Celtic’s summer recruits and The Bhoys of the old Brigade

For Celtic’s new recruits, this season must be something they weren’t expecting. Some must be scratching their heads as to just what they have landed in the middle of.

With fans unable to get into stadiums to support their team and also vent their frustrations, social media platforms and the like have been the place to go, the pressure valve to communicate and release their frustrations, wisdom or unwavering support. Any player delving into that sphere at the moment would probably we best advised to proceed with caution.

You’d be hard pushed to name a Celtic player who has been a consistent performer this season, yet you’d also be unfair to point to any particular individual having particularly consistently plumbed the depths either. Standards however have been high at Celtic and have been for some time. When such standards slip, however slightly or temporary, it’s going to be noticeable. When it happens in a season where everyone has invested their emotional support into the club’s greatest achievement since Lisbon, over the course of nine previous seasons and more, the timing of a loss of form is going to have an impact, skew and unbalance reaction, where the virtue of patience may normally play its part. An immediate sense of panic can set in. That is human nature.

Lennon watches on. Credit: Getty

Nerves are fraying already and we haven’t even hit November, but then this is not a normal season, on or off the park. Celtic are six points behind in a title race with a game in hand. The only domestic defeat has come against our nearest challengers, yet there are three more of those meetings to come where that can be put right. The situation is further tilted by a pandemic that ended last season early. Thankfully on that occasion Celtic were so far clear in the title race, the opposition having all but conceded the title at the time, that it made little difference.

But what about this season, what if it finishes early? That’s where the pressure is being magnified. This has stopped being a season where we can look into the distance and trot out the marathon not a sprint line. This country is barely any further forward in managing this pandemic, if the football season is to be ended prematurely again and on an average points basis Celtic cannot afford to be behind. That’s at the back of everyone’s mind, let’s be honest.

Celtic’s new recruits must be wondering what they have let themselves in for. At previous clubs they may have been afforded a settling in or honeymoon period, indeed at Celtic they may also have been afforded that, but not last year and certainly not this year.

Vasilis Barkas has already had his critics yet has played what 12 games? Shane Duffy has played little football in months then has played two and three games a week without a breather. David Turnbull has had a long-term injury and is probably being managed carefully, Diego Laxalt barely speaks a word of English, joined what he thought was an attacking and winning team and has yet to experience a victory. Albian Ajeti has had his career mothballed at the striker’s graveyard – also known as West Ham – and is struggling for fitness. All must also be a little shell-shocked at the moment, the burden of expectation to perform immediately must be weighing heavily upon them.

This is where Neil Lennon, his coaching team and Celtic’s old guard can step up. There are new recruits and they will need time to settle, they’ll also need time on the grass and games under their belt to get into a rhythm.

Covid-19 has hit the Celtic squad of late, it’s meant there have been players normally called upon be it as first choices or as back up that have been unavailable for selection, long term injuries requiring specialist attention has hit others, an elongated transfer window also played its part on the uncertainty of players futures. Hopefully bit by bit we are emerging from those problems, but while we are still in such difficult times, we also have players who have been over the course, dealt with tough spells, built up a strong mentality and got Celtic to this point, close enough to the holy grail of a tenth consecutive title that they can almost touch it.

Players like Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic, Leigh Griffiths and James Forrest have seen it all. When times are tough and when they are without injury, all of those players need to be available for selection to manager Neil Lennon and ready to perform. Not all of them have afforded the manager the option to lean on them. Neil Lennon, while we negotiate these tough times has to get those players on the park, a core group through the spine of the team that can help the new recruits negotiate this initially challenging time and emerge the stronger for it.

There are others with perhaps a little less experience, but who are still knowledgeable enough by now to know what is at stake and what is required to achieve it. Kris Ajer is one of those players and already looks like he is stepping up, in the last couple of games in particular. Nir Bitton is returning and knows what it’s all about. Even Scott Bain, back in the team after injury to Barkas has seen what it’s like to be built up and knocked down and will be able to guide Barkas through tough times.

The support of course can also play its part. That doesn’t involve happy clapping or that we keep the faith over the edge of a cliff, but a sense of perspective an understanding as to what our players are going through, dealing with and adjusting to is needed. If this inconsistent form continues, I’m aware patience will wear thin, my own is being tested already. But for now, and through the next month at least there are opportunities ahead for Celtic.

A Quadruple Treble is there to be won, an impact in Europe to be made and for league form to be rediscovered and a deficit to be clawed back. Despite not being able to attend games or join friends in supporters clubs or supporters buses we can all play our part. We all need to vent of course but at the moment there is division within the support that cannot be healthy.

We’ve had good times supporting Celtic over the last few years, and rarely has that support been required to lift the team as it has right now. Celtic need to improve that is without question. The manager has to start winning games and soon, but any immediate action could only be a gamble and one not worth taking given the position remains perfectly salvageable. Neil Lennon has also earned the right for time to be afforded to him turn things around. It’s time for Lennon to lean on players who have been over the course to ride out this turbulent period. He has to trust the old guard to guide the new Bhoys.

If that doesn’t result in further improvement then there is time to visit alternatives but not right away. That’s not about keeping the faith or united we stand, it’s about affording a little more patience to those who have earned it, as we head into the month of November and a series of massive games that should give us all the answers we need.

Niall J

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

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