By Critical Bill


After every bad defeat, there inevitably comes a time of navel gazing and soul searching.  As Nick Heyward once said, “where do we go from here ?”
No doubt that Dec 29th was a shocker.  Yes they were bound to beat us sometime but to get thoroughly outplayed like that was gruesome to watch.  Off the back of Easter Rd a fortnight earlier, it was more than just a bad day at the office.  Now a couple of games doesn’t of course tell everything about the team and where its going.  2018 should be looked at in its entirety.  All three domestic trophies were won.  We’re still in Europe beyond Xmas.  We have lots of money in the bank and we are still top of the league.
But those trophies and continued presence in the Europa Cup should not be allowed to disguise  some very worrying signs and pretty obvious cracks in the team.  Our domestic form has slumped considerably and away form home, we can’t take anything for granted – except possibly we’re likely to struggle.   There is a fight for the title when there really shouldn’t be one.  We were also put out of the Champions League by a team who didn’t get as much as a point in the Group Stages. And in Europe too often we have continued the habit of falling apart after conceding one goal
We have a large squad but we are considerably short in some areas and have a number of players who the management cannot trust when it matters.
And the management itself is where we should begin our examination of what we have to do in the next few months.  You can point to injuries and lack of forwards but none the less, some of the selections over the past few months have at best been bizarre – and that is being very kind.  Sinclair at right wing back at Easter Road?  Our best player player this season being shunted to left back at Ibrox.  Mikey Johnstone being asked to play the lone striker role in the same fixture. (did any Celtic fan not wince when they saw the line-up just after 11 o’clock on Saturday ?)
Brendan is going to have to play to the strengths of the players he has and not shoe horn them into unfamiliar positions.  He is also going to have to work out how we deal with the high press and opposition teams who do not just allow us to pass it around the back.   
There will be a high turnover of players this year.  the following players are out of contract :-
  • Lustig
  • Gamboa
  • Izaguirre
  • Boyata
  • brown
  • de Vries
  • Allan
  • Benkovic
No doubt we would love to retain Benkovic but that is not going to happen.  Boyata has indicated by all accounts, he is for the off. (I’ll come back to that later)  It will be in Brown’s hands whether he stays or goes and AFAIAA, he is off to Australia to consider an offer.  I suspect that we wouldn’t mind Lustig to stay but probably on reduced terms and no longer as first choice.  And I’m not sure whether he would accept that.  The rest will be thanked for their services.  Compper may be mutually consented.
One thing is for sure, we cannot afford a repeat of the 2018 recruitment.  Of the 8 players brought to the club (including Izzy who was brought back) only one (loan signing Benkovic) is a first team starter and can be considered an out and out success.  Scott Bain is an improvement on reserve keeper de Vries.  The other 6 have either left the club (Musonda) or couldn’t make the bench on Saturday despite injuries and poor form of others.  (Arzani can at least point to being injured but he almost certainly would not have started at the weekend if fit)
The above is a shocking statistic and one that can’t be allowed to continue starting this January.   So what does the club need going forward ?  We will have to plan for the long term much better.  
After our Europa Games, we looked enviously at Salzburg and their set up.  Well last summer they sold a centre half for €20M and signed one for €2M.  But that wasn’t the replacement.  The guy starting in the instead was signed for €1M a year earlier.  the €2M man will be ready for next season.
That is something we will have to start to do.  That will need far better scouting and let’s be honest some patience from some supporters.  But such a strategy might help alleviate the problem of infamous CL qualifiers when we often go into these crucial ties without the right personnel and gaping holes in the side.  
That being said, whilst there has to be a view of looking beyond the next 12 months, there is also a league to be won this season.  As mentioned many players will be leaving so just now there is also a huge emphasis on getting players who are ready to get into the team immediately.  We also have to make sure that the summer isn’t one where more than three or four players need recruited.
At goalkeeper, there is no doubt that Craig Gordon as a free transfer has been a good buy.  But I feel that he is coming to the end of his usefulness.  His distribution is a liability especially for a team that builds from the back – although sometimes you think BR insistence on that tactic is just stubbornness on his part as Gordon shows no signs of getting better at dealing with it.  I would say that there are more important areas of the team to address first this month BUT unless Conor Hazard really starts showing the potential some say he has at first team level, signing a goalkeeper will be a priority this summer at the latest.
Moving to full back, we are now in a state of urgency.  The failure to address right back has come back to haunt us.  Lustig has been badly at fault in a number of crucial games this year.  We need it sorted now.  Izzy has also been a disappointment at left back cover.  There is  no point in having him and using midfielders and wingers at left back if Tierney is injured.  Again this issue should be looked at asap.
At Centre Half a fit Boyata and Benkovic are a good pairing.  There is one huge proviso to that. – Boyata if fit and his head is in the right place. We are in a title scrap and you will need to folk to put their body on the line in big games if they have to.  Do you trust Dedryk to do that ?  I don’t and we should address the fact that our two first choice centre halves will be away this summer, by signing at least one replacement at the start of 2019
When it comes to midfield, we will have to decide on what do if Brown goes in the summer.  The rest should IMHO be good enough.  That being said N’tcham’s form this year has been dreadful and is at the worrying stage and your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what on earth has happened with Mulumbu.
Out wide, we have enough options.  If Sinclair doesn’t regain his consistency the I would try and cash-in on him in the summer and replace.  Would love to see Patrick Roberts back but that may be wishful thinking.
As for up front, the folly of not replacing Dembele has been embarrassing.  I don’t expect to see Griffiths back this season and two strikers must be signed with at least – one being able to carry a physical threat. Along with a right back and centre half that must be the immediate priority.
We are in a title race no doubt.  But we still have far better players and resources than anyone close to us.  But we need to address glaring deficiencies in the team and for the manager to get his head sorted out.  Longer term a scouting network is going to need to be recruited with a remit of going to areas where the likes of Ajax, PSV, Salzburg and Anderlecht go to.  This should hopefully result in a system of having some replacements ready and waiting to step up before the first choice has left as opposed to one where there are just glaring holes.  
I wrote about the summers debacle and my opinions of those involved – here  There is no point in going over old ground.  However Rodgers and Lawwell must work together to sort out the immediate woes.  They must start reading off the same page when it comes to recruitment and they must put their egos aside for the good of the club.
What I don’t want to hear is an attitude of “Well Brendan might be away in the summer, so lets hoard the cash and go for loan signings.”  That will be an ever bigger folly than the summer and could lead to the unthinkable and the blowing of the league title.  
To lose the league given our financial muscle over the opposition would be a humiliation.  To pay £6M to the manager and CEO who presided over such a disaster would be even more embarrassing.  For Rodgers, his reputation is at stake and a failure in the first half of next year will see him struggle to earn the rewards ( at least in the UK) that he currently does at Celtic.  For Peter Lawwell, far more attention may get paid to his own performance and remuneration if he is head of the Board that loses the “10”.  The ball is in both their courts.