Celtic Half-Term Report
What’s going right?
Europe has been the big high so far. Celtic’s Champions League adventure has been beyond all expectation and has caught the imagination of, well, everyone, especially since beating Barcelona. It’s a good thing too; Europe had to go well. With Rangers gone, there’d be little credit for winning the SPL and big games would have been hard to come by. Whereas the demise of our friends from Govan has been absolutely hilarious, and there’s more mileage to be had from it yet, it might have been a hum-drum old season had fans not had the likes of Benfica, Barca, Spartak and now Juventus to look forward to. Getting the monkey off the back by finally winning away from home in the Champions League has been a huge step forward as well. As for what’s going right on the pitch; there’s real competition for places now and the players brought in over the last two years have developed with the club. They may not have been the finished article when they arrived but they’re performing at a higher level now. The team spirit is second to none, and the players obviously don’t read the papers because they just don’t seem to be aware of the games they’re supposed to lose.
Performances in the SPL have been patchy to say the least. The common wisdom is that without a realistic challenger for the title, the players have been complacent and taken their eye off the ball. European hangovers have also been blamed. There’s probably some truth to all of this: how else could you explain away some of the lack-lustre draws and defeats to the likes of Inverness and St Johnstone when the Bhoys have been performing so well on the bigger stage? Manager Neil Lennon has warned the players that the months until the Champions League resumes are to be used to start taking care of business at home and his words seem to have had an impact. Since the last European match Celtic have won every game and, as we approach Christmas, finally have a little daylight between themselves and the chasing SPL pack. Things could be much worse but it’s time to find some domestic consistency.
Got the right manager?
I wrote at the beginning of the season that Neil Lennon had shown potential but had yet to prove himself fully, being idolised by fans for who he is rather than the kind of manager he is. A few months later and he’s established himself as a talented young coach who can motivate players for the big challenges. He’s also displayed a tactical acumen that belies his limited time in management, altering personnel and formations to suit the occasion. As a dedicated hater of squad rotation, he’s even won me round to the ways of tinkering. Lennon’s stock has soared with Champions League qualification and the question now is not is he a good Celtic manager, but for how long will he be a good Celtic manager?
There are no stars at Celtic Park; that’s Lennon’s philosophy. More than any Celtic side I’ve seen, this is a proper team. Gary Hooper and Fraser Forster have grabbed the headlines with goals and match-winning performances respectively but Georgios Samaras has been immense in Europe, Kris Commons has returned to something approaching the explosive form of his early Celtic career and Charlie Mulgrew has gone from reject to driving force in an amazing turnaround. Victor Wanyama has bossed the midfield and centre-half Kelvin Wilson seems massively improved from last season. It’s impossible to pick one name, especially with the rotation system Lennon employs. And that suits Celtic fans just fine.
Who would you like to sell in January?
Nobody has let themselves down this season and, now that Samaras has found a previously undiscovered level of consistency, there’s no one taking home big wages for little return. From that point of view, there are no obvious candidates for the chop. Miku has not lived up to his billing and it wouldn’t be a major surprise if his loan deal from Getafe were terminated prematurely. Then again, the Venezuelan international need look no further than zero-turned-hero Samaras for evidence that nobody’s Celtic career is beyond redemption under Lennon. There’s also speculation linking cult hero Paddy McCourt with a move away from the club. The talented but under-achieving wing wizard will always be welcome at Celtic Park but many fans just want to watch him play football. If that has to be for another team, best of luck to him.
Who do you want to sign?
Speculating on signings is an exercise in futility for Celtic fans these days, since we inevitably sign players nobody has ever heard of. That’s not a criticism – the club’s scouting network, under John Park, works miracles and the fact that the club is sitting on huge assets in the form of Wanyama, Hooper et al is proof that the transfer policy works. Lennon has made noises about strengthening the left hand side of the team, but there’s still a blatant need for a proper psychopathic centre-half to frighten the life out of opposing forwards. The scarier the better: life has never been the same since Bobo Balde.
Best chant so far?
Nothing rhymes with Wanyama. Problem? Not for the resourceful Celtic fans. Simply take the words “oh, oh, Victor Wanyama”, put them to the tune of Verdi’s Triumphal March, repeat ad nauseum and you’ve got a winner on your hands. After all, you can’t beat a chant that’s easy to learn! Its beauty is in its simplicity and its comedy is in the sheer mind-numbing repetitiveness. Try it, go on. See?
Best opposition player/team you’ve seen?
A blind man could see that Barcelona are the best team to have come to Parkhead this season, but where they failed, SPL teams have succeeded in taking points away from Paradise. St Johnstone have taken four points out of six from us and to be honest they’ve been good value for them. They looked a different team when we beat them 5-0 in the League Cup but that’s Scottish football for you. Hibs look a good team in flashes, with ex-Dundee man Leigh Griffiths seemingly returning to the form that won him a move south a couple of years ago.
Biggest **** of the season so far?
Charles Green. I know we should rise above it; the Rangers newco has very little to do with Celtic or the SPL after all; but it’s hard not to shout at the telly when the Sevco Chancer-in-Chief continues to bleat half-truths, half-baked conspiracy theories, and the kind of petulant whining that would shame a five year-old. He knows exactly what he’s doing of course, developing a siege mentality around Ibrox to ensure what remains of the old Rangers fan base is angry and self-righteous enough to keep buying tickets. It’s a transparent ploy but it’s getting more than its fair share of media coverage and it’s starting to grate.
End of season prediction?
The SPL title should be in the bag, though the winning margin won’t be anything like the silly numbers that were suggested by some ‘experts’ at the outset. A domestic treble would be lovely and if the players can get their focus back for the grassroots games, there’s no reason why that can’t be achieved. The European run is harder to predict. We should probably go out in the last sixteen, but then we should probably have gone out in the group stages so who knows? To beat Juventus and make it through another round would be a spectacular achievement and would give the fans a chance to dream.
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