Monday, 16 March 2015

The dogs bark but the caravan moves on

The dogs bark but the caravan moves on

The job’s too big for him,’ growled an angry fan as we trooped out of Murrayfield, the songs of jubilant Legia Warsaw fans ringing in our ears. ‘That was the worst I’ve seen Celtic since the 90s,’ another went on as his tousled haired son of about 10 regarded him with a forlorn look. It was indeed a fairly wretched display from Celtic on that sun kissed evening and the new Manager was already under pressure. Fans have every right to be angry if the team misfires or lets them down and Deila’s rather bemused assertion that we are where we are because we are not yet good enough to be in the Champions League fell mainly on deaf ears. The unexpected reprieve from UEFA which arrived after Legia fielded an ineligible player was welcomed but again Celtic failed to deliver. They blew it against Maribor when they were there for the taking and Deila was again being slammed, this time for not playing Kris Commons from the outset. Results in the late summer and autumn were patchy as Celtic’s players tried to get to grips with Deila’s tactics and fitness demands. The media was generally hostile and seemed to want the Manager to fail and some referred to him as ‘Celtic’s Paul Le Guen.’ They seemed incapable of cutting him some slack on the grounds that Celtic was clearly in a transitional phase. He said after a rather unconvincing 2-1 win over FC Astra in October…

'On Thursday night it looked like they were a little bit afraid to lose. But when we went 1-0 up, suddenly everything was going smooth and quick. We need to get that freedom into our play. Again I have to say I think I have been very clear in my goals this season: we want to go through in the Europa League and we want to win the Treble.’

The man does not lack ambition for Celtic and a turning point of sorts came after Celtic’s surprise loss to Hamilton Accies that October. Since then the team have won 16 of their 19 league matches and progressed in both domestic cup competitions.  Europe was both a salutary lesson in how far we have to go to become a Champions League team again but there were also flashes of a style of play more suited to the European arena and that augers well for the future. Ronny Deila has a clear philosophy of how he wants to play the game and as the team evolves and more of his players come into the system we may see more improvements. Gary MacKay Steven and Stuart Armstrong seem tailored made for the high pressing, fast tempo game Deila wants to develop at Celtic and it is encouraging to see the Scottish transfer market being utilised. For too long we have paid big bucks for players like Boerichter, Balde, Pukki and Bangura and watched them struggle in the so called ‘weak’ SPFL. Players such as Johnny Russell, who many consider would have done a good job at Celtic at half the price, were allowed to slip through their fingers.

 As Deila’s team found their form, they battled through their League Cup ties with considerable ease. The team’s progress in the competition was built on a solid defence which helped the team see off Hearts (3-0) Partick Thistle (6-0) and Rangers. (2-0) Sunday’s final against Dundee United was always likely to be a sterner test but the team coped well and dominated proceedings. The fact they managed 18 attempts on goal to Dundee United’s 3, demonstrates the degree of control they had over the game. Celtic won the trophy without conceding a goal and as Scott Brown held the trophy aloft at Hampden and the cheers went up there was an understanding among the fans around me that Celtic were an evolving team and far from the finished article. One fan commented, ‘If Deila’s team does win the treble then it’ll be the worst Celtic team ever to do this.‘ A harsh comment, given that the other three Celtic treble winning sides were Stein’s immortals in 1967 and 1969 and Martin O’Neil’s powerful side of 2001. It will be a major achievement for any side to win a domestic treble as it is far from easy as history proves. In 1966, 1971, 1972, 1974 and 1977 Stein’s Celtic missed out on the treble by losing one cup final. In other words, losing one game in each of those seasons stopped Stein winning an incredible 7 trebles in 11 years!

The SPFL title is in Celtic’s hands but don’t expect Aberdeen to fold. History teaches us that it isn’t over until it’s over and Deila will ensure no complacency infects the players. The Scottish Cup sees Celtic face Dundee United again and if successful there, John Hughes’s Inverness stand in our way and neither team will bow down to anyone. The treble is very possible, in fact it is tantalisingly close but there is much work to do before we can suggest that it’s anything like a certainty. Football is an unpredictable and quirky game with the odd upset along the way to keep it interesting. Like the Manager, I like to shake my head at talk of trebles and expound an old football adage, ‘We take it one game at a time and see where it gets us.’

It is interesting to see many who criticised the manager in the summer being won over. Celtic fans know their football and are not fooled easily. Most recognise the progress Deila is making and they accept that there is still a long way to go before they are where we all want them to be. Ronny’s victory on Sunday has brought him vindication and he is clearly after more. Elements of the media which questioned his right to hold a prestigious post such as Manager of Celtic are looking on sheepishly. If Delia wins the treble in his first season he will have every right to rub their noses in it. He should remember the words of Fergus McCann when he was asked if negativity from the press got to him. He shook his head and said with a small smile…

‘The dogs bark but the caravan moves on.’

Let us hope that Ronny’s moves on to Hampden in May and offers him a shot at treble glory.



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