5 Men Who Could Replace Ronny Deila

by Johnny Connelly – @hitthebyline

An uninspiring 2-2 draw for Celtic at Tynecastle has kept Aberdeen in the Scottish Premiership title race, and further added to the moans and groans from the Celtic support with regard to the leadership qualities of current manager, Ronny Deila. 

Osman Sow’s late strike secured a point for Robbie Neilson’s Hearts side, as Celtic blew the chance to go 3 points clear of Aberdeen in 2nd place. This latest disappointment means the Bhoys have won just 3 of their last 9 matches in all competitions, with growing discontent at the style of play on show.

It’d be naive to think Celtic aren’t sizing up potential replacements for Deila. In the event that Ronny fails to get the Parkhead club back on track, here are 5 men who could potentially be his successor…

David Moyes

David Moyes

Just a few seasons ago, David Moyes was one of the emerging talents in European football management. His no-nonsense style was well respected in the English Premiership after a successful spell at Everton. When Sir Alex Ferguson hand-picked Moyes as his successor at Manchester United, it looked as though the Scotsman was on the verge of becoming a blue-chip manager of sorts.

Moyes fell victim to a transitional period of low resource and high expectation at United. He was dismissed less than a season in, despite having a better record both domestically, and in Europe than Louis Van Gaal (with considerably less money spent on transfers).

A shock move to Real Sociedad was next for Moyes. He took the reins with the club in 15th place in La Liga. After an initial upturn in fortunes at the club, form began to stagnate. Communication was touted as a problem by those at the club, with Moyes not being able to speak Spanish.

With Sociedad sitting comfortably in mid-table, Moyes was relieved of his duties. A win % ratio of just 28% at the Basque club was deemed unacceptable.

Gary McAllister

Gary McAllister

Something of a surprise addition to the list of candidates, the former Motherwell midfielder has yet to set the heather alight in his management career, but has gained enough experience to be a contender for the Parkhead hot seat across various management positions.

With a working knowledge of the Scottish game, international experience, and connections south of the border, McAllister is the polar opposite of current Hoops boss Ronny Deila. This shift in focus could be appealing for the club, particularly to boost the opportunities in the transfer market.

McAllister’s first stint in management came back in 2002 when he was appointed player-manager of Coventry City. He lasted just over a year and a half in the job, before resigning to spend more time with his family.

A four year sabbatical ensued, before he returned to management on a temporary basis as Leeds United manager. With the club then playing in the third tier of English football, McAllister turned things around magnificently, taking the Yorkshire club from 8th, all the way to the playoff final. A poor start to the following season led to his departure in December 2008.

Since then, he’s taken up various coaching positions, at Middlesbrough (working alongside former Celtic manager, Gordon Strachan), as Assistant Manager at Aston Villa (under Gerard Houllier), and First Team Coach at Liverpool (as part of Brendan Rodgers’ coaching staff).

Ian Holloway

Ian Holloway

Another potentially surprising name to be thrown into the hat, Iain Holloway would certainly liven things up at Celtic Park. His relentless attacking style has brought him mixed fortunes in management, but would at least win favour among the fans at Celtic.

The majority of Holloway’s career has been spent managing clubs in the English Championship, with his most famous success being when he propelled relegation-touted Blackpool to the dizzy heights of promotion to the English Premier League in 2010. After a whirlwind adventure on a shoestring budget, Holloway’s side went down fighting on the last day of the season.

The outspoken manager almost pulled off the impossible again the following season, taking Blackpool to the playoffs, and narrowly missing out on promotion back to the Premiership.

After Blackpool, Holloway took over at Crystal Palace in 2012. Things started well with a 5-0 win over Ipswich, and continued to go smoothly as he again managed to promote the club to the English Premier League. Things turned sour quickly after just 8 matches in the Premiership. Holloway came under pressure from the fans after amassing just 3 points in this time, and left by mutual consent.

His latest managerial position came in January 2014 when he signed a 2 and a half year deal to become Millwall manager. He was initially tasked with saving the club from relegation from the Championship, which he achieved by finishing 19th, 4 points above the drop zone. The 2014-15 season didn’t go so well, and Holloway was sacked for the first time in his career in March 2015.

Henrik Larsson

Henrik Larsson

Never far from the hearts and minds of the Celtic fans, Henrik Larsson will forever be idolised at the club. A section of the support backed Larsson for the Celtic manager’s job before Deila took over, and you can bet that should Deila be relieved of his duties, the super Swede’s name would be mentioned again.

Sentimental appointments rarely work out in modern football, but rarely do we see a player idolised so exclusively as the way Larsson is at Celtic. Larsson’s appointment would certainly unite the fans and bring back a buzz straight off the bat. The respect he’d command in the dressing room could only be a good thing, and his reputation across Europe could open doors in the transfer market.

That said, Larsson is relatively new to the management game, and his inexperience could be a major risk.

In December 2009, Larsson took his first management role, at Swedish 2nd Division outfit Landskrona. In his first season, he took the club to the brink of promotion, finishing 5th, and adopting an attractive 4-3-3 attacking style of play. His 2nd season was something of a disappointment, with the club sitting bottom of the league more than halfway through the season. A positive run of results propelled the club up to 10th, but the fans had expected promotion. Larsson stayed for a third season, but could only manage a 6th placed finish, and resigned shortly afterwards.

A short stint at newly promoted Falkenbergs in the Swedish top flight followed. Larsson managed to keep the club in the top division, but left after one season to take the top job at his former club, Helsingborgs, where he remains to this day.

Larsson has previously admitted that he would like to return to Celtic some day as manager, but whether or not that day will be anytime soon remains to be seen.

Michael O’Neill

Michael O'Neill

One of this year’s biggest stories in international football is the rise and rise of Northern Ireland under Michael O’Neill. The former Hibs player has transformed his home nation from footballing minnows, to a formidable force who qualified comfortably for the Euro 2016.

O’Neill has a great working knowledge of Scottish football, having played for Dundee United, Hibs, Aberdeen, St Johnstone, Clydebank, and Ayr United.

With Celtic being unable to attract a blue-chip or English Premier League manager, rising stars like O’Neill could be the club’s best bet to delivering sustainable success.

The Northern Irishman’s managerial CV is a short one, with just over a season at Brechin City under his belt, he left for Shamrock Rovers in 2009, where a modicum of success ensued. O’Neill took the Rovers to 2nd place in the league in his first season, and won the league in his second season. Another league title ensued in 2011. He also guided the team to win the Setanta Sports Cup in 2011, and recorded a notable victory over Partizan Belgrade that same year.

O’Neill’s biggest achievement by far has been the work he’s done as manager of Northern Ireland. With an average group of players at his disposal, he’s taken the nation to their first major tournament in 30 years by qualifying for Euro 2016. They topped a group containing the likes of Romania, Greece, and Finland, losing just 1 match in the process.

O’Neill’s success hasn’t gone unnoticed, with several English Championship clubs sniffing around him already. He’ll clearly want to reap the rewards of his efforts by managing the Northern Irish side at the finals in France in the summer, but beyond that, it’s expected that he’ll move on while his stock is high.

With O’Neill being potentially unavailable until the summer, the timescale could work out well for Celtic, as Ronny Deila would still have enough time to prove himself as a success. Deila will continue to come under fire until Celtic start to win, and win in style. The next few months could be crucial for the club either way. Time for Ronny to shape up or ship out.

 

 

Why Celts Shouldn’t Be So Keane on Roy

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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.

For The Love of Ledley

Hoops fans should shed no tears over the departed Welshman

By Johnny Connelly

Joe Ledley in his Celtic days

Here today, gone tomorrow. Ledley sought pastures new

In the modern day soap opera that is football in this country, fans have learned the hard way that everything that comes out the mouths of players and managers should be taken with a pinch of salt.

One day a player can be your hero; the next, he’s the enemy. Football by its very nature is a fickle beast. There’s an element of showmanship and bravado from players and managers around transfer window time, that’s a given. When I read Joe Ledley’s parting comments about his ‘beloved’ Celtic, I did begin to wonder if he managed to articulate them with a straight face.

After a tedious potential contract extension saga, Ledley packed his bags, leaving the Champions League behind, opting instead for a relegation dogfight at Tony Pulis’ Crystal Palace.

The Welshman was quoted as saying he, “didn’t’ want to leave”, before subsequently doing so. Players come, and players go, but are the supporters in this country perhaps guilty of naivety when it comes to choosing their heroes?

When it comes to the affections of the fans, Ledley was debatably the most popular player in the squad. In years gone by, a hero at a big club was defined by sublime ability and unwavering loyalty. Does Ledley fit this mould?

The likes of Paul McStay and Lubo Moravcik stayed at the Parkhead club until the end of their playing days. Italian giants Fiorentina moved for Artur Boruc, and it took the lure of Barca to prize a tearful Henrik Larsson from Parkhead. Celtic fans seem only too happy when a player moves on for a bigger opportunity; but perhaps some of them should grudgingly admit that to lose a player like Ledley to a smallish English Premiership club like Crystal Palace does leave something of a bad taste in their mouths.

Don’t get me wrong, Ledley was a terrific talent. A dogged, professional midfielder who rarely looked out of place at the highest level; but he was also reportedly the highest paid player in the squad (alongside Scott Brown), so he was well looked after, and enjoyed the adoration of the fans.

The new Palace signing seems to have been a likeable, honest character who wouldn’t say a bad word about Celtic or anyone at the club. That said, it sadly looks as though Ledley’s raison d’être is to make as much money as possible in his career, rather than chase silverware.

It’s clear that Ledley ran down his contract at Cardiff to secure a big wage at Celtic, and ran down his contract at Celtic to better position himself for a move to Crystal Palace.

Playing for Celtic seems to be something that leaves a lasting effect on players. On his official twitter account, Ledley posted: “Thank you so much to all the fans for being so supportive throughout my time at Celtic. A truly amazing club”, and referred to the Parkhead faithful in a passionate sign off, tweeting: “Best Fans ever, will miss you all!”

Days into his move down south, he delved a little deeper about the move. He said: “It was a good deal for Celtic because they got some money, and it was a good deal for me too.”

Given the phenomenal sums of money that are thrown at top players these days, it’s hard to judge them. These guys are people too, they’re not made of stone, and it takes a lot to turn down an increase of several thousand pounds per week (and a rather juicy signing on fee).

Although players like Ledley shouldn’t be emotionally crucified for chasing money instead of trophies; they shouldn’t be held in the same high regard as the real heroes of yesteryear either. Ledley gave a good account of himself at Celtic, but was paid handsomely for it, and is in no way irreplaceable. His dignified and professional approach to his on the field exerts will ensure his lasting memory at Celtic Park is a positive one, but as far as hero status is concerned, he’ll always be left short.

In every crisis, there is opportunity, and with every big player that’s left a big club in Scotland, scope for an even greater player to fill his boots is created.

Shed no tears Hoops fans. A top earner has left, and the next chapter of your glorious club is ready to be written.

Killie’s Prodigal Son Could Seal Top 6 Finish

By Johnny Connelly

Alexei Eremenko

Alexei Eremenko – The key man?

As the eyes and ears of Scottish football fans turned towards Parkhead in expectance of an injection of excitement to the transfer window in this Scotland; the attention turned to the Ayrshire coast as Finnish international Alexei Eremenko secured an unexpected switch back to Kilmarnock.

Killie’s talisman playmaker of the 2010-2011 season joined Allan Johnstone’s men until the end of the season, and his technical ability has sparked hopes of a top six finish, as well as a bit more excitement in general at Rugby Park.

First time around, it was then manager Mixu Paatelainen who used his homeland contacts to procure Eremenko on loan from Metalist Kharkiv. The midfield dynamo wasted little time in making his mark, scoring the winner on his debut against St Mirren with a tantalising free kick.

After the match, Eremenko said: “ I made some good passes at the start of the game which gave me confidence. It was an okay performance from me, but I can even play much better than this.”

He wasn’t kidding. Eremenko went on to light up what was then the SPL, carving out a place in Scottish football folklore as potentially the most gifted player to grace a Kilmarnock shirt in 20 years.  He scored a handful of goals that season, and transformed Killie’s attacking play with his ability to split defences with precision passes.

His skills drew crowds and plaudits, so much so that both Celtic and Rangers made enquiries about acquiring the player’s services. A big money move to Rubin Kazan ensued, but he failed to hold down a place in the team, presumably as a result of the options available thanks to the club’s vast wealth.

Eremenko’s record for the Finland national team (59 caps and 14 goals) also proves that the silky flair player can perform at the highest level, and now has invaluable experience that would benefit any club in Scotland.

Killie currently sit 8th in the SPFL. They’ve had an inconsistent season so far, and are widely considered as safe from relegation, but with Kris Boyd having netted 15 times so far, the introduction of an attacking playmaker like Eremenko could push him up over the 20 goal mark, and move Killie into the top half of the table.

With any luck Eremenko’s return will bring about an increase in crowds at Rugby Park, but at the very least, his sublime skills will improve the profile of our league overall.

During his last loan spell, Eremenko helped guide the Ayrshire club to a comfortable 5th placed finish in the SPL. There’s a bit of work to do to replicate that feat again, but it’s far from impossible. Allan Johnstone’s men are edging away from the pack at the foot of the table as each week passes, and now find themselves just 9 points behind a wayward Dundee United who haven’t won any of their last 6 matches in the SPFL.

As Eremenko parted ways with Killie last time around, he made a promise to return. He is certainly a man of his word. This week he also said: “I don’t think I played against Kris (Boyd) when he was at Rangers the last time I was here. But I watched Saturday’s game with Inverness and I think I can make him score even more goals.”

Everyone at Kilmarnock will be hoping that he continues to be a man of his word, as this partnership with Boyd could make the difference between them finishing in the top and bottom 6 come May.

With just 8 games remaining before the split, the clock is ticking for Killie and Eremenko.

Extending An Olive Branch to Jorge Cadete

Is it time to kick-start a support network for ex-Celts?

by Celtic fan, Kes Devaal

Thanks to the boom & bust world we live in, all too frequently we’re hearing of people from all walks of life falling on financial hard times. At the tail end of last week, we learned that even former Celtic superstars aren’t exempt from this peril.

Jorge Cadete scores for Celtic

He puts the ball in the netty – Jorge Cadete at his peak

When the news broke that Jorge Cadete is now flat broke, moved back in with his parents, and living on benefits, I felt saddened.

As a Celtic fan, I remember Cadete’s playing days fondly, but I was shocked to see an element of the Hoops’ support reacted bitterly towards his misfortune. Comments on blogs and social media sites showed that there is a contingent of Celtic supporters that feel the manner in which Cadete left the club in some way justifies the player’s hardship now.

This is not the Celtic way, and I’m beginning to think that the club (both fans and officials) should look to create a support network for ex-players.

It was the late, great, Tommy Burns who brought Jorge Cadete to Celtic, back in the mid 90’s. Burns inherited a wounded Celtic who were limp competition to a dominant high spending Rangers side. The fans suffered through the disappointment and turbulence of the Brady and Macari years, but Burns injected hope and excitement back into Celtic with a flamboyant style of play, and by attracting players with the boisterous dynamism of Jorge Cadete.

The fact that this period yielded limited silverware seemed almost insignificant at the time, as our beloved Celtic were back, scoring goals, playing lucid, attacking football, and for the first time since the late 80’s, challenging a stellar Rangers side.

Cadete arrived at Celtic with a CV that failed to fill Hoops fans with optimism. The Sporting Lisbon striker was on loan at Brescia, and managed just a single goal for them in a calendar year, before Burns made the move to bring him to Celtic. He hand’t kicked a ball in 5 months, yet his debut against Aberdeen was unforgettable…

The Portuguese international came off the bench to net the fifth in a demolition of Aberdeen at Celtic Park, and went on to net 34 times in 44 appearances the following season. Cadete was easily the most exciting Celtic striker since the days of Brian McClair and Charlie Nicholas. Complete with iconic spaghetti haircut and unmistakeable celebration, and goals-a-plenty, Cadete soon became a hero.

I appreciate that the nature of Cadete’s departure at the time left many Celtic fans feeling a bit raw and generally let down, so it’s understandable that some might want to stay detached from his unfortunate circumstances. I also appreciate that it’s a players responsibility to manage their money responsibly during their career. That said, it has made me ponder about what clubs can do, in particular, Celtic.

Wouldn’t it fit perfectly within the ethos of Celtic to put in place a structured support scheme to guide and support former players who’re in danger of falling on hard times?

By this I don’t mean writing cheques to further line their pockets, but investment advice, emotional support and an ongoing relationship with the club that could mutually benefit Celtic, the fans, and the former player.

The subsequent years since Cadete’s time at the club have been joyous for the most part. The magic of players like Cadete and managers like Burns played a huge part in the evolution of the club, a part that we must never forget.

Without question there have been thousands of Celtic fans down the generations who’ve carried the charitable/goodwill torch for the club with unconditional service. There are too many legitimate examples of this to mention, and that in the main remains intact. My concern is that there is a growing undercurrent of the Celtic support being selective.

In my opinion I sense there is a ‘pick & choose’ mantra amongst the Celtic diaspora of which ex Celts receive our support . Celtic Football Club, and the fans are relentless in broadcasting our proud all inclusive charitable ethos.

The mixed response to Jorge Cadete’s sad news however conflicts with that notion. There is a long list of ex-Celts whose careers at Paradise have maybe ended awkwardly, or where they have been a shade economical in engineering a sharp exit down London Road for more money elsewhere. Yet for reasons that remain unclear, these individuals seem immune to any criticism or hard feelings from the support.

Without sounding like some idealistic moral crusader,  I believe these servants to the club deserve a support mechanism. Making initial support, training, and professional advice available for them would show the football world that we genuinely are what the morally rich club that we say we are.

The relationship between the fans and the players we take on as heroes is a true loyal bond that stays with us for the entirety of our existence.

If Celtic truly are up there with Barca to be considered as “Més que un club” (More than a club), then perhaps we should start to prove it with gestures such as this one, showing undeniable and unconditional compassionate support.

Celts in Europe – Was it really so awful?

by Johnny Connelly

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As a dejected Celtic side trudged off after a 6-1 skelping against the majestic Barcelona, Hoops fans voiced their anger and frustration at what many of them judged to be an inferior and lacklustre performance by their heroes.

Now that the dust has settled, was it really so awful? Both in terms of the performance on the night, and the effort given in the Champions League overall?

True enough, Barcelona demolished Celtic. Not since 1965 have Celtic conceded six goals in a single match; but on the night, what could have been done to stop the rampant Catalan side?

Twitter, Facebook, and football phone-in frequenters were aghast at Neil Lennon’s team selection, (after the match of course). What a fine thing hindsight is. The most frequent questions asked circulated around the omission of Charlie Mulgrew, Kris Commons, and Anthony Stokes.

I’m sorry, but does anyone really believe that  the inclusion of any of these players would have reigned-in the likes of Xavi and hat-trick-hero Neymar? Celtic were played off the park, in every area of the park. Surely there’s no permutation of Neil Lennon’s current Celtic squad that could’ve changed the outcome of the game? The fact is, when Barca set the heather alight, the best teams in the world struggle restrain them.

If we’re truly honest, Celtic have rode their luck against Barcelona pretty much every time they’ve come up against them in modern history, even when they’ve managed to beat them. Particularly in the last handful of fixtures between the clubs, Barca have had the lion’s share of chances and territorial possession.  Brave, resilient performances from Celtic have helped keep these matches tight, with any defeats being inflicted by the odd goal, but given the gulf between the sides and the control held by the Spanish giants, a heavy drubbing was always a possibility.

The expectation of Celtic fans is for their team to play well, contest every game, and win in style when it’s humanly possible. To achieve what they have in recent times in the Champions League is formidable. As much as this season’s Champions League campaign could be viewed as disappointing, Celtic have in no way been humiliated, when compared with the other  teams that finished bottom of their group in the competition.

Marseille, Copenhagen, Anderlecht, CSKA Moscow, and Real Sociedad for example all finished 4th. Nobody would dispute that these sides are major European entities, so there’s no shame in suffering a similar fate to them.

Although Celtic have previously reached the knockout stages, to do so this year seems to require major financial clout. When we compare Celtic’s first team wage budget to some of the sides that topped their groups, we begin to understand the David v Goliath nature of the task they face.

Celtic pay just over £300,000 every week on wages to their squad. This is by no means miserly, but Borussia Dortmund (top of Group F), pay almost three times as much. Chelsea pay more than six times more than Celtic in terms of wages, and Barcelona pay an astonishing, 11 times more than Celtic.

Perhaps a shift in mentality from the fans is required. Sadly, Celtic can’t be the world-beaters they were in the 60’s and 70’s. Since then it’s been a rollercoaster ride. For every triumph against Man Utd, Juventus, and Barcelona; there’s been an implosion against Neuchatel Xamax, Wacker Innsbruck, or Artmedia Bratislava.

Celtic are operating well on and off the field at the moment. A few key signings could give them the edge and excitement they long for. Ok, they won’t win the Champions League anytime soon, but 99% of clubs in Europe are in that same boat.

Crack a smile Hoops fans; your team are cruising to another league title, competing in Europe every year, and living within their means. There’ll be ups and downs; good times and bad. Sit back, and enjoy the ride.

A matter of faith for Neil Lennon

Do Pukki and Balde just need games?
 
By Johnny Connelly

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As Celtic crashed out of European football this week, much was made of their sloppy defending on the night; but the real issue throughout the campaign has been the lack of firepower in the final third.
 
Just two goals in their five group games is a worrying stat. That worrying stat becomes an alarming stat when you then remember that one of those goals was a penalty, and the other was a deflection. Whichever way you look at it, Celtic’s attacking presence has been sub-par for the Champions League.
 
After losing Gary Hooper in the summer, Neil Lennon knew he needed to sign at least one striker. He secured two, Teemu Pukki, and Amido Balde. 
 
Neither player has had a great run of games. They’ve both looked off the pace, and bereft of a killer instinct in the penalty box. This is undeniable, but would a significant run of games in the first team have changed things? 
 
The pressure to succeed at big clubs is huge, and Celtic are no different, but players are only human. It must be difficult coming in from a foreign league and being expected to start rattling in the goals. Admittedly, some players can do it, but others struggle. 
 
One example of a Celt that took a bit of time to settle rolls of the tongue, John Hartson. The big Welshman came to Celtic with a top pedigree, but he too looked out of sorts at the beginning of his Celtic career. Remarkably, it took Hartson 11 games in a Celtic jersey before he found the back of the neck. He then went on to become a legend and a hero for the Parkhead club.
 
Hartson started each of these 11 games, and his then manager, Martin O’Neill, put faith in the signing he made in order to succeed. 
 
To directly compare Pukki & Balde to a class act like Hartson verges on unfair, but perhaps the issue of faith in your signings does ring true. 
 
Since signing back in August, Pukki has started 9 from 16 games, and Balde has started just 2 from 18 games. From that you could assume that Balde has some way to go before he’s a first team regular, but even Pukki, with significantly more appearances, didn’t get a run of games longer than 4 games, and most of the games he missed have come in the Champions League (the very place he was signed to make a difference in).
 
Instead, Lennon has opted for the likes of Georgios Samaras, who despite his tenacious attitude, is a left-winger rather than a striker; and Anthony Stokes, who struggles at the highest level. 
 
The Celtic boss seems frustrated with his options, and he’s clearly unimpressed by his summer signings in that department. 

After the 3-0 home defeat to AC Milan, he said: “We’ve competed again tonight but just that quality at the top end of the pitch has caught up with us.”

 
“When the squad’s not as big as some other squads it does tend to bite you.
 
“If we’re going to look to the future and continue to play in the Champions League, we have to improve with the squad we have now and we have to improve on recruitment as well for next year.”
 
Celtic can’t go and sign a £10m-£15m, it would make no financial sense, so to try and make the most of a £2m-£3m player is the trick. 
There are alternatives. Putting faith in youth, or in domestic signings (would the likes of Billy McKay or Nadir Ciftci really do any worse for Neil Lennon than any of his current crop?) are always options. 
Only Lennon will know how he truly feels about the likes of Pukki and Balde. Only he will know in his mind whether he feels any merit in giving them a run of games to prove themselves, or whether they’ll be consigned to the room 101 of Celtic signings.