After having a few too many on Sunday night I started to type an article for the site (I use the word article loosely considering I managed the grand sum of 12 words before succumbing to a drink-induced coma) and the headline I went for was ‘Managing Celtic is a zero-sum game.’ From what little I can recall I was trying to say that managing Celtic is first and foremost about getting the basics right. Before thinking about anything else, it is absolutely imperative that we are successful in the SPL. The league should be the priority pure and simple and if we’re frank the objective from both Celtic and Rangers over the last 10 years has been to not be as bad as the other. The only problem with that from our point of view? Our rivals have been on a financial life support machine for a while now and we haven’t been good enough to capitalise.
Much has been said about the systematic failure over the last 4-6 years of the custodians of our club so I wont rake over old coals in this article, I would merely like to suggest a plan of action our manager has to take from now on to salvage this season. We can talk about what has went wrong in the past all day but it won’t help us win the league this season, a feat which despite the apathy of many is still well up for grabs.
Our manager needs to batten down the hatches and build confidence with a consistent run in the league by choosing a settled team week-in week-out. I’m of the opinion that constant tinkering of the team line-up is at the heart of the consistency problems in both results and performance. Asking Charlie Mulgrew, who has handled it relatively well apart from a lapse in temperament at Ibrox, to move week to week from CB to LB to LM can’t be good for the rhythm and flow of the team. I always remember Gordon Strachan speaking about the support Nakamura had during his best spell with the club knowing Paul Telfer would be either right behind him or overlapping to create space. Tough decisions have to be made before this season slips out our grasp in a way unheard of in the O’Neill/Strachan era. If Big Dan and Loovens aren’t good enough then don’t play them, we can’t go on chopping and changing a very fragile backline every week to disastrous effects. Choose a first choice back five and stick with it as best you can. Of course we’ll have suspensions and injuries but continuity in this department is desperately needed.
The conventional wisdom is that our midfield is our strongest department, although how much of that is attributed to the relative pitiful competition from other areas of the park is debatable. Forrest has arguably been our brightest spark of an otherwise un-illuminating season so far but like last season I feel it wouldn’t be wise to expect his form to maintain throughout. If we have any chance of turning this season around them we need to recapture the spirit in the middle of the park which was fostered at the turn of the year, peaking spectacularly in the 3-0 drubbing of the Huns at Parkhead. In a similar fashion to our manager in his pomp, without a fired-up Beram Kayal in the middle of the park then our chances of success will dwindle even further. Despite different rumours of his happiness at the club, none of which I’m willing to comment as they are just that…rumours, it’s imperative that he gets back to the kind of form we had the pleasure of witnessing last season where he added that bit of swagger this frankly limited team needs at times. We don’t have players in the mould of Mjallby, Thompson, Sutton, Lennon on the park these days but we have a young team that needs that wee bit of self-assurance to see us through some of the tougher games. Safe to say a return to form and favour for Kris Commons would be another major plus but we’ll think about that when he’s available again.
Consistency in selection may also help Neil Lennon quell one of the supports main points of criticism. I’m sure most people reading this article (being the switched on, go-go, ubercybertims you undoubtedly are!) will have seen the win ratio comparison currently swirling around twitter, forums, txtland and probably carrier pigeon by now about our stikeforce. To fill in any of the unenlightened out there, put simply Hooper-Stokes start: 100% win, A N other 0%. Now this experiment in over simplistic stat trotting obviously does not factor in the difference in difficulty of the respective fixtures but there is something striking in the results nonetheless.
It’s safe to say the manager doesn’t fully trust our number 10 to deliver in any game unless it’s a dead rubber (if we have such a thing these days). However what better way to find out just what this talented but somewhat wayward character is made of by just giving him a run in the team in his favoured position alongside his best partner and saying ‘go on, now’s your chance‘. It seems straightforward but why not go with what works and stop complicating matters? I understand the need to have a flexible squad able to adapt to different formations and systems but the way I see it is that we as a support believe we have the best team in the country, we should fear absolutely no-one! Pick the best eleven and tell them it’s time for them to show why they deserve to be champions.
The international week has given the support time to take a step back from the picture and get a fuller look. I write this article not because I think I know more about football than our manager, Neil Lennon’s probably forgot more about football than I or most of the support know. However I can see patterns emerging which could cause collateral damage to our season before Christmas. Early season point deficits can be clawed back, we’ve seen it time and time again but should the task become too big too early then we face losing heart and turning on the team making it nigh on impossible to achieve anything. Neil Lennon’s an intelligent guy and he’s certainly not a quitter. He’s faced bigger challenges than this and passed with flying colours and he can certainly handle this one.
Don’t believe the doom-and-gloom merchants, nothing is over, everything’s still to play for. It’s imperative we gain some momentum and this season can turn round as quick as it’s veered off course.
Thunder 2.0 just needs a reboot. Keep the Faith