Fraser Forster did very little wrong this season. Harshest critics may argue that he could have prevented the first goal in the league cup final, but his 13 foot frame can be difficult to drag across the turf. Forster’s has two major problems, in my eyes. One, it is difficult to fully love loan players. He came in, he performed admirably, but unless he signs a permanent deal, he’ll be rarely remembered in years to come. Two, he is wonderfully average. He neither possesses the manic passion of Boruc nor the pulse raising uselessness of Hedman. He’s just there, a dependable giant. In terms of his style, I’d like to see a goalkeeper of his stature punch the ball less as he has the physical attributes to confidently catch the ball.
Furthermore, at times it seems as if the neurological messages being transmitted from his brain to his feet take a split second longer than they should. For example, Forster receives pass back, Forster controls ball, Forster has internal dialogue about where to kick the ball, Forster hasn’t received the green light yet, Forster has now, Forster kicks the ball up to Samaras, with a small element of panic creeping in as a pacy young Motherwell striker almost blocks the clearance. This may just be a personal view, and like I have stated, he has certainly been dependable. If I was Neil Lennon, I would sign him over Given or Westwood, and not just because I would like Westwood to stay at Coventry City and bask in our annual dose of mediocrity.
As I waited by the main entrance to Celtic Park on a balmy August evening, the players traipsed off the team bus prior to the Europa League clash with Utrecht. Straight away, I saw him, the latest signing, the centre back Celtic finally needed. Daniel Majstorovic had the experience, the international caps, and the tattoos that weren’t merely there as a fashion statement but because he has pain for breakfast. Finally, a hard man centre back who would decapitate his own Grandmother in order to head the ball out for a throw in. Unfortunately, looking like a mean demon does not equate to being one. At times he was the slayer of Rangers strikers with his evil ways, but he faded badly. Despite being sorely missed in the league cup final, he often appeared to be the less capable centre back to the uncapped reserve left back who was filling in. The cup final handball may prove to be Majstorovic’s lasting legacy.
Everybody loves Paddy McCourt, don’t they? Looks like he’s slept in a bush, plays like he has been promised a feed for every dribble he makes. Paddy inspires the clichés. A throwback to the 1970s, a time when men were real men and could go out, splash on some Brut, drink pints of white spirit and then sleep with Miss Coatbridge before terrorising the Hearts defence with a hangover and shorts on back to front. Paddy certainly faded too, after his early season promise. Kris Commons ruined him, but Kris Commons vastly improved the team. Should Paddy be sold? In my opinion, no, purely because I cannot see a natural fit for him anywhere. The Championship, the wonderful slog that I watch every week, is physical and far more demanding than the SPL. The talk about replacing Adam at Blackpool persists, but Adam is a passer of the ball, and the most overrated one in the country at that, whereas Paddy is a dribbler, an enigma, a man to whom the term defend is akin to making inflammatory remarks about a loved one. Paddy and Celtic are a great fit, and if he is happy with a bit part role, he should remain as he lights up those dull December games against St Johnstone. Plus, his wages are surely cheap.
As he stood there, an intense gaze from his eyes, twelve yards from goal on an overcast April afternoon, he knew that this was the moment. The title would not have been all over had he scored, but the psychological shift may have been too great. He even had the edge, having beaten the same goalkeeper three months previously. Yet, he failed. Giorgious Samaras did not cost Celtic the league title, but his legacy of the season, and even his career at Celtic, will be the penalty miss at Ibrox. In a wider context, his wonderfully calm spot kick in January meant nothing, whereas his side footed effort in April changed everything. He suddenly lost his aura, and Rangers, having been effectively bullied by him in every game in 2011, no longer had to face him. They had the last laugh.
Samaras is a wonderful player. So is Berbatov. Whilst the Bulgarian has a higher skill level, similarities exist. Both, from the outside, seem too nice to be able to be ruthless professional footballers. I recall one game, and I should remember the opponents, that saw Samaras knock an opponent (fairly) to the ground. He immediately turned round, apologised, and helped his opponent up. Instantly, the opponent, the enemy, becomes a friend, and this can be a fatal mistake. Samaras does not score enough goals, does not pass when he needs to pass, never seems to know where he is going with the ball or what he is going to do, and yet is the most naturally gifted footballer in the team. That he cannot make the top ten list of players of the season is a testament to his frustration and underachievement. Like Paddy, I would keep him, because when he is in the mood, he is unstoppable. The key is to switching this mood on and refusing to unplug it.
James Forrest is a little unlucky not to make the top ten, as his early season form was excellent. He is only young, but next season is a pivotal one. He does not want to be another Mark Burchill, Jamie Smith, Liam Miller. He has started off well, and received a well-deserved international cap, but does he have the determination and ability to progress? He has pace, but needs to combine this with calmness. He doesn’t have the skill set of Paddy, but he is direct, a rare ability which defenders hate.
Of all the players who didn’t make the list, Daryl Murphy is the one who could easily turn up at the door of any English Championship club, hopefully he would manage to knock it at the first attempt, and be an instant success. I would love to see Murphy at Coventry, and I am sure many others would too, but it has not worked out. Being fourth choice striker when the two preferred choices are prolific is a situation that someone who has reached the supposed peak of their career should never be in. His lasting legacy will be the wonderful effort against Dundee United, and he will always be remembered fondly for this. History heals slight exasperations, and in years to come he can come out to do the half time draw, receive a warm applause, and people can reminisce about his composed strike on that beautiful Sunday. Murphy would be a success in England, as he has the physical strength to be the target man for a direct side, and even the fancy footwork to be the focal point in a passing side. This is where he should go, and should go as soon as possible.
The Freddie Ljungberg experiment did not work. Rather than gracing the famous shirt in the manner of Jinky and Larsson he has worn it with the nothingness of Juninho. He didn’t do anything wrong, but that was half the problem. He just didn’t do anything. He was in the background, collecting his wages and squeezing himself into whatever fashion label he was modelling boxers for this month. A shame, but no great loss to the club.
What happened to Efrain Juarez? How can a player fall from grace so quickly? From being the early season darling of the terraces, he will be best remembered in my mind for donning a Mexican luchador mask whilst standing, in his suit, in the top tier of the Broomloan Road end at Ibrox. He will be sold, but he should be replaced with someone who can slot into central midfield. On the basis that Kayal and Ledley will be the first choice pairing, Brown will play out wide and Ki will be the only alternative from the bench. Juarez had a fine range of passing, a cultured nature on the ball, and yet whilst he seemed to find his level in the early European matches, he seemed out of his depth in a poor domestic league. Read into that what you will.
One week summed up Shaun Maloney’s season in my eyes, and it was the last week. In the last league game, he comes on against Motherwell, frustratingly should have scored with his first touch, scores a wonderful solo effort later in the game, and then injures himself in training to ensure he misses out on the cup final. Should Maloney stay? On the assumption that Brown and Commons are the wide players, who are the alternatives? McCourt? McGinn? Maloney should be that player, and yet cannot stay free from injury, and more damningly, cannot rise to the occasion when it truly matters. The Inverness game was an abomination from someone who was entrusted with the Celtic captaincy earlier in the season. If a cheaper, hungrier, younger replacement can be found, Maloney should be offloaded while there is a small chance of the club receiving a fee. For a man who was allegedly homesick in Birmingham, one can only wonder about where he may ply his trade. Middlesbrough seems a good fit, both in terms of location and personnel.
I have purposefully left out commenting on Loovens, Cha, Zaluska, Rogne and McGinn, hoping that subsequent views can analyse their performances and whether they should be retained for next season. Celtic certainly had the depth of squad, but the vastness of numbers did not necessarily equate to performances. The nearly men could have been contenders, some even were, but were swept away in a sea of dependability, mediocrity and disappointment.