We Never Learn
I’ve been a Celtic fan long enough to know one simple truth about us.
We never, ever, learn from our mistakes.
Ask anyone that’s slightly older than me about the centenary season and after they’ve told you about the magic of it and what a great season it was, they’ll probably mention that it’s just a shame we never built on it.
Ask Celtic fans about Seville and after they’ve told you about what a great ride it was, how we were beaten by a good side – if badly fraught by play-acting – and how great the many, many Celtic fans were, they’ll probably mention that it’s just a shame we never built on it.
Of course, in both scenarios you’ll then get into a debate where someone will bring up whether or not we could actually afford to build on it. After the centenary season we were up against a Rangers team who had unlimited funds from the Bank of Scotland – the same bank who seemed intent on driving us out of business (go read The Asterisk Years). After Seville we actually lost more money than we made – thanks mainly to the fact we failed to qualify for the far more lucrative Champions League and only just about managed to claw that back with a run all the way to the UEFA Cup final. You could probably argue that the bigger problem was Martin O’Neill’s team was full of players with little or no sell on value who were also picking up decent wages.
Well, you could argue that, but since I actually enjoyed watching Martin O’Neill’s team play for the most part I’m going to just accept that and – just for a change – remember that I care more about the football on the park than the mechanisms off the park that make it work. I guess this is where the phrase “ignorance is bliss” fits in. I miss the innocent days of not knowing how club finances worked and just wanting to see good football on the park.
But it wasn’t just 1988 and 2003 that we didn’t kick on from positions of strength. I’m sure older readers will remember earlier instances where we failed to build on success. The Quality Street gang pretty much all left one by one because the old board tried to penny pinch with them as they had the Lisbon Lions before them for instance.
Far more recently, we’ve watched a Celtic team who won 10 points in the Champions League group stages – and yes, beat Barcelona – dismantled and sold on to lesser Premiership teams. Hooper for £5 million to Norwich City. Ledley to Crystal Palace for an “undisclosed fee”. Wanyama for £12 million to Southampton, and most recently Forster has joined him there for £10 million.
Now, I was lead to believe that the point in doing that was to fund improvements to our team and this was the only realistic way to do it given the massive gulf in TV money between Scotland and the big leagues. We bring them in young, improve them as players and give them experience at the top level, before selling them on for a profit so they can earn big money themselves.
Which is fine as long as you replace them.
I’ll give Celtic the benefit of the doubt with Craig Gordon. He was the last goalkeeper to go down south for a massive fee but his injury problems ruined his time there. He seems to be fit again and, so far, hasn’t shown any signs of having lost his abilities in the couple of years he’s had out. We’ve taken a chance there and it may well pay off. But the rest?
Virgil Van Dijk has come in and done less at European level than Wilson did. I left him out of the above list because he went home, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t still need to be replaced. Wanyama hasn’t been replaced by anything like his strength in midfield and we’re still missing an old fashioned box to box style midfielder who can chip in with goals hitting the double figures mark for the season like Ledley. And no, it isn’t Stefan Johansen. He runs around looking like he does more than he actually offers while falling over his own feet in a manner that makes me think he’s more of a replacement for Kenny Miller. Ouch.
In fact, it occurs to me that even Ledley himself was effectively our first proper replacement for Stiliyan Petrov – which considering there was a four year gap between Stan leaving and Joe arriving is a bit embarrassing!
Up front is the real travesty though. With Hooper gone, we got lucky last season in that Commons was banging in the goals. Good thing too because the Hooper “replacements” in Pukki and Balde have been utter failures. This is the risk we take with this particular business plan – if your scouting doesn’t do the job properly you might buy duffers and get stuck with them.
Okay, so here’s where we might just have learned at least one thing. This season we haven’t bought anyone – we’ve loaned in a few. How they’ll get on remains to be seen, but so far we’ve had Tonev taking up the Boerrigter role of “permanently injured” and we’ve had Berget thrown in at the deep end against Legia Warsaw only to show exactly why he couldn’t get a game for a poor, relegated Cardiff City. Having now seen him against Maribor I’m pretty confident it wasn’t anything to do with him having just arrived at Celtic either.
So we’ve gone from identifying talent that we can sell on, to identifying rubbish that we can’t sell on, to loaning in rubbish we can at least send back. How does that fit into the making money model exactly? And actually, didn’t we try this loaning in thing before? Yes it’s worked in the past, but for every Artur Boruc (on loan from Legia Warsaw before we agreed to buy him) and Fraser Forster there’s a Michael Gray, an Henri Camara and a Pawel Brozek. Aye, you forgot we’d even had them, didn’t you?
Lets face it, there’s usually only two reasons teams loan out players. They’re either Morten Rasmussen and we’re desperate for someone to take our rubbish off our hands, or they’re Callum McGregor and we have no intention of selling them but we want them to get some experience. Jason Denayer is the latter as far as Manchester City are concerned.
Whatever the Celtic board’s plan currently is, and it’s becoming abundantly clear they’re now making it up as they go along, it’s clear that they definitely didn’t learn from last season. We got extremely lucky with the Champions League qualifying draw with an easy tie against pretty much the only Celtic supporting team from the North of Ireland, a Swedish team who thought Mo Bangura was a striker and then unsurprisingly failed to score against us despite having plenty of chances, and an awful team from Kazakhstan who still weren’t far from knocking us out anyway. How awful were they? Well we played about 15 minutes of that 180 minute tie well and it was still enough to win it. Don’t kid yourself that the 3-0 win was a good one, we were awful for most of the first half until Commons scored. Even after we levelled the tie through Samaras we saw Karagandy hit the bar as we failed to deal with a throw in.
This season we didn’t get anywhere near that luck with the draw. Legia Warsaw were no great shakes, but they were miles better than anything we played in qualifying last season. Maribor were probably better at the back than Legia but that’s about it. Oh yes, and then we had to play them with an even more crippled team than we had used 12 months earlier.
The team that played Maribor was managed by a new manager with new ideas, but also lacked not only the aforementioned Ledley but more importantly the European threat of Georgios Samaras. Say what you want about the big Greek, and he had his flaws, but he also had a habit of scoring on the big stage. Five consecutive away matches in 2012 or the equaliser against Karagandy, he was there when it mattered. Compare that with Anthony Stokes who has only ever scored against Rennes in the Europa League in 2011. That’s who lead our line last night though.
The lack of quality in the Celtic team has been evident in this qualifying campaign, but as some have rightly pointed out, Lennon was able to get them to play better than this. Well, lets give Lennon some credit here. He played a system that suited these players – probably because, Berget aside, he brought them in. His system, his players, the two had to work together. Okay so occasionally the entire team would inexplicably play utter garbage, like Karagandy away for instance, but for the most part it worked.
Deila hasn’t been at Celtic long enough to get his system to work with these players. In fact, I’d have to say that on the evidence we’ve seen so far, he’ll never get his system to work with these players. His system seems to involve high energy, high pressure, quite a bit of pace, and the ability to pass and move the ball quickly. Leaving aside that Deila’s man Berget can do precisely none of that, half of Lennon’s Celtic team couldn’t trap a bag of spanners never mind a ball, and as for the passing… I don’t think some of them could pass wind.
This was evident against Legia Warsaw. In fact, it was evident in pre-season and against KR Reykjavik too. Deila even admitted as much in one of the press conferences after losing to Legia! Nevertheless, he has persisted with his system and persisted with trying to get these players to play in it. Clearly, Deila doesn’t learn either.
Another thing I don’t understand is where Deila gets this idea that Charlie Mulgrew is a born leader. Even under Lennon there was a visible drop in leadership on the pitch when Brown was out injured and Mulgrew would take the armband. It’s been even more evident under Deila as at least Ledley used to show some form of leadership in the past. In the last two games we’ve seen Celtic go a goal down and the heads have dropped. Against both Inverness and Maribor we almost seemed to be teeing the opposition up for a second goal at times, such was the beaten attitude of the team. The problem is, there’s nothing to replace Mulgrew as captain. There are currently no leaders in the Celtic team, and so when they go a goal behind there is no one there to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and go for it.
So what we currently have is a bunch of Celtic players who seem incapable of learning how to play a different system, a manager who seems incapable of changing that system even temporarily to fit the team he has, and a board who seem incapable of learning that penny pinching their way through seasons only ever leads you back to where you started – out of the big competitions where the money is made and attracts the players you can sell on for a profit.
But lets not stop there when it comes to those who can’t learn. There is, of course, us fans as well!
Every season it’s the same story. We watch this happen through July and August, moan about the lack of investment, put it to one side and concentrate on the team we have through the Autumn and into Winter, get to January only to see them fail to invest again, again put that to one side because it’s January and no one does any business then anyway, watch Celtic win the league at a canter and then as we’re still enjoying that euphoria we get our season ticket renewals in along with the options to pre-orders our two new away strips that the team will rarely wear anyway.
Remember that yellow kit we were wearing against Reykjavik? Last season’s kit. Some suggested it was the only sponsorless kit we had, but I found that odd given I had sponsorless versions of both sitting in my cupboard at the time of the game.
But back to the main point there. It’s pretty obvious that the board know exactly how to play us.
Set a season ticket deadline at the end of May or the start of June. That comes in at just the right time as we’re happy being champions, but it’s long before Celtic will even consider having rumours of who we’re going to buy in the transfer market. Remember the chat about how Lennon wanted to do his business before the world cup started? Okay, Lennon left, but before you attribute that to it you have to remember we signed Craig Gordon in that time!
Still, with your season ticket money banked, they’ll then try and wait until the last week in August to actually spend it – if at all. Why? Because they don’t want to spend money without that guarantee of Champions League group stage income. Never mind buying players to try and get there in the first place, this is Celtic’s risk averse strategy in action. There will be no speculate to accumulate at this club!
Oh yes, of course, there’s the home cup debit scheme which ensures a hassle free setup for getting your extra tickets for any cup games played at home – otherwise known as Celtic taking the money straight from your account whether you’re going to the game or not. That’s just a nice little addition to ensure they can get money from you for tickets you could just buy anyway.
Season tickets have seen fan power given up completely. Back in the days of getting rid of the old board most people paid at the gate. If you wanted to hit them where it hurt, you went to the car park instead of the game and they got no money from you. Now if you go to the car park they’ll laugh at you as they enjoy the money you’ve already given them. They don’t care if you go or not.
Of course, Celtic have “kindly” given us all a £100 discount off those season tickets both last season and this season. You’ll note that they’re a discount rather than an actual drop in price. We all know why that is, and it probably points to the whole root of the problem. Celtic are waiting for the return of the other big aspect of making money in Scottish football – rivalry. Oldco, newco, it makes no odds. A team backed by the fans who make up the other half of that rivalry will be in the top flight next season.
And don’t kid yourself on that they won’t make it! Scottish Football will bend over backwards to make sure they do. They already bent over backwards to try and get them into the top flight and only a threat of fan revolt put them in the fourth tier. Even that was bending over backwards as they had no account history and therefore no right to membership. Remember, Celtic’s board who want them in the top flight have representatives at the highest level of both the SPFL and the SFA. The minute that team are in the top flight, that season ticket discount will evaporate. That means £100 more out of your pocket and into theirs, with no better product on the park. All you’ll get in return is a lot more hassle off it as the most bitter people on the planet turn up to blame you for the state of their club – on top of everything they already hated you for anyway. Wonderful.
Someone in this whole debacle has to learn a lesson, and the only one I can affect in the learning process is me. I’m not going to tell anyone else what to do, I’m only telling you what I think. Everyone else can make up their own mind. There’s nothing worse than “bloggers” who think they speak for everyone.
I already missed flag day because my life has other priorities now, but to be honest I didn’t even feel like I missed anything. I watched it on TV and didn’t miss being there. That’s already an odd admission given we won 6-1 and played some wonderful football – the proof that maybe Deila’s system is a good thing after all.
I did feel glad to be back at Celtic Park before the Maribor game, and even worked out that it had been three months since I’d last been there to see Celtic, but by the end of it I was wondering why I’d even bothered. I watched the players trudge off the park without even giving us fans any acknowledgement whatsoever – save for Virgil Van Dijk probably saying goodbye – and then I headed for the exit myself. The last Celtic game I’d been to had been the Legia game at Murrayfield, and that was another soul destroying effort to even wait until the end and say goodbye to Fraser Forster.
Three games this season, and two have them have left me angry and wondering why I’d bothered. Is that healthy? I don’t think so. As I left after the Maribor game, I heard the car park protests and briefly considered joining in. Then I remembered I had work in the morning and they already had my money so what was the point.
So why am I so angry? I’ve seen disappointment before countless times but this is different. Celtic’s become nothing more than a badly run business. The players who play there don’t care for anything but themselves. That’s evident when they don’t bother turning up for supporters events, get off the team bus with their headphones on so they can ignore those waiting patiently at the entrance to Celtic Park, and when they trudge off the park without any acknowledgement to the fans in the stands – which is especially annoying away from home in Europe given just how much it costs to even go on a day trip to those these days.
Upstairs, there’s a board I can’t even relate to. A bunch of corporate suits who have a completely different mentality from the Celtic fans I mix with. Suits who try to push away vocal, passionate fans just because they don’t agree with the way they think. Suits who treat us like customers rather than supporters. Suits who don’t understand the need for Celtic to do things like become a living wage employer and retort that with nonsense about it being a second job for those people – completely ignoring why they might need a second job in the first place. At least the old board were just incompetent.
I actually quite like Ronny Deila. He’s honest and he seems to have good ideas when it comes to playing the game. I’m pretty sure John Collins will work well with him, but I’m not convinced either the prima donna players or the penny pinching board will help them achieve what they want to do. Not having a plan B doesn’t exactly help his case though. This is the environment Deila needs to operate in at this level. If he doesn’t want to deal with prima donnas then he may as well cut his losses now and head back to getting the best out of small time Norwegian teams. That’s the sad truth about modern football, and John Collins should know all about it after the so called “player revolt” at Hibernian. Another bunch of prima donnas who thought they knew better.
With all of that in mind, and no doubt to accusations of knee jerk reactions, I’ve removed myself from the home cup ticket debit scheme and very likely this will be my last season as a season ticket holder. Celtic are getting no more of my money because, quite frankly, it’s not Celtic any more and hasn’t been for some time. Faithful through and through is a terrific sentiment, but it’s supposed to be a two way street. Celtic haven’t been faithful to us or even themselves. I’ve known this for quite some time too, but I’ve been in denial about it as my heart has ruled my head.
Well now my heart has given up on them too.
Yes, I’ll admit there are other reasons behind these decisions – mainly to do with other priorities away from football – but everything I have said here is why the internal debate I’ve been having is finally over. The debate is now a monologue.
Still, on the bright side, I won’t be there when that awful rivalry reignites. Good luck to all of you who will be, that’s going to be messy.