Drawing parallels between the general health of these two famous Scottish clubs going into tonight’s match is akin to attempting to compare the mental stability of the Dalai Lama against Denise Welch. Celtic are a treble chasing, financially buoyant, settled squad in a fine run of form looking for their 13th straight league win. Hearts are, well, quite frankly…a shambles.
It’s fair to say that it’s a cold, winter wind that blows around Tynecastle at the moment. For the fifth time in as many years, the club are facing a very public final demand from ‘the man’ to cough up their £500k tax payments or face liquidation. Players don’t appear to be getting paid on time and the owner seems to be doing his best impression of a drunken and unhinged manger of a local Cash Generator.
As if to provide a very neat microcosmic example of the way the club is being handled, the official press conference on Monday ahead of this match was overshadowed by an alternative one being held in the car park. Hearts Slovakian goalkeeper Marian Kello, who is out of contract at the end of the season, stood amidst a gaggle of reporters to protest at his omission from the team on the grounds that he refused a transfer to Austria Vienna.
The club are obviously as keen as the proverbial Dijon to lower their wage bill but the only official statement about Kello being dropped was from the manager Paulo Sergio who admitted it was a “a political thing”. Kello, a decent enough keeper, is now somewhat predictably being linked with a move to the sunny side of the street at Celtic. Oh the irony.
The last few months have seen an unbelievable renaissance at Celtic that has propelled the club from doomsday to a vibrant, balanced and happy squad, still in the hunt for the treble.
And the sunshine is definitely shining on Parkhead at the moment. The last few months have seen an unbelievable renaissance at Celtic that has propelled the club from doomsday to a vibrant, balanced and happy squad, still in the hunt for the treble. Scott Brown was named SPL player of the month for January following his return from ankle injury and the transfer window saw several signings, including that of Polish striker Pawel Brozek.
Adding to the mood of optimism amongst the Celtic fans is the continued speculation and media frenzy surrounding the financial predicament of near neighbours Rangers. Schadenfreude can be a wonderful motivator in football. However, the reverse of that can also be true. It has been seen on many occasions that a team or player in off-field turmoil can thrive in the release of 90 minutes of only thinking about a game of football.
Fittingly in the aftermath of the Superbowl, the situation between Hearts and Celtic evokes a famous comment from the king of all American Football coaches, Vince Lombardi, who stated “The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.” Hearts, despite the chaos in the boardroom and beyond are still sitting in fourth place and can be one of the better SPL sides on their day. Let’s not forget too that this fixture has had a derby mentality about it recent years. The stakes will be inevitably raised and form will disappear out through the double glazing.
Hearts are without the suspended Ian Black, have a fitness doubt over David Templeton and, as mentioned, have their goalkeeper in political exile. Celtic should give a debut to striker Pawel Brozek but not fellow new signings Rabiu Ibrahim and Mikael Lustig, who don’t make the match day squad. Other than that it’s business as usual, bluster, chaos and thunder on the park and vitriol, madness and speculation off of it. A sign of the times indeed.
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