People don’t like hearing the truth but sadly I think it’s time for a reality check. At 2pm on Sunday, when the team was announced, I had that feeling that most fans had – nerves and fear.
The reason why? The defence. It’s been well documented now that both Dedryck Boyata and Efe Ambrose aren’t the most comfortable centre-backs. Especially when the pair of them are playing together, it creates a recipe for disaster. Now of course Boyata and Ambrose aren’t the only culprits, but they are the one of the main sources of goals conceded this season.
Erik Sviatchenko and Jozo Simunovic should provide a solid partnership at the back and if Mikael Lustig does recapture his best form along with the consistent Kieran Tierney at left-back, all seems well at the back. But for fans it all feels too little too late again. Should we be surprised? Not in the slightest, given the way the club is being run on a day-to-day basis.
There is a much deeper truth behind Celtic’s past failures in big game scenarios and some Celtic fans know this. There are so many aspects of Celtic which are great, but the team, management and board have really brought our reputation down in the last two seasons. Even in Neil Lennon’s final year in charge and earlier in his reign, the writing was on the wall. Little spending and more blind transfers have accumulated to no Champions League football in two seasons and no domestic treble.
The team have failed this season when it comes to pressure games. Of the 20 so-called ‘big games’ this season they have only won eight, drawn six and lost six. These games take into account all European matches (including qualifiers) as well as domestic cup competition and both matches against Aberdeen and Hearts. A poor record no doubt, but this is down to the mentality of the players and management staff, as well as the recruitment policy.
On Sunday, this mentality was exposed again. Careless mistakes at the back cost the Hoops a chance of a domestic treble. In times gone by, everyone remembers Celtic sides being able to win a match with 10 men. A club of Celtic’s size should have enough to beat a side or do enough to get the job done even if they lose a player. A good example of this was the 2-2 draw at Ibrox. Celtic going into half-time 2-1 down and a man down in the Scottish Cup tie really did make themselves counted for and managed to end the game honours even and were unlucky not to win the tie that day.
The difference on Sunday was clear though. Once we went down to 10 men there was no real strategy or plan B from Ronny Deila. The Norwegian who has been in charge for a year and a half, in many fans opinion still has no Plan B option when Celtic have to go for the jugular. There was a lack of grit, fight, willingness and determination about the players and that’s what upsets fans most. It seems as though at times, some players just don’t care.
Now this can be down to a number of aspects but the one which tops the list is the men at the top. Peter Lawwell has stabilised the club in the best way possible but what has been disappointing is the common low price, tight-fisted transfer policy and timing of transfers which has upset Celtic fans. At the start of this season and last, Ronny Deila wasn’t given the required players for Champions League qualification. It’s as simple as that. Players who we sign today really lack that mentality that the likes of Georgios Samaras, Joe Ledley or Victor Wanyama possessed on big match occasions. Those players mentioned and many more were able to cause trouble in these must win games and come up with crucial goals and that bit of magic when it was needed.
Now without Leigh Griffiths in the starting line-up or even featuring at all, fans worry where goals will come from and little wonder. At times the club’s signing policy and quality of player have let the side down massively. At the minute there is one too many problems at the club, and if it continues, then Celtic will gradually become less a threat in European football than they already are.
The answer to this is simple, Celtic must have an overhaul players, management and ultimately those at the top. A fresh beginning should have happened a few years ago when Celtic had the chance to become an established Champions League team and in turn, create that all important revenue for qualifying for European’s elite competition.
Now the club face a battle to keep fans happy, who are increasingly agitated and annoyed at what’s happening at the club. Such as the unpredictability of Celtic of late, I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Hoops put on a championship winning performance against Aberdeen. However, things much change for the better or else Celtic will continue to falter when the pressure is on.