you’re no use to me. It’s not difficult to imagine what Stein would have said of a Celtic team that never managed to have a significant shot on goal in an Old Firm derby.

Shane Duffy v Connor Goldson.

We all know how this went Goldson scored two goals, early in the first and second half—game over.

Neither Duffy or Goldson are great passer of the ball with their feet. Duffy had more touches of the ball than anyone else on the field.  Their strength is in the air. Duffy was a marquee signing for Celtic. Loan fees and paying his wages was a gamble Celtic were willing to take.

Goldson was the cheaper option. Straight fee. Pennies by Celtic standard. His wages would be laughable. Fergus McCann would be asking hard questions about value for money. Why didn’t we buy the cheap option, sooner?

Why with Celtic’s superior resources, reserve team football and money in the bank do we need loan signings?

Goldson was lauded (not by me, obviously) but it could and should have been different. Elyounoussi easily rolled Goldstone and should have made it 1—1 after twenty minutes.

Elyounoussi is, of course, another loan signing. Is he any better than what we’ve got? Is he better than Rogic? David Turnbull, top midfield scorer for Motherwell, came off the bench, so I was told? Paddy McCourt? Obviously not as good as Paddy. But hey, you’ve got to laugh.

Celtic’s signing policy is related to their resale value (that’s not news)

Virgil van Dijk. That’s all I need to say. He was promised the dream and then he was sold for what we thought was buttons. That will never happen again has coloured our thinking. Players that don’t want to be at Paradise should be sold— not immediately, that’s bad for business, and we are a business, but sooner rather than later.

The French trois. Edouard didn’t play. That wasn’t much of a shock, but a setback. It was mitigated by his form—any scouts turning up looking for a £35 million striker would have been baffled. Sell.

Ntcham wants away and has been engineering a move for the last two seasons. Take the hit. Again, missing in action—let him go.

Christopher Jullien rag dolled by Lyndon Dykes and, more recently, the Kilmarnock centre forward. We bought him for £7 million, hoping for a standout and sell-on profit. His is a longer term deal. And I think there is a player in there. Whether it is as a Celtic player, I don’t know.

Ryan Christie would have started. I think he’s the best midfielder in Scotland (well, apart from McGregor) but he wants away and has been, like the rest of the Celtic team, ineffectual against Rangers in other Old Firm meetings. Keep.  

Nir Bitton wants away. See you later, pal.

Tom Rogic. I’m a big fan. I was scared when Brendan Rodgers left he’d come back and take Rogic. Now I’m texting Judas Rodgers,  Rogic’s number. The love affair with Celtic is over. Lennon doesn’t fancy him. Ironically, Rodgers might be at the club longer than Lennon. New managers have a different vision.

The game is nothing without fans.

Chris Sutton, former player and pundit, suggests that having no fans favours a Rangers team that are serial bottlers. Stats from the locked-down Bundesliga showed that playing at home wasn’t as much an advantage. Away teams won more. Bayern Munich kept winning. Class tells.

Rangers are not the Barcelona of old, but they’ll win pretty much every week. Celtic seems largely incapable of that. The Old Firm team that won the first game went on to win the title in four out of five seasons. That’s not us. We didn’t even look as if we could manage a draw. Only one team looks like bottlers. Here I hope I’m wrong.

Is it time for Lennon to go?

I’ll put it another way. Stevie G has his number. A novice manager has got the beating of him. As Lennon said, coming second in Glasgow is coming last. Jock Stein or his apprentice, Alex Ferguson, would have had the hairdryer full on at half-time. At full time, well, we know the story. We’re hit with the same managerial clichés.

Will Celtic win ten-in-a-row?

No.

Possible picks, Celtic v Rangers

Celtic’s first eleven against Rangers—who’s in and who’s out?

Goalkeeper is an easy pick. Celtic hired a private jet to bring Vasilos Barkas back from a recent international. He was on the bench for Greece. He’s not really done anything that Scott Bain, or Conor Hazard, or you’d expect any other bog standard goalie to do. He’s certainly not won us matches the way—may he rot in reserve-team-football hell, the Southampton keeper we got on loan last season did. Hope we don’t need him, but time for Barkas to step up and be counted.

Another loan player, Shane Duffy, is going to be in the middle of a back three, back four, or indeed a back five. He’s limited when it comes to passing, but in the air he’s colossus. Just what we needed. Capable of getting us a goal.

Kristopher Ajer will play on Duffy’s left-hand flank. Ajer is a far better ball player than Duffy, but for his size, extremely limited in the air. Pre-Covid, if AC Milan were offering £15 million, I’d have taken it. Overrated.

Here’s where it gets interesting. We paid £7 million for Christopher Jullien. He can be elegant and good in the air, but can be bullied, as he was at Livingston and Kilmarnock. His injury coincided with the arrival of Duffy. Duffy is a number one pick. I expected Jullien to slot into the position on the right flank.

But Nir Bitton held that positon and with a few good performances looked like establishing a run in the team. He too got injured. OK, as Celtic supporters, it’s annoying when the injured Bitton pops up starring for Israel against Scotland. He’s not great in the air, but as a former midfielder, unflappable on the ball. No matter, he’s out.

Hatem Abed Elhamed also starred for an Israel team that outplayed Scotland. He also played well when he replaced Bitton in the Celtic team. He’s also out. Also injured.

Unless Neil Lennon plays a wild card, Julien will start. The problem here is with Julien’s tendency to grab at players and with him likely to be up against Ryan Kent, let’s hope the Celtic defender doesn’t give anything stupid away.

No matter what team Lennon puts out, with James Forrest injured, Jeremie Frimgpong will hug the wide-right touchline and sprint back to mark Ryan Kent. Well, he can. He’s did it before with some aplomb. One of the few Celtic player to get pass marks in the Old Firm fixtures in the pre-split Christmas of 2019. He plays with a smile on his face. He makes things happen. But unlike James Forrest he doesn’t score much. There’s still time. Potential match winner.

Greg Taylor is the kind of player Scotland use when they’re playing meaningless fixtures. His best game was Celtic away, in Riga. Most of his other games are bang-average. Not a bad player. Not a great player in the mould of a Tosh McKinley.  I’d have settled for Johnny Hayes.

Lennon’s got a decision to make here. Diego Laxalt, the Uruguayan international on loan from AC Milan, could be thrown in for Greg Taylor. I can’t see it. And I’ve not seen Laxalt, although I can remember him, because of his Henrik-like hair, playing alongside Suarez. Give me a bit of that. Fling him into the mix. Here’s hoping.

It gets a bit boring here. We know Scott Brown and Callum McGregor will start in the central midfield slots.

There is now an outside chance of Ryan Christie starting, but we’ll not dwell on that and say he’s out.

Oliver Ntcham will start in Christie’s place. Terrific and cultured player. Doesn’t want to be at Celtic and has a tendency to disappear during games, but not a bad stand in.

Odsonne Edouard is in quarantine, but unlike Christie, could start. Usually, I’d say, will start. Barry Ferguson, the Ranger’s pundit, rated Edouard in the £35 million bracket. But not on this season’s performances. Lacklustre. Doesn’t look interested. He’s off are a few of the remarks I’ve heard (usually, because it’s me saying it). It’s not really a wild card to play Edouard, but I’ve a sneaking suspicion he’ll be on the bench.

Now it gets difficult to pick one from three to who will play centre-forward. I know it won’t happen, but with no Edouard I’d just go with Leigh Griffiths. We’ll get the usual pish about him not having game time.

That didn’t stop Albian Ajeti putting the ball in the netti and scoring goal a game before he got injured. He’s back too, with the usual stricture, not- match-fit.

Edouard can play with any of these two strikers. Or, if he’s out, Griffiths and Ajeti, pairing.

If we’re going to stuff the midfield and Edourad is out then Partyk Kilma could find himself as lone striker. He’s fed on scraps and came through to score goals. His goal against St Johnstone summed him up. Halved in two, he jumped up, and thumped the ball past the keeper. Kilma is no dud. Ironically, the guys that are half-fit are first picks. Scoring goals can change his prospects. Score against Rangers and it could change his career.

In the absence of Christie the guys that can play in behind the striker (whoever that is) is red hot. Ntcham could be pushed up. And I think that will happen.

Mohammed Elyounoussi playing ahead of Taylor and in behind the striker. He’s on form and scores goals. But I’m not convinced. He disappears.

If we’d got Tom Rogic on loan from Southampton and played him in the same position (as he did under Brendan Rodgers) then I’m sure the Australian internationalist would also have scored goals. He might even start. But don’t put any money on it. It’s the bench and a long wait for Rodgic.

The wildcard here is David Turnbull. The former Motherwell player has looked tidy with the ball, and untidy, giving it away. He takes great free kicks. Has boundless energy and an eye for a goal. He might well replace Christie in the team, in the short and longer term. I’d favour him over Elyounoussi.

Celtic as we all know have won eight games in a row. Don’t be fooled. Unconvincing and wide open at the back. I don’t rate Rangers, but they have shown they could exploit the open space. I expect us to start with one striker and a packed midfield.

Lennon usually plays one wildcard. In this game it will be Diego Laxalt in for Taylor. Celtic will win, if they score first. If not, it’ll be a draw.  

Barkas

Duffy

Ajer

Julien

Brown

McGregor

Ntcham

Frimpong

Laxalt

Elyounoussi

Ajeti