As we recover after watching yet another depressing defeat in Europe, Celtic as a club both on and off the pitch need to have a serious post mortem after this campaign and try to figure out how we stop the rot and end our European nightmares once and for all.
There are a multitude of reasons why we are not performing at this level and I will go in to some of them in this article but let’s be brutally honest here. It’s just not good enough. In fact I will go as far as saying it’s became an embarrassment and I genuinely never thought I would say that.
I’m an optimist and over the years have made excuses for our form on the continent but I have to stop seeing things through green tinted glasses and admit we are now becoming a laughing stock. We often deflect our shame and point fingers at our rivals, I know most of us enjoyed having a good laugh at theRangers breaking records last year but we are starting to break a few of those ourselves, and not in a good way.
The club needs a serious discussion about this and start setting the wheels in motion to get us out of this reoccurring nightmare, and they need to do it pronto. The old saying goes that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” This sums the Celtic board right up. We know that one of the main things needed to be able to compete at this level is a certain level of player. We do have players who can operate at that level but we don’t have enough of them. I would say we need at least another three players of that standard before we can even think about competing.
I’m a realist and know that the days of Celtic signing top, ready made players are long gone and won’t be coming back anytime soon. The days of beating Premier League teams to the signings of Sutton, Hartson and Lennon are a thing of the past but that doesn’t mean all new signings have to be projects. Shopping for new recruits in Japan and Korea has proved to be an excellent decision but we shouldn’t be solely focused there.
Think of the league’s that are probably better than the Scottish Premiership but still relatively unexplored by scouts of teams from the ‘big 5’ leagues. I’m thinking Portugal, Holland, Belgium, Poland etc. The wages we can offer are comparative with the wages on offer in most of them leagues, possibly even more, and if we put our money where are mouths are we should be able to attract talented players from those leagues.
We are obviously not going to get the absolute best from those countries as they will be looking at joining one of the big money leagues but there are certainly very talented players we can attract, think of Van Dijk, Boruc, Jota etc.
Now I know we had injuries and suspensions last night but when I saw the team sheet pre match I honestly thought ‘how have we come to this’. The bench ultimately told the whole story. Honestly you looked at it and thought not one of these players are capable of coming on and changing this game. Lazio had the likes of Immobile and Pedro on the bench and at the end of the day the team with the better substitutions went on and claimed all three points during the dying embers of the game.
We all know Celtic have the money to change this, unfortunately they just don’t want to spend it. I’m delighted that we as a club are on a stable footing financially, it’s great that we support a club that doesn’t take wild risks like the old Rangers but at the same time you can be financially stable and still invest decent money into the squad.
No one is asking for them to go on a mad spending spree, we just want a few ready made players who can go straight in and make the team stronger. If we just stopped spending a few million here and there on 10 projects, most of whom rarely ‘make it’, and actually spent the money on three top level players we would all be happy. We never do however. Better to whittle away small sums in the hope of finding a future superstar with a huge resale value than buying players ready to step straight in and improve this team, isn’t that right Peter?
The board shoulders a lot of blame for the regression of our club on the European stage but that doesn’t mean that the team and the manager get off scot-free. Watching Brendan Rodgers team in the Champions League has left me confused. I’m finding it hard to work out what kind of tactics the manager wants this team to play.
We saw in the previous season what Ange Postecoglou wanted to do. We knew his modus operandi. He was going to attack no matter whether it was reigning champions Real Madrid or whoever. Yes we were naïve at times but I thoroughly enjoyed watching some of it. The first half against the Spanish heavyweights at Celtic Park was a joy to behold. The Australian gave it a go but ultimately we failed to win a game so his tactics shouldn’t be lauded. Last year we were in a tough group however.
This season when the Champions League draw was made I rather naively thought to myself that we could qualify from this group. To be honest it was definitely a kind draw and was potentially one of the easier groups. Feyenoord were about the best pot one team you could hope for. Atletico Madrid were a tough pot two team but Lazio, who we beat home and away under Neil Lennon just a few years ago, were a good pot three team, especially with them not doing great in Serie A this year. To be on one point after five games is disgraceful.
In our first game we had the measure of Feyenoord in Rotterdam yet blew it. A silly goal to concede on the cusp of half time then a disciplinary meltdown. Lazio at home next who like Feyenoord were there for the taking. Blew it in the final seconds of the game. Atletico at home was a good performance but away was another night of indiscipline and embarrassment.
Last night and again a Lazio side there for the taking yet we missed the boat and we got punished late on once again. We have had some terrible refereeing decisions during this campaign but on the European stage you have to be super careful not to give the man in the middle the chance to punish you for stupid mistakes, they really don’t like any physicality at all.
The most frustrating thing about this campaign has been the tactics or lack of tactics is maybe more to the point. We seem to be confused what they actually are. We seem to have become a team who loves to have lots of possession but very rarely do anything with it. It’s clear to see our players all over the pitch including the defenders have become comfortable with the ball at their feet but there seems to be no urgency to their play.
We spray the ball around and it all looks good but it’s all fart and no smell. We constantly give the opposition the opportunity to regroup and get their defensive structure back and then we fail miserably to break them down.
Something that proves this is the ineffectiveness of Kyogo up front. The Japanese star loves to play off the last defender, making moves and runs that are timed perfectly just waiting for the right pass. By the time our team pass the ball around to try and find an opening the opportunity is gone and the striker is surrounded by a host of opposition players who have had plenty of time to get back into their position. It is hard to watch some times.
Our opponents enjoy us playing this way. They are happy to sit back and let us have the ball knowing nothing is going to come of it then when they get the ball they strike a quick counter attack knowing most of our players are too high up the pitch. We are far too easy to play against.
I know the possession based play is Brendan Rodgers preferred way of playing but if it’s not working, and it clearly isn’t, maybe a rethink is needed. I just feel we would have a much better chance in these games if we were to play our own style of counter attacking football, giving the likes of Kyogo and Maeda the chance to play of the last defender.
Only the dead rubber game against Feyenoord left now and hopefully a game in which we can break our European hoodoo once and for all. If we continue to play the same way however I’m not going to hold out too much hope.