Forward Thinking ahead of Milan
Here goes. This blog was intended as a short response to a blog by fellow Korea-based Celt thegreenbarron.wordpress.com but grew arms and legs and resulted in me creating my own blog space.
It feels strange, in fact almost wrong, to complain when Celtic are unbeaten in the league and, if results go our way tonight, we could be well on our way European football after Christmas. But, it has to be said the football being played by us this season is uninspiring. I was awake at home at midnight Sat/Sun and at no point did I consider watching the Aberdeen game – shameful perhaps, but in my mind the script was already written. Like so many games in the past 18 months we’d have lots of possession, huff and puff without creating too many clear cut chances, concede an avoidable goal then go on batter the opposition into submission with power and determination. Undoubtedly great qualities to have but I want and expect more from Celtic.
I spent my teenage years going to Parkhead watching the latter McNeill years, and the Brady and Macari years when finishing 4th or 5th in the league was commonplace. Like so many, the Tommy Burns’ Scottish cup was the only silverware we won throughout my teenage years. So, for a while winning and stopping those bastards especially in ‘97/98 was all that mattered. However, as I get older (and wiser?) modern football pretty much sickens me and given the current situation Celtic and Scottish football finds itself in, I want more (or maybe even less) than “a winning team” Our league form has been turgid and our European form verges on anti-football at times. It may be naïve but I want flowing football, creative, exciting players, youngsters coming through the ranks, and a feelgood factor surrounding the club I love.
Neil Lennon, who still has my support, promised to bring back the thunder and for a season he most certainly did. We played flowing attacking football, scored lovely goals and were good to watch. Alas, a nightmare in Inverness saw a 3-2 defeat and Sir Cardigan and his cheating hoardes snatched the title from us. Was it at this point our focus shifted? Since then we have won back-to-back titles but the football being played has unquestionably been deteriorating. Why?
There are undoubtedly a number of factors but I strongly believe the coaching side of things deserves serious consideration. As I understand it our management/coaching structure from first team through to under-19s is as follows: Neil Lennon, Johan Mjallby, Gary Parker, Stevie Woods, Danny McGrain, Stevie Frail, Chris McCart, and John Kennedy. All good dedicated men, but all essentially defensive minded (Parker I’m not sure about but legend has it he was painting and decorating before Lenny brought him to paradise). Of course there is no law that to play good attacking football you must have been a striker. However, given our current policy of signing younger players with potential, there must be a structure in place that allows these players to be properly coached in their art. Can this be expected to happen without an attack minded coach on the books?
John Park has been rightfully lauded for many of his signings. We know our strategy will throw in the odd failure among the gems but a closer inspection of his signings is quite revealing. The most obvious successes have been Forster, Wanyama, Hooper, Ki, Ledley, Virgil, Efe, Wilson, Izzy, Matthews, Lustig, and Commons. (We have also witnessed the rebirth of the enigma that is Samaras – not as an out-and-out striker mind you!!) With the exception of Commons and Hooper they are all players who play in positions our coaching staff know well. Indeed for the past three seasons our players of the year have been the defensive trio of Izzy, Charlie and Victor. The point I’m attempting to illustrate is the majority of these players flourished under appropriate coaching. Hooper was a natural goalscorer, he’d proven himself a natural goalscorer at a struggling Championship club like Scunthorpe. Forwards we signed such as Browzek, Miku, Bangura, Murphy were much maligned but would they and Tony Watt have benefited from having a coach who is aware of playing their position and can give them proper direction and advice? Are players like Pukki, Balde, Atajic, and McGeouch being hindered by the lack of such a coach?
Do we need to change our coaching structure or signing policy? Without an attack minded/striking coach should we pursue players who are well versed in the rigors of the SPFL ahead of unknown quantities playing abroad? Is bringing in projects from overseas such as those mentioned above a better policy than signing the likes of Johnny Russell, Jon Daly, Gary Mackay-Stevens, Ryan Gauld if there is no one among our coaches to help them adapt and improve? Do we fear that giving Dundee United money will threaten our dominance? Indeed, why are Dundee United continually producing such talent when we struggle to bring through our title winning youngsters?
I would love nothing more than a victory over Milan tonight, but we must also ensure our long terms goals are being properly addressed. There have been many off field issues to occupy our attention recently but the main focus must always be the team and how it is performing. Some may consider this piece negative and say I’m looking for faults, but living in Korea I just want people to associate the name Celtic with good deeds and good football and the latter is sadly lacking at present.