Celtic: Germany Was Embarrassing, And We Need Finnbogason If We're Going For The Treble
Pre-season - good bad or ugly?
It's fair to say pre-season has been on the ugly side. Results on a tour of Germany were embarrassing, though these fixtures are more about getting players fit and trying out players and formations than winning games. Still, defeats to also-rans do nothing for morale. Champions League preliminaries have been uninspiring but so far, job done. The most significant events of pre-season, though, have been off the park, with big players Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson leaving. There's new blood in the form of Dutch pair Virgil Van Dijk and Derk Boerrigter and French freebie Steven Mouyokolo, but not enough yet to satisfy the fans that the squad will be as strong as last term. One or two clever-looking signings could easily raise spirits though and change the fans' mood which at present is lukewarm at best.
Hopes for the season?
Given that retaining the SPL title shouldn't cause too many problems in the lack of any serious competition, fans will again look to Europe for their aspirations. Matching, or even improving on, the Champions League run of last season is the main target. That's by no means a given though. At the time of writing, they were in the pot for the final qualifying play-off but getting into and beyond the group stages will require a big step-up in the level they're producing at this point. Domestically, all associated with the club would love the treble. Surprisingly few Celtic teams have achieved that feat and the conditions for it will never be better than they are now.
Fears for the season
Europe going pear-shaped and being left without the showpiece nights of last season would be a huge anticlimax. It could be a long old season with nothing but domestic football and the memories of Barcelona to keep us going.
Absolute bare minim you'll accept
The bare minimum is the same as for any Celtic team in any season - the title. It would be disappointing not to bring the odd cup home too.
Fixture you're most looking forward to?
The Champions' League quarter-final. What? Why can't we dream?
Got the right manager?
Neil Lennon's achievements in his time as Celtic manager are many: he's united the support, rebuilt the squad, balanced the books, delivered back-to-back titles, and regained the club's pride in the European arena. The negative headlines seem consigned to the past and there's little doubt he's the man for the job.
By Christmas you'll be ...
Last Christmas Celtic were on a high, with wins over Barcelona and Spartak Moscow leaving them awaiting a Champions League knockout clash with Juventus. Meanwhile, they had begun to stabilise their below-par domestic form and sat top of the SPL. The same again would be just fine thanks.
Player you'd most like to sign
Alfred Finnbogason is the name on most fans' lips right now. The Icelandic forward, who spent part of his childhood in Scotland, has been banging them in for Heerenveen and Lennon's interest is well-documented. Finnbogason's price-tag and reported interest from a number of other clubs mean this one is starting to look like a long-shot but, with Gary Hooper gone, a prolific striker is a necessity and having made a cool twenty million from player sales this summer, it's not impossible that the board could push the boat out at least a little to secure the man the manager really wants.
Which player should we be looking out for
Bosnian forward Bahrudan Atajic was the main man for the under-21 side last season and has been involved with the first-team squad in pre-season. This could be his chance to break into the squad, especially if Neil Lennon isn't able to bring in the firepower he wants before the transfer window closes. However, the real one to watch could be utility man Mikael Lustig. After a slow start to his Celtic career, he looked increasingly reliable as last season progressed and could be a key figure in the assault on Europe.
Which player would you love to ditch
It's a streamlined first team squad at Parkhead these days and there's really nobody that needs to be shown the door. Efe Ambrose is probably the most divisive figure as far as the fans are concerned but if, as seems likely, he's pushed into midfield to replace Wanyama he's less likely to cause the fans quite so many heart attacks.
Opposition hate figure
The newfound lack of hate in the SPL was a breath of fresh air last season (cue Celtic-hatred in the comments section) but presumably it can't last. With former Rangers stalwarts Stuart McCall and Terry Butcher still running the show at Motherwell and Inverness respectively the fans' jeers may again be directed toward the bench rather than the pitch.
Tell us something we don't know about your team
When Lennon's team won the double last season, he became the third manager to achieve the feat as a Celtic player and as manager, following in the footsteps of Jock Stein and Billy McNeill. Should he go one better and win the treble this season, he will stand alone as the only man in Scottish football to have done so.
What won't happen this season?
However bad things get in the Scottish game, Celtic won't find themselves in serious financial trouble, thanks to their sound infrastructure and prudent transfer policy. It may frustrate the life out of fans, but as more big clubs across Europe start to find themselves deep in the brown-and-smelly, we may come to be increasingly grateful for living within our means. Here endeth the party political broadcast on behalf of the board.
It's more of a melee than a chant but being part of a stadium-wide, backs-to-the-pitch bounceathon to the tune of "let's all do the huddle," takes some beating as experiences at football grounds go.
Where will you finish?
First. Anything else is simply unthinkable.