I hate the transfer window system. To be honest, I hate football transfers in general these days due to the extraordinary silly prices involved. I blame Sky, but I really can’t be bothered ranting about Sky’s love of the English Premiership and how they’ve totally ruined the beautiful game because of it. I’ll save that for another day. Or the next time Celtic & Rangers are touted to join it.
There’s too much money in football. Actually, that’s probably not accurate. There’s too much money in too few places in football. So the transfer window is completely weighted towards those few that have it. Again, that ties back to the Sky argument.
Anyway, why I specifically hate the transfer window is that it completely screws a new manager coming in. Take Celtic. When Martin O’Neill came in to Celtic ten years ago there wasn’t a transfer window. So he took the team that Kenny Dalglish had left him – a team that lost the league by 21 points to Rangers, mainly due to the mess that John Barnes created and then abandoned after he got sacked – and over the course of a few months he was able to slowly build his own. Alan Thompson came in during September, while Rab Douglas, Neil Lennon, Didier Agathe all came later too. Celtic went on to win the treble that season – finishing 15 points clear of Rangers, a 36 point swing. It was actually 22 points when Celtic clinched the title that year and would have finished 21 had they not lost the meaningless final two games of the season. Over the following four years O’Neill won another two league titles and two Scottish Cups and took us on the memorable run to Seville, knocking out some damn fine football teams on the way.
By the time Gordon Strachan came in for 2005, the transfer window was in place. But while Celtic had lost the league on the final day of the season, he still had a fairly decent side to work with. Admittedly, he started slowly. But a major failure in July meant he still had a whole month to make changes. He fixed the goalkeeping position and the defence and brought in a striker and a playmaker in that time. That’s all he really needed to do. Three titles, two league cups and a Scottish cup in his four years wasn’t a bad return. But in those four years he cheapened Celtic. What he came into was far superior to what he left four years later. Worse than that, a couple of key players also left at the same time.
So, Tony Mowbray comes in for 2009. Pre-season looks good, but we don’t really play anyone. We knock Dinamo Moscow out and end up playing Arsenal towards the end of August. By the time we’re dumped into the Europa League it’s only just starting to dawn on Mowbray that maybe the centre of defence could do with being improved. And we might need more than the one striker he’s brought in. But it’s too late. The transfer window shuts and he’s left with what he has.
And so follow four months of Celtic’s leaky defence shipping more goals than they’ve shipped in whole season for much of the rest of the decade. Meanwhile, at the other end, the one striker he DID buy gets injured and the others keep misfiring. To be brutally honest, it’s a miracle that Celtic are only the seven points behind Rangers in the league when the transfer window reopens for January. Well, it’s actually four points plus Rangers having won an extra game, so it’s even better than that.
And so here we are in January. Everyone, from the Celtic board to the Celtic manager to the Celtic fans knows what needs done. Celtic need something of a clearout of the deadwood that Strachan has left behind and Mowbray didn’t realise were rubbish before it was too late. But it’s now the middle of the season, do we really expect that we’ll get this massive change? Will we get the players in to replace them – players of real quality?
Well, oddly, it might just be happening!
This has been a good week for Celtic so far. On Monday it was confirmed that Celtic had signed a big central defender. He’s been compared to Johan Mjallby. That might just be because like Mjallby he has come from AIK Stockholm, but if he’s half as good as Mjallby was then I”ve delighted. Big Johan (or “Dolph” as Tom Boyd called him for his resemblance to Mr Lundgren) was something of a hero of mine. He was actually the first name and number I ever got on the back of a shirt. I loved his attitude, I loved his spirit, I loved his leadership… I loved that stare he would give folk that pissed him off. The guy was brilliant for Celtic and something of an unsung hero for me. So if Jos Hooiveld can even get close to matching that then Celtic will have the kind of defender they’re going to need.
Other stories seem to be linking Celtic to more central defenders and maybe, just maybe, a half decent striker. So the incoming transfers appear to be looking in the right areas. But what of the outgoings?
Well, today confirm that Strachan had returned to do some shopping. His new club, Middlesbrough, signed THREE Celtic players today. Two of which barely featured in the first team – Chris Killen and Willo Flood – so are unlikely to be missed. Barry Robson being the third appears to be a bit of a loss to Celtic in the eyes of many. Not to me though. Of the three players going to Middlesbrough he’s definitely the best of them and the one who has delivered for Celtic in the past. No Celtic fan will forget the way he and Paul Hartley dragged Celtic over the line for a seemingly unlikely third title in a row in 2008. Seemingly unlikely in April that is, and they won it in May! But in recent months I’ve been of the thinking that his spirit wasn’t enough, and that he just didn’t have the skill in the Celtic team like other players did. So maybe this is as good a time as any for Robson to move on.
There’s been one final outgoing from Celtic today, a man who originally looked like he’d be the fourth to go to Middlesbrough before the English Premiership came knocking. Gary “Heid” Caldwell. Celtic’s captain of recent times actually. Well, armband holder anyway. Celtic have lacked a real leader on the pitch since Neil Lennon chucked it. McManus certainly hasn’t been one, and Caldwell appears to inspire himself more than anyone else. And even then he’s not that good. There’s a statistic that says that Gary Caldwell is the record holder for own goals in the Champions League at three. I saw two of them personally. The first one was in Lisbon – probably my biggest nightmare trip following Celtic in Europe.
This was supposed to be a trip I’d been looking forward to for years. Celtic’s greatest triumph was in Lisbon and I was finally getting to go. I had planned to head to the scene of that triumph like many other Celtic fans did. My plans were scuppered. The day trip we were going on was delayed when there were faults with the plane. It was after lunch before we finally got out of Glasgow when we were supposed to have left early morning. By the time we got to Lisbon there was just enough time to get a bite to eat before heading back to the bus to go to the stadium. And we flew home after the game. I never got to do the pilgrimage. Add to that the fact Celtic got hammered 3-0, one goal from Caldwell himself, one goal from Caldwell having the ball bounce off his FACE and into the path of a striker, and one particular Celtic player being so bad he played rubbish in three different positions. I still can’t believe he was never subbed in that game.
Anyway, I think that was the day I fell out with Caldwell. He never really recovered from that, even if he did score the winner against France at Hampden. For the next couple of years I watched him on the field looking like he thought he was better than he was, being terrible at heading the ball clear, playing zonal marking very badly, and hoofing the ball instead of playing a calm control passing game… I cannot stand the guy. Most bizarre of all was when he was named Sports Writers’ Player of the Year for 2008/09, and then the SPL Player of the Year for the same season. The players’ player of the year award went to Scott Brown – at least they had a bit of sense. I couldn’t believe he got that award. Especially since Rangers won the league that year, a lot of which was down to THEIR central defender! Caldwell wasn’t even the best player in his position! Still, that was last season’s joke – this season’s joke of comparing Kris Boyd to Henrik Larsson has FAR surpassed that joke – for all I can’t stand Caldwell.
Anyway, Gary Caldwell is no longer a Celtic player. I’m absolutely delighted about that. Maybe now Celtic can move on with a decent defence. Maybe even with a real leader on the pitch. Only time will tell. To be honest, there’s still more work to be done. I’d like to see Celtic bring in another central defender and maybe even ship McManus out too. But that might be a bit too much to ask for within the January transfer window. In which case we’ll be stuck with what we have until the end of the season. And lets face it, Tony Mowbray had quite a few of the fans on his back due to the fact he couldn’t change Strachan’s team for four months. Does he really want to be stuck with that again?
Isn’t it ridiculous that a manager’s career is pretty much on the line due to things he can’t actually control? He’s been playing another man’s team for the last few months. He has one month to change as much of that as possible but still maintain enough of a team spirit that they don’t take too long to get up to speed with playing with one another – a very fine balance to get right mid-season – and then whatever he’s got he has to make do with for another few months? And you just know if Celtic don’t go on and win the league this season then it will be Mowbray that gets the blame. Which given I’ve spent the best part of three years now complaining about the quality of Celtic – a quality that I’ve seen as being purely down to Gordon Strachan – would be incredibly harsh to lay the blame at his door. Especially when from what I’ve seen, for the most part, he’s heading in the right direction. He’s not perfect, but his ideas look to be similar to what I think Celtic should be. I want to see him get that time.