A Position of Strength
The young man in the Celtic shirt in front of me got up to leave the Celtic v Legia Warsaw game after the Poles had scored their second goal and hammered the final nail into the coffin of Celtic’s Champions League dreams. As the exultant Polish supporters drummed and roared, the young chap stopped and gave them the middle finger. His gesture was no doubt born out of frustration rather than any inherent dislike of Poles but in truth the people responsible for this shambolic performance were not the efficient if unspectacular Legia side but the powers that be inside Celtic Park. We have witnessed the exit of quality players from Celtic in recent seasons and squandered millions of pounds on players who simply haven’t delivered. For many, Tony Watt looked a better prospect than the languid Amido Balde and yet Watt was sold for less than half the fee the club paid for Balde. Samaras, who often excelled in European games, was allowed to walk away when he would probably have been happy to stay at Celtic. In recent times, Alfred Finnbogason, a striker who scored 53 goals in 65 games in the tough world of Dutch football was allowed to escape Celtic’s clutches because the club wouldn’t meet the relatively modest fee demanded. £5m would not have broken the bank and we would have had a proven goal-scorer on our books to excite the fans and give the team some threat up front. In football you build on a position of strength so that success will continue. Celtic appear to be doing the opposite at the moment and with the new club heading to the SPFL next season or so, we may regret being only a few streets ahead of them when it should be miles.
There is an increasing and vociferous minority who are of the mind that the board is happy to manage a relative decline in the playing side of the club provided the books balance and as fans they will never accept that. It is of course the board’s responsibility to ensure the club is in good shape and they rightly point out that Celtic operates in a low income environment in Scotland and makes the bulk of its money from season ticket sales and of course the Champions League when we qualify. The difficulty in deciding whether to invest in the side to make Champions League qualification more likely or invest once the team has actually qualified is not one the fans recognise. Many feel an overall plan to increase the quality of the player pool each season is surely not beyond Celtic’s reach? The supporters recognise that the big boys in Europe seem to have money to burn and players are exchanged for sums up to £80m these days. They recognise that we can’t compete with that nor morally speaking should we try too. But shrewd investment in decent, experienced players can reap rewards. In 2006 Celtic defeated Manchester United with a squad which cost less than Wayne Rooney. In Joe Venglos’ time we picked up a little Slovakian for £300,000 as our miserable press scoffed at the club’s lack of ambition. The player was of course Lubomir Moravcic and he soon made them eat their words.
I have followed Celtic for many years and last night was painful to watch at times. In that second half young players like McGregor and Forest carried the fight to the Poles when they could but more experienced professionals were virtually anonymous. On one occasion Forest skipped past the full back only to turn back again as there was no one in the box to cross to. Leadership and guile were lacking and the team didn’t have the cohesion of the well drilled, if essentially ordinary, Legia side. There were squabbles amongst the fans, even one or two scuffles and that demonstrates how much we all care about the club. The new manager has a real job on his hands and one hopes this isn’t one of those situations where the new man’s ideas are unpopular and players become unresponsive. We have all been raised on teams where a nucleus of Celtic fans actually played for the club and gave 100% for those shirts every match. They understood what it means to the support because they are part of it. If anyone offers less than that they should be shown the door. It may well be that adjusting to Delia’s methods coupled with poor form led to the events in Warsaw and Murrayfield but as professionals, as Celtic players, we expect and deserve much better than that.
Ronny Delia’s introduction to Celtic has been a difficult one. He does deserve time to shift the dead wood, bring in some quality and develop a cohesive pattern of play. The supporters will be watching the board very carefully now to see if they will back the new manager and allow him to bring a little quality to the Celtic side. If players such as Forster and Van Dijk are allowed to leave and lesser replacements brought in it will not sit well with a support which is increasingly angry at the apparent asset stripping of the first team. Celtic is first and foremost a football club and the footballing department is the most important part of the club. We come to watch decent players and back them with that passion and pride which often drives them to higher things. We pay hard earned money, travel many miles and put up with often poor treatment as supporters but we love our club and we want the people who run Celtic to communicate to us their vision of how they intend to give us a team we deserve. Everything the PLC does should be geared towards improving the team and not improving the dividends of wealthy shareholders.