Why Ciftci is the wrong bhoy for Deila

Celts should look elsewhere

by Johnny Connelly

Dundee United's Nadir Ciftci

Parkhead bound? – Celtic have bid for Ciftci

While the likes of Asda and Tesco are big on customer loyalty, I’m not sure Celtic should continue to collect their Dundee United Club Card points by securing the services of Nadir Ciftci.

After snapping up Gary Mackay Steven and Stuart Armstrong from Tannadice not so long ago, Ronny Deila has again turned his head to Tayside, and tested the water with a £900k bid for United’s leading forward.

The big Turk found the net 14 times in the league last season, and has been a popular figure at Dundee United since his move to Scotland, which was brokered by Celtic favourite, Pierre Van Hooijdonk in 2013. With a graceful touch and an eye for goal, it’s easy to understand why Ciftci would flag on the Parkhead club’s radar, but many players do, and not all are a natural fit at Celtic.

While acquiring the Scottish Premiership’s 2nd top scorer from last season may sound like a reasonable idea in some respects, I believe the negatives of the move far outweigh the positives, and Celtic should look elsewhere.

First off, by playing at Dundee United, Ciftci is granted a certain attacking freedom that just doesn’t come when you’re a Celtic striker playing in Scotland. He’s spent the last 2 years playing against teams who fancy their chances against Jackie McNamara’s side, and as such, will defend high up the park, leaving space to run into. Celtic strikers are seldom granted the same allowance, as Ronny Deila’s frontmen find themselves breaking down sides playing with five defenders, packed deep into their own penalty area.

Ciftci could potentially have a modicum of success, but is he any better than the current crop of Celtic strikers, all of who are considered ‘not good enough’ by large sections of the support? Is Ciftci more gifted than Anthony Stokes? Or Leigh Griffiths? It’s questionable. Some would even highlight the likes of Teemu Pukki as a comparison, who arrived with over 30 international caps, and a Bundesliga pedigree, only to flop in the East End of Glasgow.

Ciftci’s disciplinary record and inconsistent form are also a cause for concern. A reputation for petulance, as well as an incident where he grabbed a referee by the throat, and also allegedly tried to bite an opposition player, will hang over his football career for the next few seasons at least.

Celtic have probably hit the nail on the head with their initial bid of £900k in terms of establishing the correct value of the player, but the Tayside club rejected this offer. Should Celtic wish to acquire the player, they’ll need to go well over the £1m mark. The issue is complicated further, as Middlesborough have expressed an interest in the player. Is it wise to get involved in a bidding war with a club who’ll be pushing for promotion to the English Premiership this season? A £3m flop at Middlesborough would soon be forgotten about, but a £3m flop at Celtic would live long in the memory of the fans, and would seriously dent the club’s transfer budget.

The move would also be bad for the neutral fan in Scotland too. The Scottish domestic league is enough of a foregone conclusion as it is, without stripping Dundee United of their one remaining flair player. With no Rangers in the league again this year, Celtic will cruise to the title. Aberdeen can’t be expected to replicate the heroics of last season again this year, and if Celtic snap up Ciftci, Dundee United will have lost their top three players, all to the Parkhead club, in less than a year.

Ronny Delia’s task is not easy. He must continue to entertain the fans, develop players, balance the books, and give a decent showing in Europe, all on a shoe string budget. Although Celtic cannot afford to throw £10m+ to obtain what the media would call a ‘Champions League striker’, they can look to develop younger players to reach that level.

Few people would argue that Ciftci has the potential to be a ‘Champions League striker’, so Deila must resist the pressure to make snap judgements in the transfer market, and patiently wait for the right player to emerge amid the furore of the transfer window.

Newcastle United – The Club Who Deserve Relegation

by Johnny Connelly

Once again in England’s bloated top division, the foot of the table has been far more interesting than the summit. At one point we had eight or nine clubs scrambling to avoid the drop; and with just one space still to be decided, it’s clear to me that Newcastle United have earned that spot.

It’s often a heart-breaking affair where a smaller club has battled against the odds to take it to the last day, only to fall at the final hurdle. This won’t be the case for Newcastle.

The Tyneside club have outdone themselves on the disarray front this season. Campaign after campaign, they make the same mistakes, segwaying gracefully from one crisis to another. While the Toon Army will be quick to blame this season on Mike Ashley, I’d argue that the 2014/15 shambles was brought on by themselves as they fought tooth and nail to oust a manager who had them challenging for a top 10 finish.

After months of pressure, ‘Pardew Out’ planes flying over St James, and even the launch of www.sackpardew.com, the 2012 Premiership Manager of the year jumped before he was pushed. Newcastle United were sitting 10th in the table, just 5 point off a European spot. In stepped John Carver, a man who “loves the club”, as we’ve heard so often. Fast forward 5 months, and the Magpies are fighting for Premier League survival.

The remarkable thing is, this is almost a carbon copy of events at the club in the past. The sentimental appointment of Carver is almost tantamount to Northern tribalism. How many times must it fail before the fans realise it doesn’t work? Einstein said that insanity was doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Needless to say Einstein wasn’t a geordie.

Cast your mind back to Sam Allardyce’s tenure at the club. He received the same treatment. Cries of, “You don’t know what you’re doing”, when Newcastle were sitting 12th in the table. Less than a season into the job, with no hope of being given time to build a team, Allardyce got the chop. Enter, Newcastle legend, Kevin Keegan. A mere 6 games into the 2008/09 season, the love for Keegan had gone, as Newcastle found themselves second bottom of the table. Keegan was duly sacked. His replacement was to be Joe Kinnear, and what a replacement he was.

Within a week of taking the job, Kinnear had verbally abused the Daily Mirror’s Simon Bird at a press conference, swearing 52 times in the process, and declaring he’d never give interviews to the national press again. Good start, Joe.  Kinnear lasted until April, when his health took a turn for the worst, and he stepped down, requiring a heart bypass operation.

Newcastle were in 18th position with 8 games remaining. As much as there was a distinct danger of going down, they were in fact only 9 points away from a top 10 finish. The season hung in the balance. What a normal club would do in this position is appoint a battle-hardened pro to ensure survival. But as we know, Newcastle United are not a normal club.

On the 1st of April 2009, Alan Shearer, a man who had never managed at any level before, was appointed interim manager of Newcastle United. Shearer managed one win in eight, and Newcastle were relegated on the last day of the season. That was just 6 years ago, yet Newcastle seem to have learned nothing about it. Carver’s appointment and performance has been almost identical. He’s managed two wins from 15, and even included an astounding streak of defeats, spanning 9 matches.
Even if they do stay up, they’ll continue down this illogical path. Half a dozen times burnt; still not shy, it would seem.

Many people level the blame at Mike Ashley. I don’t.

Mike Ashley

Newcastle have been a shambles long before Mike Ashley was on the scene, and they’ll be a shambles long after he’s gone (unless the whole ethos of the club shifts towards a more realistic structure). The popular belief is that Ashley isn’t up for funding any transfers, and the Newcastle fans are very unhappy that he’s turned a profit of £34m. There are two things very wrong here.

Firstly, since Mike Ashley took over in 2007, Newcastle have spent over £140m on transfers, almost £40m of which was spent this season. The accusation that he hasn’t spent any money is therefore unfounded. This leads me to my second point. The assumption that a lack of spending is what’s put Newcastle in this sticky situation is borderline laughable. It’s a given that the very best players come with big price tags, but Newcastle are not in a position to attract this type of player. What Newcastle have ended up with is a group of mercenaries.

If you think a big transfer and wage budget automatically brings success, you need only look as far as QPR to see how wrong you are. Their budget is extraordinary, so much so that they’re currently spending more on wages than Borussia Dortmund and Juventus. Big spending has landed big clubs in big trouble, some of which have never bounced back. Leeds, Bolton and Portsmouth are living examples, and it’s taken a long time for the likes of Southampton and Middlesboro to get it right.

The problem isn’t that Newcastle aren’t spending ; it’s that they’re spending poorly, and that’s hardly Mike Ashley’s fault. It seems that the Newcastle fans have an obsession with having a panto villain, so much so that they can’t see the problems that are stacking up at the club. There seems to be no long-term goal. If they make progress, the fans cry out that it’s not happening quick enough. This is madness, and is why the club will continue to yo-yo between mid-table and relegation.

Mike Ashley is no angel, we know that. He’s in the game to make money and further his sports direct brand. Where would Newcastle be if they didn’t sack Pardew now? Perhaps around mid-table, with something to build on for next season?

Is the goal to eventually become a team who can challenge for the Premiership title? Or just to support the club through thick and thin, playing attractive football? Or develop an Ajax/St Ettiene/Dnipro style youth academy? – Who knows!? The fact is, changing the variables this often does not lend itself to any of these long term goals.

Newcastle United are a big club, with all the right resources to be on the periphery of European football. Why is that not enough for the support? Chances are, it’ll be Hull, not Newcastle who face the drop; but another stint in Championship could be exactly what Newcastle need to get their ship in order. For the good of one of England’s biggest and best supported clubs, they need to go down, as Premiership survival could vindicate the destructive path they’re on for years to come.

Villa Park Backlash – The Sterilisation Of Modern Football

Media Horror at Fans’ Enjoyment of Football

by Johnny Connelly

Even in the current climate of nauseating Ofcom complaints, e-petitions, and general public shock at all things that deviate even slightly from wearisome pre-scripted television shows; the media’s outrage at the pitch invasion at Villa Park on Saturday was a bridge too far for me.

Tim Sherwood’s Aston Villa side ended 58 years of hurt, securing an FA Cup semi-final trip to Wembley at the expense of bitter rivals West Brom. The newly arrived gilet devotee spurred on his Villa side to an enthralling 2-0 win. We had the romance of the cup, red cards, a late winner, and even a pitch invasion or two to boot.

Short of a decent standard of football being on show (it was Aston Villa remember), the match was a spectacle for fans of the respective teams and neutrals alike. Everyone enjoyed it. Well, everyone except the BBC commentary and analysis team.

As the clock ticked down, a ragtag band of Villa fans made a dash for the pitch. A horrified Jonathan Pearce cried out: “We’ve got fans on the pitch! The game’s still going on!”.

Pearce’s words were strikingly similar to those of Kenneth Wolstenholme during the dying seconds of England’s famous 4-2 World Cup Final win over Germany in 1966; but the media furore that was incurred by virtue of the fans’ euphoria couldn’t have changed more in the 49 years that passed since then.

Jonathan Pearce’s wet blanket approach to football fan enjoyment was soon echoed by crisp enthusiast, Gary Lineker, and token Geordie thicko, Alan Shearer. With the BBC having set the tone, the morning papers followed suit. Shock horror at ordinary football fans enjoying a fleeting moment of spontaneity in the game. That wall to wall condemnation of the pitch invasion will forever serve as a marker for me in the game. When did football become so sterile and marginalised?

The pitch invasion at Villa Park was a beautiful one; an exertion of joy by football fans who’ve been suffering for a long time, and will now get something to shout about at one of the most famous football stadiums in the world. At a glance, you could see that those who ran on the pitch were ordinary football fans, not thugs. Even young kids got involved. A rare moment that they’ll be talking about for years to come.

I’m not advocating a pitch invasion every week. Nor am I suggesting that security developments since tragedies like Hillsborough should be undone. There was no thuggery, just good clean fun, albeit thanks to some unusually lax stewardship and policing. It’s clear to me that there’s a correlation between the decline in the impulsive, chaotic element of football, and the increase in money in the game.

Football seems to be becoming less and less about the punter going through the turnstiles; and more and more about how much cash can be force fed from broadcasters into an already morbidly obese handful of chosen leagues.

Only last month, Sky announced a deal that equates to around £100m per English Premiership game. This represents an increase of over 70%. I wonder, will the fans see a 70% reduction in their season ticket prices? They probably deserve one, seeing as Sky will be making them attend games at odd times like 12 noon on a Sunday to accommodate another two or three games per channel, per day.

For all the cash that’s been thrown at the English Premier League, where’s it got them to? Manchester United have gone from a near perfect football club, to a rudderless money pit, watched by football tourists, attracting B-list mercenaries to warm their bench. Chelsea’s ‘special one‘, has compared Stamford Bridge to a morgue. Arsenal’s Emirate’s Stadium is regularly referred to as ‘The Highbury Library’, and Manchester City even resorted to running a 2 for 1 offer on their Champions League tickets, thanks to woeful attendance figures.

Football on TV could be a great thing, but it’s failing to serve the fans at present. Sky forces the hand of all other broadcasters, and has been the driving force behind this pooh-poohing of all things spontaneous. When they should be concerned with the product and the appeal behind it, their focus seems rigidly stuck on punting you another HD box, with a subscription longer than most EPL players‘ contracts.

Leagues outside England, Spain, Germany and Italy all face the same problem. Scrambling for the scraps off the table of the TV money men. The game will die a slow, painful death unless this changes.

Peter Lawwell’s suggestion to shun the paltry £2m TV deal in Scotland is a bold one, and a step in the right direction, if nothing else. His argument is that the likes of Celtic could make more than this, if they reverted back to football at 3pm on a Saturday. At last, someone fighting the corner of the fans!

Do I think his suggestion will turn the game on its head? Probably not, but it’s as positive a step as could possibly be taken by someone representing a club in a ‘smaller’ league at present. Lord knows that the required changes won’t come from FIFA or governing bodies of that ilk. Perhaps a shift in technology could wrestle the control away from the big broadcasters in the future, but until that time, the status quo remains, and the big broadcasters hold all the cards.

The broadcasters’ control is suffocating the game. The poisonous discrediting of the Villa Park pitch invasion is just the tip of the iceberg, and drastic change is required before the beautiful game turns irreversibly ugly.

Fearless and Focussed – Strachan’s Scots Go Down Fighting in Dortmund

Fearless and Focussed – Strachan’s Scots Go Down Fighting in Dortmund

A closer look at how Scotland fared against the World Champions

By Johnny Connelly

As Thomas Muller’s looping header sailed over the head of David Marshall and nestled into the back of the net after just 18 minutes at the Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, The Tartan Army could have been forgiven for thinking a hiding was about to ensue.

What happened next was truly remarkable. A wounded Scotland side were galvanised. Facing a German World Cup-winning side who steamrollered past everything in their path in Brazil, the Scots matched their opponents, and delivered a performance that made Joachim Lowe’s side work much harder than they’d ever have anticipated. A stunning equaliser from Ikechi Anya set the cat among the pigeons, and at one point Scotland even looked as though they’d go on to win the match. The pressure finally told, with 20 minutes left on the clock, as golden boot winner Thomas Muller bundles home the winner.

There’s no disputing that collectively, the Scotland team’s effort was herculean; but where in particular did Strachan’s men shine? Where could they improve? And where were they simply not good enough? – Hitthebyline takes a closer look…

The Goalkeeper

David Marshall at full stretch, as Muller opens the scoring

David Marshall at full stretch, as Muller opens the scoring


With the likes of Allan McGregor, Matt Gilks, and Craig Gordon breathing down his neck, David Marshall should draw confidence from the fact that Gordon Strachan has once again handed him the no.1 jersey. Sadly for Scotland, this confidence seems in short supply. Marshall has come a long way since he was given a baptism of fire, being thrown on at half time as a young boy for Celtic against Barcelona. He’s cut his teeth for many years in the English Championship, and won many plaudits as he kept Cardiff in with a fighting chance of staving off relegation from the English Premiership last year. Despite coming such a long way, Marshall still shows a worrying lack of confidence and fails to command his area adequately.

He was always going to have a busy night against the world champions, but he did himself no favours after being beaten by a looping header early on that caught him flat-footed. A string of world-class saves followed from Marshall, in the first half, and the second. As much as this undoubtedly redeemed his early mistake, it must frustrate the manager, knowing that his goalkeeper is so close to having the whole package.

Marshall rarely looked troubled by anything the Germans had to throw at him in terms of shot stopping, and could do little to prevent their 2nd goal. However, the former Celtic ‘keeper looked shaky from cross balls, and seemed to be happiest when his defence were organising themselves, rather than when he was forced to reprimand them at any time.

Hitthebyline Rating – 8/10: Football is a cruel game. Marshall made one mistake against the world champions, but was made to pay for it. A lesser goalkeeper would have conceded 3 or 4 on the night. The only person Marshall needs to convince that he’s a world class goalkeeper is himself.
If Marshall can convince himself he’s a world class goalkeeper, he’ll be an asset to this campaign. If not, then someone else will receive the no.1 jersey, sooner rather than later.

The Defence

All Hans on deck - Grant Hanley had his work cut out for him against Germany

All Hans on deck – Grant Hanley had his work cut out for him against Germany


Attacking line-ups don’t come any more formidable than that of Germany. André Schürrle, Mario Gotze, Marco Reus and Müller tormented the Scots back 4. Alan Hutton, Russell Martin, Grant Hanley and Steven Whittaker faced the most formidable of opponents, but in most respects, did as well as could be expected. Collectively, they fought hard, held shape, kept their cool, and threw themselves infront of shots and crosses from the first whistle until the last.

Strachan clearly values pace in his side, particularly on the flanks. This is probably why we’ve seen so much of Alan Hutton, and on Sunday night’s form, he looks like the correct choice. Never a player with a great deal of finesse, but Hutton’s ability to get from box to box at pace is invaluable to the team. He rarely looked out of place from start to finish.

Martin and Whittaker did well, without doing anything spectacular. A disciplined performance will be what was asked of them, and very few people would argue that they didn’t deliver that. Grant Hanley seems to be a player that divides the Tartan Army. For the most part, a hard-working, no-nonsense defender, but at times his lapses in concentration seem to lead him into trouble. Hanley’s tendency to give away needless fouls or be caught out of position has costed Scotland in the past, and continued to cause problems against Germany.

Hitthebyline Rating – 7/10: The central defensive partnership for Scotland has been a pain point for many years, and it doesn’t quite look as though it’s been cracked just yet. Strachan has his side well-drilled, but if there’s one area of the field the side could do with strengthening, it’s in the centre of defence.In terms of the performance against the Germans, there’s not much to complain about. The work rate was correct throughout, and the discipline was good for the most part.


The Midfield

Anya slots past Neuer

Anya slots past Neuer


If Scotland were going to contest the game well against Germany, a strong midfield performance was required. This was delivered overall, but the diversity in performance standard was more apparent in midfield, than in any other area of the park. Ikechi Anya, James Morrison, Charlie Mulgrew, Darren Fletcher, and Barry Bannan lined up in an unusual midfield 5.

It hasn’t taken Ikechi Anya long to establish himself as a firm fans favourite. With only a handful of caps to his name, he’s already bagged a few goals, and never fails to get the fans up off their seats. In that respect, It was business as usual for Anya against Germany. The Watford wing-back was the standout Scot on the field. He covered every blade of grass for the full 90 minutes; battling hard against the German attackers, passing & moving well, skipping past German defenders, and running more than half the length of the park to slot home a well-earned equaliser. Anya’s passion, skill, energy and pace are unparalleled in the Scotland squad. Whether Scotland qualify for Euro 2016 or not could be in no small part, down to the form of Ikechi Anya.

James Morrison spent much of the game chasing shadows. He is unquestionably a dogged, hard-working midfielder, but looked a little over-awed by the occasion at times. Instances of slack-passing and poor decision making were peppered throughout his performance, but Morrison remained resolute, and continued to work hard.

Celtic’s Charlie Mulgrew looked out of sorts from the first whistle to the last. I’m not sure what’s happened to the experienced dead-ball specialist over the summer, but for whatever reason, the player’s form has dropped drastically. Mulgrew looked sluggish, and couldn’t keep up with the pace of the game. His distribution wasn’t up to its usual standard, and moments of frustration crept in, which ultimately led to a yellow, then red card. Not a good night for Charlie.

The return of a natural leader like Fletcher buoyed the support, and this definitely had an effect on the team. The Manchester United man looked a cut above the rest. He was composed, fearless in the challenge, and sprayed passes around with ease. Fitness still seems to be an issue for Fletcher, as he was subbed off for James McArthur in the second half, but the fans will have seen enough to unanimously agree that Fletcher will be one of the first names on the team sheet for the foreseeable future.

Busy doing nothing would be a fair summary of Barry Bannan’s evening. Always running? Yes, but never any end product. Bannan has unquestionable talent, but for some reason, the Scotland fans have yet to see the best of it. At just 24, there is hope that he’ll mature into a big game player for his country, but if his first 18 caps are anything to go by, this maturity could be some way off. The Crystal Palace midfielder succeeded in making a nuisance of himself against the Germans. An abundance of pace serves him well, but a tendency to be caught in two minds seems to crop up more often than Gordon Strachan would like. Another so-so performance by Bannan saw him hooked for Wigan’s Shaun Maloney. Strachan does seem to have faith in the player, but there will come a time when he’ll look for this faith to be repaid.

Hitthebyline Rating – 8/10: Stunning performances from Anya and Fletcher were juxtaposed with Mulgrew’s miserable showing. Bannan and Morrison had decent enough games, but could have done so much more. Scotland have plenty options in midfield, with McArthur and Maloney pushing for a starting place, as well as the likes of Scott Brown and James Forrest on the road to recovery.The players Strachan has at his disposal in this area of the field have experience at the very highest level, and could be hugely significant for the Euro 2016 campaign.


The Forwards

On the run - Naismith chases a wayward pass

On the run – Naismith chases a wayward pass

…or, forward, as the case was against Germany. Everton’s white-hot Steven Naismith had the unenviable task of being the lone striker against a usually water-tight Germany defence. The ex-Kilmarnock and Rangers frontman didn’t disappoint. Naismith has slotted in seamlessly to replace the tireless runner that was Kenny Miller. His work ethic was exactly what was required to cause problems against Germany, and the striker was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet in the second half after snatching at a few chances. Naismith has developed well over the past few seasons, and with a little more exposure in the English Premier League, should continue to improve. Strachan made the decision to switch Naismith for another English Premier League-based Scot, in Steven Fletcher. Fletcher lived up to his exorbitant price tag, making an immediate impact to slot a beautifully weighted pass through to Anya for the equaliser. Fletcher’s physical edge boosted Scotland’s attacking options. The big striker fought hard in the air, and held the ball up well for supporting midfielders, but could do little to reverse the fate of Strachan’s men on the night.

Hitthebyline Rating – 8/10:
Both Naismith and Fletcher were terrific. They battled hard against superior opposition, and were unlucky to come away on the losing side. With Naismith’s terrier like pressing of the ball, and Fletcher’s physical, yet intelligent play being at the disposal of Scotland, the real shame was that both players didn’t get the chance to play together against the Germans.  Scotland have very little else to call upon in the striking department beyond these two players but their commitment and ability will serve their country well on the quest towards Euro 2016 qualification, and beyond.

Why Celts Shouldn’t Be So Keane on Roy


By Johnny Connelly

So Neil Lennon’s reign at Celtic is already a distant memory, and with the Champions League qualifiers just weeks away, the Parkhead faithful nervously await the announcement to unveil his successor.

Several names have been batted around – Owen Coyle, Henrik Larsson, David Moyes, Malky Mackay, and Michael Laudrup to name a few. There seems to be no obvious choice lying in wait to take over from Lennon. It looks like even the bookies are somewhat in the dark on this one, but if their current favourite, Roy Keane ends up landing the job, I fear that the Celtic board may have made a grave error.

There have been few more fiery and controversial characters in British football than Roy Keane over the past 20 years. Undoubtedly a world-beater of a player at his peak; but the Irishman became a figure of ridicule throughout the twilight of his playing days, and arguably more so into his management career.

Celtic pride themselves on cultural acceptance, sportsmanship, and a positive moral flamboyancy from the support. Does Keane fit the mould to carry on these traditions? His well-documented instances of emotional spontaneous combustion would indicate that he doesn’t.

Amongst other things, Keane walked out on his country during the World Cup, walked out on Manchester United after a disagreement with the man who made him, and ended Alf Inge Haaland’s career with a tackle that can only be described as savage.

Do Celtic really want a man who condones this thuggish behaviour to be calling the shots at the club?

I’ll give Keane his due. During his first season as manager at Sunderland as manager, he did well. He took the club from 2nd bottom in the Championship, to end up winning the league, all in one season. Just as things were looking good for the current Republic of Ireland Assistant, he continued on a phenomenal spending spree from the previous season, assembling a huge squad in a less than frugal manner.

His splurges at Sunderland included:

  • £8m on Anton Ferdinand
  • £9m on Craig Gordon
  • £6m on Kenwyne Jones
  • £5.5m on Kieran Richardson
  • £2.5m on El-Hadji Diouf
  • £4m on Andy Reed
  • £4.5m on George McCartney
  • £5m on Michael Chopra

In total, he spent over £75m in just over two seasons, adding 39 players to the Sunderland roster. How would a manager that spends so recklessly cope with stringent budget of around £5/6m per season at Celtic, bearing in mind that a £3m outlay on a player that doesn’t turn out to be a first team regular is considered as a catastrophe?

Keane’s demise at Sunderland came about thanks to a 7-1 skelping at the hands of Everton, a 4-1 trouncing by Bolton, a 2-2 draw with Northampton, and a run of five losses from six Premiership games. Keane managed to shoe-horn in a spat with the FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, (calling him “a clown”), a fall out with club chairman Niall Quinn, and a war of words with majority shareholder Ellis Short, before eventually resigning, leaving Sunderland languishing in 18th position in the Premiership.

The Irishman was out of the game for just two months before taking over as manager of Ipswich with a view to guiding them back to the Premiership. A series of weak signings, including Martin Fulop, Grant Leadbitter, David Healy, and Daryl Murphy scuppered any hopes of the Tractor Boys making it back to the big time. Keane’s side managed to draw an astounding 20 matches in the league, which saw them finish in 15th place. His next (and final) season saw things go from bad to worse. In a season where the club were expected to challenge for promotion, Keane guided them to a lowly 21st place, sitting behind the likes of Doncaster Rovers and Barnsley, before he was sacked in December of 2011.

Keane had been out in the managerial wilderness since then, before Martin O’Neill appointed him as Republic of Ireland’s Assistant Manager. In his only two experiences as a club manager, his record compares unfavourably against the likes of Steve Bruce, and Peter Reid at Sunderland (Premiership), as well as Joe Royle, and Jim Magilton at Ipswich.

He has no experience managing in Scotland. He has no experience managing in Europe. He has no experience working on a tight budget. When we factor in all these things, it’s hard to imagine how his name is in contention for any job, let alone the Celtic hotseat.

Who knows which way Celtic will turn as they seek Neil Lennon’s successor. They have plenty of options at their disposal, but if they want to continue a tradition of success, financial prudence, and universal appeal, then surely Roy shouldn’t be the bhoy for them.

Was David Moyes Doomed from Day 1?

By Johnny Connelly
David Moyes during his time at Manchester United

Moyes – Down and Out


Any last lingering doubts that David Moyes would continue as manager of Manchester United were quashed in one fell swoop, as the news broke this morning that the Scotsman would be relieved of his duties, just 10 months into a 6 year contract.

United fans were quietly confident when Moyes replaced the seemingly untouchable Sir Alex Ferguson less than a year ago. Since then, pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong; but to what extent can David Moyes be held directly responsible for what has been a catastrophic season?

There were several key factors that made this season the worst in Manchester United’s Premiership history, not least of all, the tired looking squad of players that David Moyes inherited. From back to front, the Manchester United squad of August 2013 was weak. Both De Gea and Lindegaard look unconvincing in big games, while the back 4 continued to rely on players like Evra, Vidic and Ferdinand, who are well past their peak. Their famous midfield, once boasting the likes of a youthful Giggs, Keane, Scholes and Beckham; fell from grace, turning to Cleverly, Young, Nani and an ageing Carrick. In the striking department, they now cling to a want-away Van Persie, a hot & cold Rooney, and a bang average Danny Welbeck.

To think that Sir Alex Ferguson guided that ailing squad to the Premiership title by a margin of 11 points isn’t so much impressive as it is miraculous. Had Fergie stayed on another season, would he be able to replicate this feat? I sincerely doubt it. United had been on the decline for several years, arguably since around 2009 when world-beaters like Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez opted for pastures new. Any big signings since then (such as Van Persie) seemed to come out of desperation rather than as part of any great master-plan.

David Moyes took the reins after around five years of chronic under-investment. His first summer transfer window needed to be a whirlwind of inbound activity. Perhaps around five or six world-class players on the right side of 30 were required to inject new life into United; but as we all know, it didn’t pan out that way. Leighton Baines, Cesc Fabregas, Mesut Ozil and Robert Lewandowski were all targeted, but Moyes’ United couldn’t table a bid enough close enough to wrestle these top players away from their respective clubs. Was this the fault of Moyes? Or did the Manchester United hierarchy believe that Moyes could continue to run Fergie’s threadbare squad on fumes?

On transfer deadline day, Moyes delved into the transfer market to panic buy Marouane Fellani. In what proved to be a sign of things to come, the transfer was an expensive disaster. Fellani had served Moyes well at Everton, but since his £27.5m switch to Old Trafford, he’s looked clumsy, cumbersome, and out of his depth. Moyes could argue that if he’d been allocated a proper war-chest to turn the club around, he could have secured some of his A-list targets; but I doubt there’s anything he could say to defend the procurement of his one-paced afro-headed Belgian midfielder.

With the first transfer window being written off as a failure in the eyes of the concerned fan-base, the next judge of Moyes’ credentials would be his choice in players to trust and invest in. Moyes came under fire throughout the first half of the season for not giving Shinji Kagawa a regular start, particularly when Van Persie picked up an injury. An ever-changing back four also seemed to lead to a lack of stability, so much so that the team’s form began to suffer. Perhaps the club’s main sellable asset, Wayne Rooney, was misfiring too. He struggled for fitness, made noises about leaving the club, and managed a haul of just 17 goals across the whole season (just 1 goal off his worst ever for United). Rooney could have been sold. It’d have been no surprise if he commanded a transfer fee of £30-40m, which could have been used to fund a bid to secure a striker on the way up.

Instead, Rooney was offered a new 5-year contract, on a reported wage of £300,000 per week. Rooney understandably signed the contract, but his form didn’t noticeably improve. Instead of a waning Rooney on £300,000 per week, would the club’s needs have been better served by securing three top players on around £100,000 per week? Was Moyes in control during the Rooney contract talks? It’s hard to tell.

One thing Moyes didn’t have (because let’s face it, only one man does), was the Fergie factor. Sir Alex’s uncanny ability to turn average players into world beaters, to upset the most astronomical of odds, and to make players fight for him with every fibre of their being is what makes him arguably the greatest football manager ever. Moyes was never going to live up to Ferguson’s legacy, but the manner in which he failed in terms of getting his players to fight for him verged on embarrassing.

For whatever reason, Manchester United’s big players didn’t fight for Moyes in the same manner as they fought for his predecessor. Anytime a United side under Sir Alex lost, they’d go down with a roar. Under Moyes, all too often this season, they’ve gone down with a whimper.

As the manager of such an illustrious club, Moyes must shoulder some of the blame for losing 11 times in the league, but Gary Neville poignantly defended him today when he referred back to his own playing days.

Neville said: “When I think back to any time we lost a match at United, never once did I come off and think (about Sir Alex) ‘You lost us that one boss’.”

True enough, matches are won and lost with players, not managers. United’s sluggish squad can have few complaints about finishing behind Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Arsenal; but they should be asking serious questions of themselves when it comes to some of the losses they suffered against ‘lesser’ clubs.

With all due respect to these clubs, should Everton (home and away), Stoke, Sunderland, Swansea, Spurs, Newcastle, and West Brom all be recording fairly straightforward wins over the Champions of England? Manchester United are stronger than all of these sides on paper, but they’ve all beaten United this year. Either the manager has been wildly inept with his tactics, the players in red shirts were failing to give 100% for the team, or a combination of both.

The romantic notion of Manchester United staying true to the legacy of their most successful manager by allowing him to select another fiery Scottish manager as his replacement hasn’t panned out as planned, but in retrospect, it’s possible that Moyes’ sacking could be a mistake.

The United hierarchy gained many a plaudit for choosing Moyes over a big name foreigner, and were also praised for repeatedly defending Moyes’ disastrous run of results by alluding to the fact the club were going through a reconstructive period. Where now for that patience from the board?

It was only a year or so ago that Brendan Rodgers was being touted for the sack, now look at the transformation in his Liverpool side. The older Red Devils fans will remember Sir Alex’s woeful first season. Fergie’s neck was saved by a late goal to win the F.A Cup, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Would it have taken something as frivolous as an F.A Cup win to save Moyes? Could he have gone on to rack up 20 years or so of glory? We’ll never know now.

During his farewell speech Sir Alex famously addressed the fans, saying: “Your job now is to back our new manager…”

10 months on, it turns out that the fans, the players, and the hierarchy have all disobeyed Fergie’s instructions.

Today not only signals the end of David Moyes’ woeful time in the Old Trafford dugout; but it also signals the end of Manchester United’s long reign as the shining light of football clubs in Europe. The end of Moyes’ tenure will forever be pinpointed as the landmark moment when United steered away from the moralistic crusade of legacy building; and conformed to the hollow pursuit of financial gain through unscrupulous performances in bloated competitions where the wishes of the fans ebb ever further away from the ethos of the club.

Tim Lovejoy: Football Cretin

By Johnny Connelly

While wading through tedious online football news feeds today in search for some subject matter that differentiated even slightly from the big question, ‘who will Woy take to Bwazil?’, I stumbled across a much needed and brutally honest shot in the arm from the When Saturday Comes archives.

As an avid reader of football books, particularly those recommended by WSC, my eye was drawn to this latest offering, salvaged beautifully from the back catalogue of the popular off-the-wall football magazine’s review section.

My eyebrows raised in disbelief when the book in question for this review was an autobiography (of sorts) from smarmy former Soccer AM host, Tim Lovejoy. 


Yes, that classic paperback that all football hipsters just couldn’t do without, ‘Lovejoy on football’. My heart sank for a brief moment, had WSC sold its soul to the devil? Endorsing something straight from the quill of a patterless John Terry-lover come cooking show host is tantamount to a golden handshake with Lucifer himself in the eyes of any football fan with even half a brain.

Thankfully, the true nature and purpose of the book review sets in early on. Phew.

Without spoiling the full review, critic Taylor Parkes hits the nail on the head when he describes these bound sheets of drivel as: part witless musing, and one more triumph for the crass stupidity rapidly replacing culture in this country. Hopelessly banal and nauseatingly self-assured, smirkingly unfunny, it’s a £300 T-shirt, a piss-you-off ringtone, a YouTube clip of someone drinking their mate’s vomit.”

I doubt even if Shakespeare had been around today, (and happened to share a fondness for the beautiful game), he’d have found a more encapsulating and accurate few lines of prose to portray the sheer piffle that Lovejoy puts across when discussing football, or anything else for that matter.

The delightfully savage review, in all its glory can be read here.

If you’re looking for the perfect birthday or Christmas present for that thicko football fan you so unfortunately have to endure through family or work commitments on a regular basis, then look no further.