When you play and coach football, even at a junior or amateur level, there are certain things that stand out to you. You notice a player’s skills, his work rate, and his ability to read a situation and move into a good position. You get a feel for a particular players standing amongst his team mates. This is the part of Celtic where I think that things have gone completely off course. We have gone from being a club who before the mid to late 80’s was almost exclusively a club for Scottish players to a club now which is full of foreign mercenaries who in many cases, don’t understand what Celtic is all about. I best heard this described by Billy McNeill at a dinner in Perth, Australia as “Celtic is not a big club, Celtic is a feeling”, it’s what we wake up with; it determines the mood of today, of tomorrow and next week but I digress.
Look at our entire coaching and support staff, enough to fill a 52 seater bus almost, 17’s, 19’s development team, first team, boys teams. Surely the standard of kids playing in Scotland is not that bad that we are consistently unable to produce a good Scottish talent that can go straight into the first team at 17 or 18 years of age, against what is for the most part, mediocre opposition. In the past we have had guys like McStay, Dalglish, Macari, Nicholas, Whyte, McGeady and many others who not only came into the first team and excelled but played against top quality European opposition and more than held their own.
What is happening at Celtic that we are unable to produce just one or two of this type of player every couple of years to excite the fans? You have to ask yourself this question, if you were a father, would you let your son go to play for Celtic at this point in time? Sure the heart would know the answer but the reality is, the sensible head would say no thanks. We have an almost mythical new facility at Lennoxtown but it was the old dump at Barrowfield that was able to produce the stars of tomorrow for us.
This, in my opinion, is where the revitalisation of Celtic Football Club must start. There has to be a complete re-organisation of how players are scouted and developed, we are overloaded with UEFA badged coaches and any young kids with any individuality have these unique skills almost coached out of them because it does not ‘fit in’ with the team ethos. Lennoxtown needs to be changed to being a place where young players are desperate to go and their parents are equally keen for them to go there and prosper. We cannot afford to continue to have teams that win league and cup doubles at youth level only for 3 or four days later to have half that team released.
At the same time, Celtic need to continue to scout the Scottish game for good young players at other clubs. We must be prepared to meet realistic values for players, look at the value in the past with the likes of Brian McLair, Andy Walker, Murdo Macleod, Paul Lambert, Tommy Boyd and the obvious talent of the past couple of years, James McCarthy, a young player who could and should have been wearing the hoops. As a club we need to look at installing some much needed character back into the team, leadership, we need to see a few Gallus characters coming in, Bertie Auld types. I might be overstepping the mark here because I don’t see enough of Scottish football these days but Johnny Russell looks to me like that type of player (Gallus, not a Bertie Auld). If we are looking at bringing in overseas players then they must be better than what is already there and another thing, we should have our targets scouted properly and know them inside out, this latest craze of continually bringing in second rate chancers to be evaluated is completely embarrassing to a club of Celtic’s standing, it must stop now!
As to our current predicament, how many times have Celtic been at a point where coming to the end of a season you are thinking “we’ve got a good nucleus here, just 3 or 4 good signings and this could be a seriously good side that will give us some big nights in Europe next season and walk the league”. I’ll bet that’s what many were thinking at the end of last season, it’s exactly what I was thinking. How on earth we have managed to make a complete hash of the goalkeeping position is beyond me, sheer incompetence. The lack of any further major signings that the coach and the major players (board) at Celtic must have been able to see were required, shows either a lack of ambition or complete incompetence.
For either of these reasons and I don’t think the coach is incompetent, someone has to carry the can. There has to be a change in personnel or a change in attitude before the team are once again playing in front of crowds of 22-30,000 people as they were in the 70’s and 80’s when we had numerous journeymen running around Celtic Park, just watch some of the vintage stuff on Celtic Viewer to see the crowds. The warning signs are there and should be heeded before it’s too late, we don’t need to buy or pay like they do in the EPL but we do need to put a product that people will want to see on the park. Martin O’Neill told us about life in the slow lane, at present we are parked on the hard shoulder and only major re-organisation from top down will get us back onto the inside lane.