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.

Scotland 2—2 Austria

Watching Scotland play is a duty rather than a pleasure. I was brought up in an era when fitba was on the telly you watched it. If Celtic was playing Clydebank at Parkhead I’d go to the game and rush home to see if I was on the telly with the other 17 000 crowd haunting Paradise. I didn’t go very often. Obviously, watching every single game when Scotland played in the World Cup in 1974 and 1978. We beat Brazil and there was that Archie Gemmill goal against Holland when we nearly qualified for the next round. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9hLuv5AlXWE

It was great being on the road with Ally’s army. I didn’t go anywhere, but the idea was a good one. I’ve only been to one Scotland game at Hampden. I was accompanying some adults with Learning Disabilities. They were looking at me and I was looking at them. And I know what they were thinking…

Obviously, I’m a Celtic man. So I gave David Marshall the once over. Celtic flung £5 million at a Greek keeper that couldn’t catch a pound coin if you handed it to him. So signing Marshall on a free transfer takes me back to Hampden with those Learning Disability adults. Marshall made a couple of good saves here. But he was at fault for the first goal.  Grillitsch hit it from about 30 yards.  Marshall palmed it to his right. The six-foot-seven Austrian powerhouse, Kalajdzic, swooped and scored from the rebound in the 55th minute. Kalajdzic had another goal disallowed two minutes later for a push on Tierney. Scotland got lucky there, because there was little contact.

Tierney was Scotland’s best player. Captain Andy Robertson plays in front of him. I don’t think that works. Both are full backs. I think it’s either/or, not both. And Tierney is simply better. Celtic rather that wasting £20 million on duds should have kept him for another season. He’s sorely missed.

On the other side of the defence, we had the Belgian phoenix Jack Henry. Playing Henry allowed Clarke to push McTominay into central midfield. The Manchester United played had not a bad game. Henry in comparison is Mr Potato head, six foot five and he can’t head a ball. He’s not one I want to keep at Celtic. But he’s good enough for Scotland. Strangely, a Scotland team without any of the Champion’s players. We even had my namesake, O’Donnell, playing at right back (I’m better than him, but slower, a lot slower, and can’t take shys). O’Donnell proved his worth by taking the free-kick from which Hanley equalised on the 71st minute.

The Austrian backline played high, the ball scooped in behind. The Austrian keeper, Schlager, had the option of coming for the ball but hung back. Hanley didn’t. Schlager also made a basic goal-keeping mistake on the cusp of half-time. He passed the ball to Lyndon Dykes, perhaps time-wasting, knowing Dykes doesn’t score many goals. But Dykes found Christie and the Celtic forward hit the keeper with it. It’s not been a great season for him either. I’ll miss Christie when he leaves Celtic.

I’ll mention Stuart Armstrong because he also played for Celtic. Scotland are good at draws and the game looked to be petering out to a 1—1. Then a nothing ball was thrown into the box and Kalajdzic from the penalty spot, with the ball slightly behind him, powered it into the net. Marshall had no chance with this one.

I didn’t rate Scotland’s chances. With ten minutes to go it looked like another defeat. Armstrong played his part by going off a substitute. This allowed Celtic stalwart McGregor to come on and John McGinn to push forward and play up front with Adams (an Englishman winning his first cap for Scotland).

Kalajdzic’s goal was a beauty. But John McGinn’s was even better. You may remember that Celtic let McGinn go to Aston Villa. And he’s a Celtic die-hard, his grandfather player with Celtic. And I played with his McGinn’s uncle, Johnny Gibbons, in the school team. (I may have peaked too early here). Gibbons’ sister and McGinn’s mother played in the netball team. Some thought that’s where I belonged. The goal McGinn scored was probably offside, but even Scotland needs a bit of luck. Another bog-standard cross into the box. It wasn’t very high. McGinn did an overhead kick and it soared into the corner. The kind of winning goal that you dreamed about when playing school fitba—even though it wasn’t the winning goal. Scotland had to hang on for a draw. I wonder what the odds are for Steve Clarke being the next Celtic manager?

Clarke brought on ex-Rangers player McLean to run about for thirty seconds, which was an improvement on bringing on McBurnie. Next up Israel (again). We play them every second game. That’ll give me a chance to sympathise with El Hamad for not being good enough for Celtic. And to call for Bitton to be give a free transfer. He’s nearly as bad as Henry. If I’ve missed mentioning any Celtic player let me know (James Forrest doesn’t count. And we all know where Griffiths is at, but whose box he’s in is anybody’s guess).  

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.

Manchester City 3—0 Arsenal

I don’t watch much of English football now. Usually, I fall asleep on a Saturday night watching Match of the Day. After lockdown I watched the big game. When you don’t really care who wins, as I do, the game needs to be sparkling to keep your attention. Arsenal started quite well, but City made the better chances. They’d four shots on goal, before Kevin De Bruyne tried a speculative pass. Earlier he’d misplaced a pass and helped create one of Arsenal’s two first-half chances. Here he misplaced another pass, but David Luiz let the ball hit against him and he played in Raheem Stirling who slammed it into the net. Luiz had came on as an substitute, one of two, Arsenal changes to their first eleven, as players not quite up to speed suffered injuries.

Mikel Arteta, the Arsenal boss, who once played for Rangers, knows a diddy when he sees one and Luiz comes into that category. I was half supporting Arsenal because ex-Celtic player Kieran Tierney was given a run out.

  Ederson Santana de Moraes, the Man City goalkeeper picked apart the Arsenal defence with his first two, second-half passes in the opening minutes. Riyad Mahrez, first touch was poor and he was through on goal, but the chance gone. A minute or two later, another defence-splitting pass. Luiz pulls Mahrez back in the penalty box. Luiz gets sent off.

De Bruyne scores the penalty and it’s just a matter of how many City will score. Eleven players against ten. Training match, with water breaks.  

Substitute Fernandino to England hopeful Phil Foden to make it three…

Arsenal’s best player, goal-keeper, Bernd Leno, which pretty much says it all.

Man City’s keeper wiped out one of his own defenders late in the game. He was taking no chances. Playing Luiz is perhaps taking too big a gamble. Interesting to see where Luiz will go next. Unbelievably, Luiz has gone for around £100 million-plus in an up and down career. He’ll soon be back at Chelsea.

Same old Arsenal, beaten 3—0 by City last time. Beaten 3—0 this time. Kevin de Bruyne taken off, but still made man of the match. Really, it was Luiz. Football is back (yawn). I suppose I’ll watch the Merseyside derby. Don’t care who wins that one either. Waiting for Celtic’s season to begin, anew.

Nine-in-a-row champions, twice over. Glasgow Celtic.

Kilmarnock was Scottish League Champions in 1965. Celtic won the Scottish Cup that year. In 1966 Celtic won the first of their nine-in-a-row league titles. Rangers won the Scottish Cup. 1967, and Celtic won everything, including the European Cup, with a team of players that lived within a twelve miles radius of Parkhead. Bobby Lennox was the furthest away from Paradise, one of three players, with ‘Caesar’, Billy McNeil, and to have played in all nine Championships between 1965-1974.

Jimmy Johnstone has been often polled as Celtic’s best- ever player, but Stein was ruthless, when his legs were gone, wee Jinky was gone. Celtic also won the Glasgow Cup in 1967. With Rangers in it, the year they got to the Cup Winners Cup final, Celtic had to win it and they did. Nothing has come close to that year, with the added bonus of beating Real Madrid in the Bernebeu, playing in Di Stefano testimonial, but the talk was all of the mighty Jimmy Johnstone.  

Stein had a Quality Street reserve team coming through to maintain standards. Kenny Dalglish, Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, Lou Macari. Despite being favourites, Celtic lost the European Cup Final to Feyenoord, after extra-time and having scored first. Ironically at the home of Inter Milan who were first to score and were beaten 2—1.Celtic were also outplayed. Time for a changing of the old guard.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic manager after Tony Mowbrays’s Celtic team were thrashed by St Mirren and Celtic lost narrowly to Rangers in the league that year. Lennon led us to our first of the current nine-in-a-row titles, but at Rugby Park he looked to be on the way out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AtmkHcNlRQQ.

Lennon led us to three league titles in a row and that magnificent win over Barcelona, arguably, the best team ever to arrive at Parkhead.

Ronny Deila was appointed manager of Celtic in June 2014. He was a bright new manager, a gamble on the Celtic board’s part,  who went on to lead Celtic to two consecutive league titles, but never had control of the dressing room. Remember Kris Commons, Scotland’s Player of the Year and a twenty-plus goal a season man, reduced to the bench and flinging his shirt ad Deila after being substituted against Molde in the Europa league, despite having scored. Jimmy Johnstone once did something similar with Jock Stein, he shouted through the door in the manager’s room something—thought to be derogatory—ran away and hid in a dark room for a week, before the other players told him it was safe to come out. Deila was on the way out when Rangers beat us in the Scottish Cup, despite their team being in the First Division. Media talk was of the Rangers being back. (Hibs beat them in the Scottish Cup final).

  In May 2016, Brendan Rodgers was announced as Deila’s replacement and around 12 000 fans turned up at Parkhead to welcome the new manager. He delivered two-and-a-half treble trebles of Scottish League, League and Scottish Cups before turning Judas and leaving for Leicester City. It was no secret he was leaving, but to leave half way through a season lacked Celtic class.

Neil Lennon came in as Celtic caretaker manager and he finished the job of another treble. In his first season in charge he had another treble in his grasp, having won the League Cup, a victory over Rangers. Still in the semi-finals of the Scottish, favourites to win it and 13 points clear of Rangers before being declared Champions once again because of the Covid-19 virus pandemic.

Celitc’s best eleven in the years of Lennon, Delia, Rodgers and Lennon again.

Goalkeeper: Fraser Forster. His European displays under Lennon in his first outing and then as a loan player also in Europe and in the League Cup final against Rangers, where he was head and shoulders above everybody else on the pitch makes this an easy one to pick.

Right back. Mikael Lustig held the spot for most of the nine-in-a-row years. He scored against Rangers a few times and was largely dependable. But his time was up. I wasn’t sad to see him go.

Virgil Van Dijk, European Cup winner with Liverpool. Touted as world player of the year. He oozed class because he was class. Simple.

More difficult to pick who to play beside him. Nobody really stands out. I’ll go with Christopher Jullien, he scored the winner in the League Cup final against Rangers and I think he can go on to great things. Put it this way, I was thinking of Charlie Mulgrew as an alternative.

Left back, easy, easy, Kieran Tierney. Celtic class. His only opposition would come from the man he largely replaced. Emilio Izaguirre under Lennon in his first shift as manager was outstanding.

Scott Brown is the Brownie. He’s had his critics, including me, but against Rangers and everyone else in general, he’s that clichéd 110% man. Leads on the field and off it. He’s been in every Celtic team that won nine-in-a-row and captain for most.

Callum McGregor has played almost every outfield position in the team, because he’s so gifted. Best midfielder in Scotland by some distance. Long may it last he signs another five-year deal. Gives you goals too.  Outstanding.

James Forrest, I’m being a bit hypocritical here. Like Scott Brown he has nine league medals to his name. Neil Lennon used to tell us what a great player he was. We’d watch the match and say, what the fuck? But Forrest scored in big games; he’s got pace and is always a threat. He does the doggies, getting back and helping to defend too. Underrated.

Two strikers up front. Number one striker, Moussa Dembele. Pace, strength, goals. He’s the beast that bullied Rangers. Top class.

Odsonne Edourad can do everything Dembele can do and more, but hasn’t got his strength. It remains to be seen which of the French strikers will go further. We have little chance of keeping Edouard, he’s only 21. But he’s been a joy to watch. Player of the Year in waiting.

Rodger’s played Olivier Ntcham behind the strikers in some matches. The French trio, as you’d expect, were outstanding. But here I’d go for Ryan Christie or Tom Rodgic. Ironically, neither of these two is guaranteed a start in the current team.

Picking between Lennon and Stein is quite a simple choice Jock Stein is the best football manager Scottish football has seen. That includes Alex Ferguson, his understudy in the Scotland job.

Celtic’s nine-in-a-row team under Stein weren’t great for goalkeepers. Ronnie Simpson, John Fallon (never saw him play). Evan William and the rest were distinctly average.

The best of both nine-in-a-row teams.

Goalkeeper Fraser Forster.

Right back is an easy pick: Daniel Fergus McGrain. The best full back in the world was sometimes moved to left back to play for Scotland and give Rangers player Sandy Jardine a game. Danny McGrain could play left back almost as well as he could play right back.

Virgil van Dijk and Billy McNeil, what a central defensive pairing that would have been. In reserve, I’d have Pat Stanton, who was a truly elegant sweeper.

Left back pits Kieran Tierney against Tommy Gemmell who scored in a European Cup final to win the trophy. Need to go for Gemmell. Like Tierney he could defend and get forward and had a bullet-type shot.

Lennon, Auld, Murdoch and Johnstone would fill the midfield slots.

Kenny Dalglish, the best of the Quality Street Kids (apart from McGrain) would also be in the team.

Striker, I’d go with Moussa Dembele and not Stevie Chalmers or Dixie Deans. If I could play Henrik Larsson the pick would be easy. Henrik is King of the non-nine-in-a-row teams. Long may it last. Waiting for ten or more.    Hail, Hail.

Betfred Cup Final: Celtic 1—0 Rangers

Betfred Cup Final (what we used to call the League Cup Final before the rights were sold for hard cash).

I know how Steven Gerrard must feel. I had two quid on Julien for first goal and lost the bookies line. Going further back than that I remember when Celtic used to play Rangers off the park during the Tommy Burns era, only for Brian Laudrup to gallop up the park and score the winner and the flying pig, Andy Goram, to make save after save. Here we had Fraser Foster save a penalty from Alfredo Morelos in the second half, and a world-class save from Ryan Jack in the first half. He also made a fistful of other top-notch saves. Fraser Foster might well have been Neil Lennon’s best signing.

The strange thing about the aftermath of the final is both mangers can feel quietly pleased. Julien was offside when he scored. Rangers did batter Celtic from the first to the last of the 96th minute. By some margin this was Celtic’s worst performance against Rangers in years. Worse than the 2—0 defeat at Ibrox last year under Rodgers. Worse than the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat at Hampden to a Rangers team playing in the First Division. Craig Gordon, Scott Brown, Nir Biton, and Leigh Griffiths played in that game. Callum McGregor and Tom Rogic came on as subs. I was looking for James Forrest’s name, but it was missing. You’d be hard pushed to have noticed he was playing yesterday.

Neil Lennon brought Forrest into the Celtic team and he’s been a consistent presence since then and in the ten domestic trophies won in the last three seasons.   He’s added goals to his game and managers such as Rodgers were quick to tell us how hard he worked. But we’re not digging up bags of coal. Our eyes don’t deceive us. He was rotten yesterday and not much better in the last home game against Hamilton. But his performance was hidden in a team display that never reached the level of mediocrity. Ironically, the miss of the game was not Morelos from twelve yards of the penalty spot (and yes Forster did move off his line) but Mikey Johnston’s. He was played in by Odsonne Edouard and had a one-on-one with McGregor, but put it by the post. That would have given Celtic a 2—0 lead and game over signs would have flashed around the stadium. And despite Ranger’s defenders missing some good chances to score from corners and free kicks, the biggest miss of the afternoon was Kris Ajer’s free header, six yards out, and all he had to do was score.

I was surprised to hear Lennon praising Ajer. I think he must have had on his James Forrest specs on. At one point he tried to play Morelos offside, got nudged aside by the Ibrox psychopath as he ran down the touchline. We knew what was coming next, because Ajer does at least one of these Inspector Gadget tackles every game. Stick a long leg out and hopes to hit the ball. He didn’t, Morelos was in on goal. Only for Fraser Foster to start laughing at the Columbian striker and put him out of his stride. Morelos should have been sent off for kicking Scott Brown, Julien and any other Celtic player within spitting distance when the ball was at the other end of the park.

Lennon had a big call to make before the game, whether to play Edouard or not. Player power. He let the French man decide. He was on the bench and came on to do everything that Lewis Morgan did not and could not. Connor Goldson is not the best centre half in Scottish football, but having Lewis Morgan as an opponent was like having a day off yesterday. Morgan’s not a centre forward and not even the best winger at Celtic. He’s probably fourth or fifth choice.  Vakoun Issouf Bayo, who does not play as a forward for Celtic because he’s either injured or not good enough (probably the latter) wasn’t fit to fill in for Edouard. Neither was Leigh Griffiths deemed not sharp enough or fit enough for a place on the bench. In contrast, Mohamed Elyounoussi was deemed fit enough to start despite missing a few games, but was subbed at half time when the score was 0—0. To use the argument he wasn’t the worst is to invite comparisons for the race to the bottom and there you’ll meet James Forrest, who’ll outpace you and show you his winner’s medals.

Only three Celtic players deserved to pick up a winner’s medal, because individually all the others lost their battles all over the park. Fraser Forster is the giant in which stand the shadows of Edouard, who came on in the second half to cause the Rangers defence problems and Jeremie Frimpong. Little Pingpong might have been the smallest guy on the pitch, he might have given away a penalty—Julien and Ayer sleeping as Morelos got in behind them and Pingpong was the wrong side of the Rangers’ attacker—but the little full back was Celtic’s best defender and attacker. Apart from Forster, Celtic’s best player full stop. He’s a gem of the Kieran Tierney variety and the right back position that was once so troublesome looks sorted.

I’ll take any kind of win over Rangers, whether it’s darts, ludo or pingpong. Yesterday’s final was the tenth on the trot. A marvellous achievement. We have the luxury of a Europa tie against Cluj that is a practice match for Sunday when we play Hibs. I expect us to win there and for Young Boys to beat Rangers and Motherwell to win at Fir Par against Rangers too. Wins like yesterday give a bit of breathing space, but the next game and the one after that are the only ones that matter. Old glory is no glory. Yesterday’s news. Celtic need a replacement and back up for Edouard. Simple. And if they can’t put their foot on the ball and play football, which they didn’t manage yesterday, then the players shouldn’t be at Celtic. Simple. The pleasing thing about yesterday was the win and not the manner in which we won. Quite simply, we didn’t deserve to, but yesterday’s fixture also knocked about twenty million quid off the over-inflated price tag for Morelos. He was that bad yesterday he should have been wearing the green and white hoops.   

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.

 

Tommy Burns, BBC Alba 9pm, BBCiPlayer.

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https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m0000fk0/tommy-burns?suggid=m0000fk0

In the week of another lacklustre Celtic performance in Europe, and, ironically, when Celtic visit Kilmarnock’s Rugby Park on Sunday,  this is a wonderful tribute to the evergreen Tommy Burns who died ten years ago, at the age of 51, of skin cancer, who managed both teams. Why a boy from the Carlton was on Gaelic telly I don’t know, and don’t care, I loved it. Tommy loved his family, who appear here talking about how great their dad was –and I’m not arguing- he loved his fitba and Celtic and he loved his Roman Catholic faith. His life revolved around his beliefs. A true Celtic diehard, but not a bigot.

Former Ranger’s managers Walter Smith and Ally McCoist helped carry his coffin. All the football greats were in attendance of this humble man. Billy Stark his former teammate and assistant manager at Kilmarnock broke down in tears as he talked about Tommy, and how grateful he was to have played for and followed in the footsteps of the great Jock Stein and managed Celtic.

Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain and Davy Hay the Quality Street team of the Stein nine-in-a-row era all loved Tommy. Gordon Strachan stayed an extra year in the gold-fish bowl of Celtic because he knew Burns was dying. Paddy Bonner shared a room with the young Burns and a love of Celtic. George McCluskey talked about signing a contract with Kilmarnock because of Burns, a friend he trusted – to slag him off – but not rip him off.

But to imagine this is a programme about football would be a mistake. This is a programme about family and uncommon humanity. Burns wasn’t the cream of the Quality Street team, but in a new era where we have Kieran Tierney, a boy who is Celtic daft, playing for the Hoops, he would do well to follow in the footsteps of the late-great Tommy Burns, who oozed joy in living and may he rest in peace in Paradise. All Celtic players should be made to watch this programme. Then, maybe, some shysters, like Dembele, would understand, there’s no king of Glasgow, we are a republican team, but the passing on of a true Carlton heritage of Brother Wilfred and helping each other be the best we can be. Hail, Hail, Tommy Burns.