Is the pandemic to blame for Celtic’s ills this season. Difficult to say. Some commentators have said that the lack of support affects Celtic more deeply that other teams. I’m not sure about this. I remember being in Tynecastle and Easter Road on occasions and there was certainly no lack of passion or support from the stands from Hearts and Hibs supporters and it is clear to me that the lack of supporters affects those clubs also but they are not playing badly in the way that Celtic are. On the other side of Glasgow it is obvious that the lack of support is not adversely affecting the Rangers. It is easy to use the pandemic as an excuse and some people [NL included] have done this but there is no evidence to support this theory
The difficulties associated with the pandemic affect everyone. Even the small teams, they have their own supporters and the lack thereof affects them also. Clearly, Celtic supporters display enthusiasm and passion on behalf of the team but I remember being in Celtic Park once or twice when the atmosphere became flat and quiet. This doesn’t happen terribly often of course but it does nevertheless occur occasionally and nobody can use this excuse.
It’s difficult to say what are the sources of Celtic’s problems this season. The league was lost even prior to the trip to Dubai [and it is certain now that that this decision was a mistake]. In the first game at home to the Rangers they were abysmal and even though they were much improved for the game at Ibrox they lost that game. It is unacceptable that the team cannot get the better of Livingston over two games, home or away. Even though the league title is lost, Celtic will still have to concentrate on this season and there is a risk that they will not even finish in second place. Hibs or Aberdeen could take this place if things continue as they are.
I have said previously in this column that I do not wholly place the blame for this collapse on NL. There is at the very least a certain percentage of the blame that should be apportioned to Peter Lawwell and Nick Hammond. Some of the players let down the team and the management and it seems that some of the signings made were not appropriate for the club. It bothers me a lot that Celtic seem to have lost the ability to sign suitable players. You think back to the likes of Lubo Moravcik and Henrik Larsson and the way that the club was able to sign these players at low cost. It appears that this capability has been lost
At present I’m reading a very interesting book entitled “Celtic – The Official History” written by Brian Wilson. This books deals with the history of Celtic from 1888 up to 2017. At the moment, I’m at the point where Jock Stein has just been appointed as manager in 1965. It was great the way Stein could just go out and sign such a great players as Willie Wallace for €30,000. Even allowing for the devaluation of money since then, this shows the ability of Stein to identify a players and to be able to slot him straight into the first team. I believe that this ability has been lost by Celtic when you consider some of the mistakes made as regards new signings in the recent past. Of course, the principal boast of that team was the fact that they all grew up within thirty miles of Celtic Park [twenty when you omit Bobby Lennox!].
I believe that this approach must be returned to by Celtic. That is to say more emphasis needs to be place on attracting local players to Celtic Park so that more pride and passion can be in evidence throughout the team. Clearly, the absence of spectators would not have deterred the Lisbon Lions. I really find it difficult that there is not a goalkeeper with a Celtic background of the required standard playing in Scotland. I also believe that Declan Gallagher should be signed from Motherwell. This central defender played for Celtic when he was a youngster and has attracted attention from a number of other clubs. If he is good enough to play internationally for Scotland then he is more than capable of doing a good job in the SPFL.
Maybe now is the time to move on some of the players who do not have Celtic in their hearts. NL has stated that certain players were dis-satisfied with Celtic and it might be better if they weren’t there any longer. Incidentally, I do not include Ryan Christie in this category. I was surprised to learn recently that he was only earning £7,000 per week. He should be put on a much improved contract and there is an onus on the Chief Executive to put this injustice to rights.
Of course it’s not as simple as that when you consider the case of Shane Duffy, who followed Celtic as a youngster, but it seems that the style of play of the team does not suit him. However, there should be more players with a “Celtic” background in the team, when you consider players such as Paul McStay and Tommy Burns [RIP] and Johnny Doyle [RIP], players who had Celtic in their DNA. It seems that players of this nature are not there now.
It now appears that NL will remain in position until the end of the season but it is obvious that significant changes will be put in place by the start of next season. It seems that there will be a new manager and maybe a new Chief Executive and possibly even a new team charged with recruitment. Clearly changes need to be made before the start of the new season so that it will be possible for Celtic to make a good start and to recover the title from the other side of the city.
Finally, some commentators have now stated that it is unfair to subject NL to further unnecessary suffering by keeping him in position any longer and that it might be more humane to allow him to leave now on his own terms in recognition of the wonderful service he has rendered the club. Maybe.
Tim Molloy is law graduate of London University and is a High Court Registrar and lives in Drogheda. He is a life-long Celtic supporter and an Irish language enthusiast. He also speaks some Spanish and French and a few words of Polish and Czech. He also follows the fortunes of the Munster rugby team.
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