Wednesday, 27 November 2013

One Step Forward Two Steps back
A friend recently told me that his car problems had finally been solved. ‘Turns out that feckin garage used the wrong parts,’ he moaned ‘They used a reconditioned filter and the wrong sparkplugs. No wonder it was misfiring,’ Thinking about the problems Celtic have had in this season’s Champions League, it’s fair to say Celtic have done something similar. The spine of last season’s team, Wilson, Wanyama and Hooper were sold for the best part of £18m but were the replacements of equal stature? The answer, with the exception of Virgil Van Dijk is an emphatic no! I’ve watched Celtic for many years and I’ve never seen then so lacking in threat up front. Even in the bad years we had good forwards and could always grab a goal or two. This season’s Champions League has exposed our total lack of cutting edge up front and responsibility for that lies with the board and manager who discuss targets and budgets. A striker of Hooper’s effectiveness isn’t easy to find and they cost serious money. Celtic made serious money last season so why no ready made replacements?
AC Milan join PSG and Juventus as the only teams to beat Celtic at home in Europe by 3 clear goals. That bald statistic would suggest they are a very good team but the truth of the matter is that Celtic have regressed in the 12 months since Barcelona were defeated in 2012. Beating Barcelona last season saw us take a huge step forward in credibility in the eyes of many but this season’s poor showing represents two steps back. One English reporter stated…
Yet the truth is this: the loss of Hooper and Victor Wanyama has weakened this Celtic team. The evidence is there for all to see. Celtic could have little complaint. It was, in the end, decidedly one-sided. It was a savage and clinical reminder of the gulf in quality and resources which separates the Champions League aristocrats from the proletariat. They can be grateful for small mercies. In seeking the cause of their Champions League demise a large mirror is all that’s required.’

AC Milan were a useful team but by their own high standards not a great side. The sort of elementary errors we saw for all three goals suggest that Celtic signed their own death warrant last night. Kaka rose unchallenged in the six yard box to head home as our six foot four inch centre-backs play statues. Zapata taps in after another free touch at a corner finds him unmarked a yard from goal. Awful defending from Celtic does not equate to clever attacking play or even concerted pressure. Milan didn’t have to work hard for those goals and ‘fortress’ Parkhead has now seen Juventus, Barcelona and AC Milan win there in the last year. Of course things could have been different if Van Dijk had scored with that golden chance early in the second half but the fact our best opportunities fell to defenders speaks volumes about the lack of serious fire power up front. This needs addressed as soon as possible but I would think next summer is the more likely time for Celtic to be bringing in another forward as January offers only scraps or over-priced deals. Perhaps we might see a young Scottish talent purchased to keep the disgruntled support happy and save the real spending till July?
Last night also saw another banner display in section 111. Those guys sang their hearts out for virtually the whole game and I take my hat off to them for that. However, did they seriously think displaying a banner with Bobby Sands on it would go unnoticed or uncommented upon by the club or footballing authorities? I totally support the right to freedom of expression and thought but again I ask is a football stadium the time and place for it? Sure, I understood the point that singing of Scottish nationalist songs is generally accepted while singing Irish nationalist songs in Scotland is frowned upon by many. But Wallace and Bruce are in their graves for 7 centuries and the distant past holds no fears for modern people. Sands and his comrades are still in the realms of living history and as such are potent symbols still. The plain fact is that many are alive today who were directly affected by their actions for good or for ill. Much hurt on all sides is still unhealed.
Celtic’s unique history is of course rooted in the post an gorta mor Irish diaspora.  There can be no doubt that many of those who founded and supported the club in its early days were broadly speaking Irish Nationalists. However those who hate Celtic make judgements on what they read in our insipid media and through the songs, banner displays they hear and see at games. Perception is all and some perceive Celtic’s ‘Irishness’ as being indivisible with militant Republicanism and that’s simply unfair and inaccurate. Freedom of expression should always be tempered with responsibility. The banners at the Aberdeen game made the same point as last night’s. We get it, it’s unfair to discriminate between Scottish nationalistic ballads and Irish ones but most Scots simply shake their heads and are incredulous at why folk would want to sing Irish Loyalist or Republican songs at a Scottish football match in the first place?
So we limp out of Europe rather meekly after last season’s exploits and many are far from happy at the club’s transfer policy. There is much to be done to get the team to the levels of 2012. There is also a growing possibility of a rift between some at the club and elements of the support. We need to avoid that as the stunning victories of 2012 were built on the incredible bond which exists between the team and the fans. Barcelona fell at Celtic Park because the team and support were one. That unity is the driving force which makes Celtic great. Let’s work to maintain it.

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