Tear along dotted line – the Celtic season starts here.

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Most Celtic supporters I’ve talked to would be happy with another domestic treble, perhaps with a European Cup thrown in for good measure. In Lennie we trust (well kinda).

Lennon got us over the line last year, winning the Scottish Cup  and the treble. There was a minimum and maximum as there is this year. I’d guess the minimum is a domestic double, Scottish League and one other trophy. In terms of Europe, qualification for the group stage of the Europa League.

The Europa League is a bit boring. We really want Champions League nights. Money and prestige are stitched together here. If Lenny gets Celtic through four qualifiers and into the Champions League group stages then he’s half way to being able to say job done. Then we can start kidding ourselves that other teams hate coming to Parkhead. The truth is the bigger teams love playing in a packed-out stadium where they always win. Yes, I do remember Tony Watt’s goal against Barcelona, loved every second of it, but freak results do happen. That’s why domestically Celtic are unlikely to win the treble again this year. They are the best team in Scotland, but an off day and we’re out of the cup.

Qualifying for Europe also means the squad is stretched and we’ve more games to play. After Rodger’s first season we began to regularly look vulnerable and drop points to teams like Kilmarnock and Hearts.

Strangely, despite Celtic’s treble-treble Rangers’ fans believe again. Their optimism is based on Celtic not spending and taking  two steps backwards in the last two seasons and Rangers finally going four or five games unbeaten. Rangers can win the league this year, but only if Celtic go into meltdown.

Celtic’s biggest buy of the season and long overdue is a centre-half in Christopher Julien. I’ve not seen him, but sometimes you just get that feeling…Kris Ayer will probably play alongside him in the centre of defence. Both are six-foot five, both are good with the ball at their feet. Both are called Chris. If they play to their potential Celtic will continue to monitor all players called Chris/Kris and try and integrate them into the Celtic family for Christmas.

I guess Jozo Simunovic will be the odd man out. He’d a great end of season, scoring that goal in the 67th minute and honouring Billy McNeil while wearing number 5. He looked like a half-decent defender at Parkhead, which must give Jack Hendry hope.

Lustig also had a fine end to the season and his Celtic career, but any winger with pace gave him a chasing, so it was thanks and no thanks. Anthony Ralston, for the moment, holds the jersey. Ironically, it was the young right back for Hearts in the last game of the season and in the Scottish Cup Final, a former Celtic graduate, who showed Ralston how it should be done.  I guess Celtic need to strengthen here. The Heart’s boy would be worth a punt, but we’ll go for the tried and tested, although I’m not sure who.

Arsenal and Napoli are interested in Kieran Tierney. He’s injured. He’s been injured quite a lot recently. The selling price is allegedly £25 million. I’d like to see Tierney stay. He’s a Celtic man and the best left back since Anton Rogan of Lisburn Distillery, but that might have been taking things a bit too far. Kieran Tierney is one of us, a fan, blessed with ability. Stay.

Johnny Hayes has been filling in at left back. I like Hayes, he’s street-smart, but never Celtic class (see Anton Rogan) and neither is he good enough to play as an out and out winger.

With Tierney out in the short, and perhaps longer term, Celtic have brought in a replacement. Under Rodgers it tended to be of the loan-deal variety. We paid more than £3 million for  Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo. He talks a good game. Telling us he has pace and…we’ll wait and see, but if Tierney stays, he’s our improved model of Emilio Izaguirre (good luck to the Honduran, but never a good idea to bring an old player back, hopefully the same thing doesn’t apply to an old manager).

In midfield we were always stacked with riches. Let’s start with the one that wants away. Olivier Ntcham had a few good games. He had a few bad games. You’ve got to laugh when he comes out with the excuse Scottish football is holding him back excuse. It never held back Henrik Larsson or  Harald Brattbakk or Virgil van Dijk. Two of these went on to lift the European Cup. Nitcham looks more of a Harald with every word that comes out of his mouth. He’s decided to go. Celtic want to sell. We’re waiting, but we’ll drop the price until someone takes him.

Ironically, I’m a big fan of Scottish, under-twenty-one international, Ewan Henderson who has fallen down the pecking order. Henderson, like his brother Liam, is Celtic class. I did predict years ago that Celtic would build their team around Liam. I’m not going to predict they’re going to build their team around Ewan (although I am tempted).

Remember Eboue Kouassi? He’s still there. He might do a Ryan Christie, you never know. Nah, he willnae. But wishful thinking is allowed.

Lewis Morgan is of that ilk. He went to Sunderland on loan and came back. We’ll probably send him out again somewhere. Special pre-seaon offer, three-for-one deal with Kouassi and Jack Henry.   Not bad players. Just not good enough for Celtic.

Scott Sinclair is on the final year of his contract. Anybody comes in, he can go. He’ll spend a lot of time on the bench if he doesn’t. He’ll be the type of player we bring on in the 85th minute hoping he can reproduce some of his penalty-box poacher- magic of his first two seasons.

Daniel Arzani lasted five minutes at Celtic, before getting injured. He’s got a chance, but only if young Karamoko Dembele  is thought too young for the first team.

Maryan Shved is a winger that excited Celtic fans, without playing a game for us. It was all highlights from abroad. Need to wait and see. Here’s hoping.

I’ve not mentioned James Forrest, the Celtic winger, who Lennon played through the middle in friendlies. Lennon brought Forrest into the team when he was here the last time. He used to talk him up and we’d be watching the same game and thinking…Whit? Lennon had a good season. Rodgers loved him. Lennon does too. He’ll play all the big games and most of the little ones. It’s going to be a big season for James Forrest.

Mikey Johnstone looks to be a Forrest stand in. Johnstone has plenty of trickery. He scores goals. He’s a Celt, here’s hoping he follows the Forrest pathway.

Scott Brown does what Scott Brown does. Lennon trusts him as did Rodgers before him. He’ll play the majority of our games.

Nobody played more games for club and country than Callum McGregor. If Forrest was Lennon’s love child, McGregor was Rodger’s. He played in almost every position for Rodgers apart from striker and goalie. I’m sure Rodgers would have handed him the gloves. There’s talk of a £20 million bid from the Leicester manager. That’s a wait and see.

Tom Rogic is another wait and see project. He didn’t look out of place when we played Manchester City in the Champions League under Rodgers. As good as anyone. But prone to injuries. Scores goals in big games, but in the Scottish Cup final (I can’t even remember if he played) and games against Rangers, in fact, most of last season, a wash out.  If clubs are offering £9 million or £10 million, I’d be very tempted to take it and bring back Paddy McCourt.

Ryan Christie wrote the script of the forgotten man biding his time. After losing out on John McGinn we were dreadful against a long-ball Hearts team at Tynecastle. Christie came on and scored and turned the game around. He was a goal-a-game man afterwards. Automatic first pick. His energy was of the Stuart Armstrong variety, but he had a better touch, better end product, a better player. But then that dreadful injury. He’s back but what Ryan Christie will emerge?

Luca Connell was coveted by other teams. Here’s hoping Lennie knew of him from his Bolton days. He’s young, which is always good. Is he ready for the first team?

Odsonne Edouard is our main striker. He missed a penalty in our last friendly in Switzerland against Gallen. Nobody cares about that, as long as he scores goals. He can be deceptively brilliant or just deceptive. He’s scored in big games, at crucial times in a match. He won us the league and Scottish Cup, but he doesn’t score enough. Maybe this season?

Leigh Griffiths is back. That’s fucking magic. Remember Griffiths once scored 40 plus goals in one season. He is a striker. No messing. There is a fair chance Lennon will play two strikers in games. Griffiths will get his chance. It’s really up to him. Here’s hoping.

I’d high hopes for the Ivorian international Vakoun Issouf Bayo. His strength is in the air. Lennon knows more than most, when pressed, as we were at Ibrox, a big target man gives you the route out of your half and adds goals. Recently, he’s been injured. That’s been a pattern. We don’t need any more projects. We don’t need another Kouassi. We need Bayo to force his way into the team in the same way Christie did, by scoring goals.

Are we stronger than last year? Yeh, we’ve been crying out for a decent centre-half for the last four years. One man doesn’t make a team, but it’s a start. We need a right-back, pronto. Perhaps Bayo won’t be good enough, then we need another striker. We might need a back-up centre-half for the back-up centre-half. If we sell Rogic or McGregor, we need another midfielder. The joker we have in the pack is Dembele. He looks a player. This might be his season. We’re in Sarajevo, let’s hope we can win and make the second leg a formality.

 

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Celtic’s Treble Treble.

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There have been disappointing times as a Celtic supporter, but this era isn’t one of them. Celtic defeated Hearts on Saturday to complete a clean sweep of Scottish trophies for the third season running. Out of nine competitions, in three years, Celtic have won all nine. Yet, amid the joy there was a bubble and babble of discontent. Neil Lennon had been appointed the new Celtic manager.

I remember him when he was the old Celtic manager. I remember him playing for Celtic. I even remember watching Harry Hood, who joined Stevie Chalmers and Billy McNeil in Paradise. My da loved Harry Hood, he scored goals when you needed them. Like many older players he retired to become a publican. Future-proof and sorted.

I remember when we got to a cup final against Raith Rovers in Rangers, you spend a fiver, and we’ll spend a tenner era. We lost. But we found the man with the bubble perm, Wim Jansen. Some you Wim and some you lose. Thank god we were winners and that nine never became ten.

I remember the coming of the Sainted Martin O’Neil. Henrik and Lubo were already there, all he had to do was dominate Scottish football. And we’d a glorious trip in a friendly to play Man Utd, half of Clydebank was there and we gubbed them. The whole of the green side of Clydebank was in Seville. Glorious defeat, our speciality. Our season in the sun.  Maybe we should arrange a friendly against Man City and the treble winners in England should play the treble winners in Scotland? We could call it the Get it Right Up Yeh, cup.

We’ve already played Man City in the Champions league. Drawing two of the games. The second game didn’t matter to Man City, but it mattered to us. Every game matters when Celtic play. The jersey doesn’t shrink to fit the player.

We had wee Gordon Strachan, who contrived to lose the first game 5-0 to a team in Europe nobody had heard of. Oh, dear. Remember Nakamurra’s free kick against Man Utd. Home win.

Tony Mowbray and us getting scudded 4—0 at half time by St Mirren. I’d good memories of Paisley. I was there that magical night when we won 5—0 and Dundee and Walter Kidd beat Hearts. Glory, Glory.

I was there when that Murdo MacLeod rocket hit the back of the net and Ten Men Won the League, tra-la-la-la.

Remember when we beat one of the best teams of all time, Barcelona at Parkhead, 2—1, with a Tony Watt goal, and we only got to kick the ball twice than night. Neil Lennon was the manager. Glory, Glory.

Remember all the media shit about a certain Celtic centre half ripping it up in Scottish fitba but never being worth £10 million? Neil Lennon’s protégé did OK, as did Victor Wanyama. Celtic are no longer contesting European finals, but former players showcase the hoop’s mentality.

When Lennon felt he could go no further, we had the interim and experimental manager, Ronnie Deliah. He was a nice guy, but the job was too big for him. Rangers beat us in a penalty shoot-out at Hampden and Deliah was done.

Then we had Brendan Rodgers. Let’s not forget he delivered eight of those nine trophies. In his first season he could do no wrong. When playing Rangers we used to cheer their players because they were so awful and a four or five goal gubbing was pretty standard. We were football gods.

This season has been a slog. We used to be four or five steps ahead of Rangers. This year we were one. Rodgers walked into mediocrity for ‘professional reasons’ in the most unprofessional way. If he had seen the season out nobody with any sense would have batted an eyelid. It would have been the honourable thing to do, the professional thing to do.

Lennon stepped in and it’s like that film somebody up there likes me. He left Hibs or Hibs left him. Nobody cares. Then he gets the Celtic gig. Lennon goes with the old guard to get us over the line. Jozo Šimunović, number 5, scored that goal in 67 minutes that helped us finish first. Every goal we get seems to be a last minute effort. Even on Saturday, we get a penalty and then a late goal. The stars align.

The question now, of course, is what happens when the stars don’t align? We need five players, maybe six. We need a massive clear-out. Unlike our indebted Glasgow neighbours, we’ve got the money for the job. Is Lennon the man for the job?

Well, there’s money and there’s money. Champion League winners (Spurs or Liverpool and I don’t really care which it is) will pocket around £6 million. Aston Villa win £170 million, going up to around £300 million in the first year of the Premiership. Celtic won about £3 million in prize money. If they make the Champion League you can factor in another £30 million. You can pay for a better quality player.

Brendan Rodgers had a run in with Peter Lawwell and there was only one winner. Neil Lennon in his first incarnation did the same. Peter Lawwell runs Celtic. John McGinn, who scored the second goal that took Aston Villa to the money- tree of milk and honey, would have been a Celtic player if Brendan Rodgers had his way. He didn’t.

Neil Lennon is smart enough to know who is in charge. You might not need to shrink from fitting the jersey, but you need to shrink from questioning the logic of the money men. In Lennon we trust. You can bank on it. You can bank on the supporters, but please don’t patronise us in the way that Rodgers did, with the bullshit I’d like to return some day. Fuck off and follow the money. Lennon is a genuine Celtic supporter.

Can he do the job? Well, he’s got a head start. Every manager needs his share of luck, I just hope Lennon hasn’t used all of his in these end of season fixtures. They sure weren’t pretty. Winning is simply enough, but not so simple. At Celtic we demand more. We dream of more. Money can’t buy that. Our dreams are not for sale.

Scotland’s Game, part one, Playing for Money. (Missing Person report: Where is David Murray?)

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missng Murray.jpgThe best thing for me about the Rio Olympics was it was on in the middle of the night because I didn’t need to watch it. Not that I would have. I couldn’t give a toss of your caber how many gold medals Britain racks up.  There’s only one sport, one club that I follow and one team I support, Glasgow Celtic. And I’m bigoted and bitter enough to remember comedians with eighties punchlines Loadsamoney and the mantra Greed it good, and David Murray, the darling of the media, the darling of the Ranger’s masses drawled that for every fiver put down, he’d put up  a tenner.

But let us not forget he met his match with the biscuit-tin mentality and the man with the checked bunnet, done it. Fergus McCann reminds us here, Celtic were 105 minutes away from extinction and the banks were calling in their loans and cashing in on Celtic’s assets of which there were two, Celtic Park and the gravel parks of Celtic’s training ground up the road at Barrowfield.  McCann had a plan and he’d the money to back up his rhetoric, £11 million in an account to shore up Celtic Public Limited Company. That was enough to save Celtic, ‘The Rebels have won’ (no pun intended) proclaimed Brian Dempsey in front of the stand at Parkhead.

But the rebels did not win at Rangers, or poor wee Gretna, or to save Livingstone, Hearts, Dunfermline, Motherwell or Dundee twice, from administration. The banks are always a banker to win.

Mc Cann’s plan was quite a simple one, put in £10 million and take out £60 million. He was quite upfront about that. And he was quite upfront about ‘never paying £10 million for a £5 million player’. Tore Andre Flo springs to mind. And for the record another damning statistic.  The league match between Celtic and Rangers on 04 October 2003 featured only one Scottish player in the two starting line-ups: Jackie McNamara. Maurice Ross came on as a substitute for Rangers. Celtic won 1-0.

But all the familiar faces of yore were here Archie McPherson, Graham Sour-ness, Walter Smith, former England captain Terry Butcher—and a memorable shot from the archives of what it was all about, in the dressing room after a cup win,  selling Ranger’s shirts, belting out in a scrum of other players that old Ranger’s anthem about ‘being up to your knees in Fenian blood, Surrender or you’ll die, For we are the Billy Boys. Hallo. Hallo. We are the Billy Boys’.

Journalists such as Stuart Cosgrove, Kevin McKenna, Graham Speirs and Jim Traynor were onscreen to offer a bit of journalistic colour. Programme makers even gave Alex Salmond a platform to talk about saving his beloved Hibs. Walter Mercer, of course, of Hearts Public Limited Company was intent on buying Hibs Public Limited Company and turning Easter Road into a car park, or better still housing for the rich, who can never have enough houses, never have enough assets. Dundee United planned to do the same to their Dundee rivals and was a coat of paint, or the fingertips of Rab Douglas’s gloves away from success. But these are backstories, because it was Rangers that changed everything. ‘You can’t have ying without yang,’ said Alec Salmond, ‘you can’t have Rangers without Celtic, you can’t have Hearts without Hibs and you can’t have Dundee United without Dundee.’ Yes, you can, as has been shown in recent years.

The irony is that Sebco Rangers are in the same position Celtic were all those years ago. Celtic going for ten league titles in a row. They currently stand at six and with a potential surplus of £80 million to play with in comparison to Ranger’s £15 million. No other team in Scotland stand close to Celtic’s sales potential, there pre-season tour matches bagged them more money than they would get winning the treble in Scotland, but Celtic cannot stand shoulder to shoulder with any of the teams in the English Premier League and struggle to match the spending power of First Division English League teams. Money talks. And those in the Champions League have a plan in place to bar those not in the top four paying countries, not playing countries. Scotland, and it’s Celtic that interest me, doesn’t even merit a footnote as fourth-pot fodder.

Scroll down the big names that have been mentioned. Who’s missing? David Murray. Legend has it that we went to buy Livingstone but got turned down. Those were the days when fitba players were over the hill at thirty and after a testimonial they bought a pub in the city they played fitba in and that was them supposedly set up for life. Think Dixie Deans, who missed a penalty in a European Cup semi-final. Imagine a time when Sir Alex Ferguson was trying to mastermind a win at St Mirren against his closest rivals Clydebank. Then there was Gothenburg and Aberdeen thrashing Real Madrid. And wee Jim MacLean barking like a Scot’s terrier and taking his Dundee United  team to Barcelona and winning in the Nou Camp, and deservedly so, I watched it in a bar in Paisley. Hopefully, I’ll be watching another Scottish team winning in the Nou Camp very soon. But those were the days when someone that had enough cash to buy a house in London could instead wander in and pick up a cheap fitba club like Dundee. David Murray went one better than Dundee, he bought the great Glasgow Rangers. Like Sir Philip Greene with his luxury £100 million yachts and his offshore life, David Murray sold a Glasgow institution for a token payment of a pound. ‘I Play for Money’ does not feature David Murray, but it really, really ,should. He, more than anyone else, epitomise all that is, and was, wrong with Scottish football. That man should be in the dock, never mind on the telly. As, incidentally, to show I’m not biased,  should Sir Philip Greene, but there’s another story, which involves former Rangers Chief Executive Charles Green standing in the dock and waiting to find out if Rangers were legally bound to pay his £500 000 defence costs. I write fiction, but you really couldn’t make it up.