From Lions to Sheep: Celtic’s Failing Youth Development System

James-Forrest

On the 25th of May, 1967, in Lisbon’s Estadio Nacional, an unlikely team from Scotland shocked Europe by dismantling an Inter Milan side that many considered to be the best on the continent, in the process becoming the first team outside Latin Europe to win the greatest prize in club football; the European Cup. Celtic’s victory was heralded by manager of the opposition, Helenio Herrera, as a ‘victory for sport,’ while the side from Glasgow was lauded the world over for their display of ‘total football.’ What made the victory all the more inconceivable was the fact that every player in a Celtic jersey that day was born within a 30 mile radius of Celtic Park, while 9 players were brought up through the ranks of the club’s youth academy. Unsurprisingly, football has never seen the likes of the Lisbon Lions again.

No matter your allegiance, the feat achieved by the men in green and white that day must be regarded as one of the greatest moments in sporting history.

For Celtic fans, the years that followed such a magnificent achievement were rich with success. Celtic went on to reach another European Cup final in 1970, finishing runner’s up to Feyenoord, and won a Scottish League record 9 titles in a row. Indeed, local talent from the green half of the city continued to flood like an endless stream on to the park as the Lisbon Lions’ time wore on, with the famed Quality Street Gang, consisting of the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, George Connelly and Davie Hay, mesmerising the Parkhead faithful like the Lions had done before. When their time was coming to an end in the late 70s and 80s, the Celtic shirt was continually adorned by products of the club’s youth academy and fans of the club, with club greats such as Roy Aitken, Packie Bonner, Tommy Burns and Paul McStay contributing to historical moments in the club’s long history.

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Lisbon Lions 

Nonetheless, the turn of the millennium signalled a diminishing  influence of Celtic’s academy on the first team. The club began to place more of a focus on signing high profile players from England and abroad, but the first team was still dotted with promising academy graduates breaking through into the first team, such as Aidan McGeady, Shaun Maloney, John Kennedy and Liam Miller. Needless to say, some were more successful than others.

However, the past 10 years have signalled a steeper decline in the number of successful academy graduates than anyone could have imagined. Of course, football has changed drastically since the glory days of Johnstone, McNeill and Stein. It is now a multi billion pound, cash driven industry. But still, as teams like Ajax persist in their faith of their youth set up, why can’t we do the same?

A Comparison: Ajax

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Blind, Eriksen and Vertonghen: Products of the Ajax Academy now starring in England

Before I drop a bombshell and reveal the embarrassing statistics behind our academy production over the last decade, it’s important to look towards other clubs of a similar stature to ours, what they’re doing right and how we can hope to emulate them. Rather than look at a club such as Barcelona, one of the financial powerhouses of world football, I thought it’d be best to look at a club with a similar reputation, financial status and stature as ours ; Ajax.

Of course, a brief look at the history of Ajax shows the emphasis the club has placed on youth development and, like Celtic, they have reaped the rewards, boasting 4 European Cup winning teams consisting largely of home grown players. In recent years, like Celtic, they have been enormously impacted by the cash cow that is the English Premier League, and have realised that, to survive, they must develop players and cash them in once they get to a certain age. Yet rather than sign players that have come through development systems at other clubs, they bring in them in at a young age and enroll them into their famed youth academy.

Unsurprisingly, this sustained emphasis on youth development has paid dividends. In the past 10 years, an astonishing total of 27 Ajax youth graduates have played over 50 (I thought this was a reasonable number of games, as it can be achieved in under 2 seasons) games for the club. That list includes Van Rhijn, Veltman, Bazoer, FischerKlaasen, El Ghazi, Riedewald, Serero, Moisander, Boileson, Kishna, Andersen, Vermeer, De Jong, Blind, Alderweireld, Eriksen, Vertonghen, Van Der Wiel, Anita, Enoh, Ebecilio, Lindgren, Emmanuelson, Maduro, de Mul and, hold the laughter, Derk Boerrigter.

Most of you will recognise the majority of the names on that list. All players have won league titles with Ajax and participated in the Champions League, and many were sold on for 10’s of millions of pounds and now line the teams of top clubs in England, Italy and France. Yet the question remains, how do Ajax consistently produce such great players?

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Former Ajax star Alderweireld, now leading the Spurs chase for the Premier League Title

In terms of recruitment, Ajax employs 50 full time scouts in the Netherlands alone. This enables them to uncover the nation’s future stars wherever they may be and at whatever age. Indeed, there rarely appears a youth prospect at another club in the Netherlands that Ajax aren’t aware of or aren’t keeping tabs on. Further, they employ a further 5 scouts across the globe, giving them further reach to recruit the best youth players. Many of these players end up at foreign Ajax academies, as they have full time youth set ups in Cape Town, Greece and Ajax.

In terms of philosophy and transfer policy, the club do not buy first team players (unless there are no suitable/adequate players in the youth ranks) and promote three new graduates every season. The most talented of youths are virtually guaranteed first team status at ages 16 and 17, if they show enough potential. Ultimately, the basic premise of the Ajax academy is that there is the complete transition of youth prospect into star player playing under the ‘total football’ philosophy, which is taught by 25 full time youth coaches.

You’d probably think the running cost of this set up costs an arm and a leg. As a matter of fact, it only cost Ajax 6 million euros per season (£4.7m).

Now we have a comparison, it’s important to establish the problem with Celtic, and how it can be solved.

(Further reading on Ajax http://www.ecaeurope.com/Research/ECA%20Report%20on%20Youth%20Academies/ECA%20Report%20on%20Youth%20Academies.pdf )

Celtic’s Youth Stats

As most of you will agree, the product of our own club’s youth academy over the past decade has been poor, with the promising Kieran Tierney perhaps the only saving grace. Nonetheless, the stats surprisingly read well in terms of our transition of youth players from the academy to the first team over the past 10 years. A total of 28 Celtic youth graduates have made appearances for the first team since the 2005/06 season. Below is a list of every player who has made the transition, the amount of appearances they have made and how their time at the club ended.

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Statistics are slightly out (2 months), but still no more players over 50 apps

28 youth players to break into the first team over the course of 10 seasons is a decent number when compared to the likes Barcelona, who have brought 33 players through in the same amount of time.

However, you will notice four players are highlighted in green; Stephen McManus, Darren O’Dea, James Forrest and Callum McGregor. They are the only four Celtic youth team graduates over the past 10 years to make more than 50 appearances for the club. Yeah, you read it right, and I will emphasise it again. Compared to Ajax’s massive 27, only FOUR Celtic youth team graduates have made over 50 appearances for the club in 10 years.

Even from the four that have passed the 50 mark, their quality hasn’t been great. Stephen McManus is probably the pick of the bunch; former club captain, played in the side who achieved to back to back appearances in the Last 16 of the Champions League, winning 3 league titles and two Scottish Cups. Darren O’Dea played in the same successful Champions League sides, but overall struggled to make an impact during his time at the club, and is perhaps best remembered for his goal in the 2009 League Cup final against the old Rangers. Then there’s James Forrest, the man who will be perpetually known for having ‘bags of potential.’ Averaging under 30 games a season, largely down to injuries, his impact at the club has been limited to few special moments, with his goal against Karagandy to propel us into the Champions League Group Stages and another goal in last season’s League Cup Final rare highlights. Calum McGregor completes the list, with his Celtic career still in its adolescence. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but there certainly is potential there. Of course, Tierney will probably pass that number at some point next season providing he’s not sold, and should hopefully become a great for the club.

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Ex Celtic Captain, Stephen McManus

KT aside, that output, to understate grossly, is nowhere near good enough for a club of our size and, more importantly, limited resources. So what are we doing wrong?

The Celtic Problem

The simple and obvious answer is recruitment.

Where do we start? We all know the club’s transfer/recruitment policy; buy low sell high. Effectively, the club believe that to survive in modern football and not go the way of our former rivals, we must buy players in their early twenties from lesser well established clubs in Europe on the cheap, develop them for a few years, then sell on at a profit. Of course, we’ve had our success stories; Hooper, Forster, Wanyama, Van Dijk et al. There’s no doubting the policy works, if you get it right.

However, for every success story there have been countless miserable signings. Naming them all in the past 10 years is a difficult task, but I’ll try it anyway. Fortune (£4mil), Fox (£1.5mil), Hooiveld (£2mil), Rasmussen (£1.5mil), Murphy (£1.5mil), Juarez (£4mil), Bangura (£2.2mil), Boerrigter (£3mil), Pukki (£3mil), Amido (£1.5mil), Scepovic (£2.3mil), Boyata (£1.5mil) and Ciftci (£1.5mil). That’s a total of £29.5 million wasted on, quite frankly, garbage players. From the players that were sold on, not one bit of profit was made and in most cases we struggle to recuperate a large chunk of the fee. There is probably more that I have missed. In short, our transfer/recruitment policy is not working.

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Pukki, Boerrigter and Amido. Oh dear!

Moreover, it’s not working because it is the wrong policy. I’m not going to suggest that we should sign first team regulars from Premier League/ Spanish League sides for enormous fees and pay them extravagant wages. We can’t afford it and anyone who believes we can is living in fantasy land.

What we should be doing is following the Ajax strategy; bring players in who are in their early teen years and develop them in our own youth academy. I have never understood why we’d let other teams develop players until their early twenties for them to sell on to us for a couple of million. The middle man needs to be eliminated. That is one of the main reasons our academy has failed to produce quality players in recent years.

The fact of the matter is, Celtic should be signing players from all over the UK in their teenage years (13-18) for next to nothing and developing them ourselves. Some might point to Deila’s attempts to bring in young Scottish players in his tenure, such as Armstrong, Mackay Steven, Christie and Allan. That bunch cost us nearly £3million. These players should have been spotted before their 18th birthday and brought in for buttons. Chances are they’d be a hell of a lot better players than they are now.

But why weren’t they brought in?

Celtic obviously don’t feel it’s a priority. Why do I say that? We currently only have 6 full time scouts in Scotland. For a club of our size to have only 6 scouts in Scotland is an absolute aberration. Ajax have bloody 50 in the Netherlands! That’s the reason why our academy is failing; we care more about buying foreign talent for a few million a pop than bringing in Scottish youngsters from smaller clubs at home and developing them ourselves.

Players like Ryan Gauld, recently sold by Dundee Utd to Sporting Lisbon and regarded as the brightest prospect in Scottish football, should not only be coming on to our radar when major European clubs become interested in them. He should have been snapped up by ourselves before he made the first team at Dundee Utd, developed further and transformed into a star first team player. If we had an extensive scouting network, like we should already have, Gauld and many other promising players over the years that we missed out on, like Jordan Rhodes, Steven Fletcher et al would have adorned the Hoops and undoubtedly brought success to the club.

What’s more, a greater scouting network is affordable considering the money we’ve spent on below average players. The whole Ajax youth program costs £4.7million a year. That £29.5million I mentioned earlier, which has been spent on the likes of Boerrigter and the rest, would pay for a similar set up at Parkhead for SIX years. What would you rather have?

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Kieran Tierney,  Celtic’s most promising player 

The advantages of an extensive scouting network are pretty clear. With an upgraded scouting network, our chances of picking up gems from across the UK at a young age would increase drastically. These players would ultimately be able to develop at Lennoxtown, of course to varying degrees, and hopefully make the transition into Champions League players. On top of that, less money would be wasted on duds who are looking to use the club as a stepping stone, as we should have developed our own home grown players who have played with each other for years in the youth set up and have no need to go further a field for players. The fact of the matter is, players like Kieran Tierney shouldn’t come once along once every 5 or 10 years at Celtic, there should be 1 or 2 every season.

We certainly have the facilities in place. Lennoxtown is a state of the art complex that would be the envy of many across Europe. On top of that, the St Ninian’s partnership enables players of secondary school age to benefit from 9 coaching sessions per week – more than any other club in Europe.  The self professed goal of the Celtic Academy is, after all, ‘to develop first team regulars who are capable of performing in the Champions’ League for Celtic.’ In spite of what anyone says, we know it can produce players of such quality; McManus was once upon a time, as was O’Dea, then there was McGeady and it looks as if Tierney will be capable at some point.

Indeed, it’s not that the club cannot produce Champions League quality players. The youth set up at Celtic Park is failing because it is set up to fail. The priorities of the board are to seek out cheap players at 22 or 23 who can make an instant impact, without really knowing if they can do it but they are still willing to take a gamble. Until those in the hierarchy of Celtic Park realise we should be investing in our youth recruitment and acquiring the best teens across the UK, the once fabled Celtic development system will continue to fail. Without a change of priority, it could be a long time before we see a Celtic side inspired by a core of local lads. For that matter, although he’s only 18, it could be a long time before we see another Kieran Tierney.

 

The Sinking Ship: Celtic’s Miserable Defence

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It’s hard to believe that its been almost two years since Fraser Forster, currently on a run of 6 successive Premier League shut outs with Southampton, commanded a Celtic defence which never conceded a goal for a Scottish league record of 1,256 minutes (just shy of 14 matches). It was nothing short of an unbelievable achievement for the Hoops’ keeper and the Celtic team as whole. Indeed, the impeccable run played an instrumental role in ensuring transfers for Forster and Virgil van Dijk, netting Celtic an estimated £23million in transfer fees for the two stars.

However, the 2015-16 season has, shall we say, turned out markedly different from that 2013-14 season. The achievement of reaching the Champions League Group Stages has been a far cry away from the current Celtic squad, and our stranglehold on the title has been weakened by the challenge of a consistent Aberdeen team. Of course, such troubles have been well documented across various Celtic blogs, media outlets, twitter, pubs and the rest. Why, though, has this season been so miserably awful?

I’m sure everyone is familiar with the age old adage ‘don’t furnish the house without building the foundation.’ At face value it has an obvious literal meaning, but is applied across various parts of life as a building block for success. No more is it more relevant than in the football business, where title challenges and cup runs are built upon a sturdy back line. However, it seems as though the Celtic charge this season has been built upon thin air. What its been furnished with, on the other hand, is a debate for another day.

Yes, to put it abruptly, our defence has been pish all season. From the perpetual conceding of goals from set pieces to individual errors, this season has gone from bad to worse in defensive terms. But what are the stats behind it all?

As a team, it perhaps comes as no surprise to hear that we have only kept 16 clean sheets from 42 games this season, meaning we have conceded at least one goal in 61.9% of games this season. Craig Gordon has kept 14 of these clean sheets, while back up Logan Bailly has 2 shut outs from 2 with decent performances in the Scottish Cup. The season Forster broke the record for successive clean sheets, he kept 27 for the whole season. If Gordon were to match that, he would need 13 clean sheets from a possible 16 remaining fixtures (providing we get to the Scottish Cup final). In other words, he’d more than likely have to beat that record of successive clean sheets previously mentioned to match Forster’s personal record.

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To add further insult to injury, we have conceded 42 goals in total, meaning we concede, on average, 1 goal every game. No team, no matter how good they are, can achieve success across the board when they need to score on average two goals every game to win. Just for comparison, we have already conceded more goals than Martin O’Neill’s side during the entire 2000-01 Treble Winning Season (41) and we still have potentially a further 16 games to play. We have also conceded more goals than we did in 61 games under Ronny last season (40), in spite of playing 19 fewer games, suggesting the regression under the current Hoops boss.

Moreover, a large portion of these goals have been conceded directly from set pieces. A total of 16 goals, or 38% of the total amount of goals we have conceded this season have been from a set piece. This has been largely down to the perceived failure of zonal marking from corners and free kicks, with goals against Malmo and Fenerbahce causing particular anguish amongst frustrated fans. Actually, if these defensive errors were eradicated completely in qualifying, Celtic would have progressed for the Champions League Group Stages. Had they been eliminated in the Europa League, we would have been 5 points better off and advanced to the Last 32 of the competition. Had they been eliminated in domestic competitions, we’d be 7 points better off. The fact of the matter is, if the coaching staff could organise the team to defend set pieces, our season would look a lot brighter.

Now we’ve looked at the team performance, it will perhaps be beneficial to analyse individual performances.

One thing’s for certain, there seems to be almost universal opinion at Parkhead that Efe Ambrose isn’t good enough to play for this club. Therefore, it will surprise many to be told that we’re actually a better team with him on the park.

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Yeah, you just read it. Celtic have kept a clean sheet in 50% of games in which Ambrose has started and only 29% of the matches he hasn’t, a greater percentage than any other player. The Nigerian has, albeit, only made 18 starts in all competitions, but it appears we statistically have a better chance of keeping a clean sheet while he is on the park (wow).

In spite of Efe’s slightly superior stats, none of those presented in the table above have been acceptable.

The stats behind £4million man Jozo Simunovic are worrying, with a clean sheet in only 29% of games indicating he’s maybe not worth the cash we stumped for him. However, he is one of only two defenders to concede less than a goal a game when when playing, with Izaguirre being the other with only 17 goals conceded from 20 starts.

Perhaps most concerning is the form of Mikael Lustig. The Swede has been one of our star performers over the past few seasons, but injuries seem to have taken their toll and it appears the right back has lost a yard of pace. His poor form is further bleakened by some shocking stats, with 35 goals conceded in the 31 games he has played. In the 11 games he hasn’t participated in, we have conceded only 7 and have kept 6 clean sheets. Further, a clean sheet record of only 32% in the matches Lustig has played in indicate his time at Parkhead might be nearing its end. Questions must be asked over the sale of Adam Matthews last summer to Sunderland…

Of course, a few defenders have been excluded from the list due to a lack of appearances (Janko, Blackett, Mulgrew, Sviatchenko).

To most, the majority of these statistics will not come as a shock. The defensive frailties of the team have been apparent for the whole season. Sure, we have been scoring a decent amount, but no good team has ever depended solely on one player scoring every week to compensate for a shaky defence. Without Leigh Griffiths goals this season (30), one wonders where me might be.

In short, our abysmal season has been damaged as a direct result of a lack of defensive organisation. With seemingly no clear communication between the goalkeeper and the defence, or more worryingly the management staff and the team, it is unclear when or if someone will be able to save the Sinking Ship that is the Celtic defence. One thing is for sure; someone better save it quick or risk another embarrassing season for the club. Who that man will be, we can only guess.

 

Hoops in unconvincing win as Griffiths hits 30 goal mark


Ronny Deila’s Celtic dispatched Ross County 2-0 at Parkhead in spite of another lethargic performance.

Goals from Griffiths and Boyata went unanswered to ensure some pressure was relieved from the under fire Deila.
Celtic started brightly, with Leigh Griffiths forcing a save from the Staggies keeper and Mikael Lustig heading narrowly wide from a corner.
Mackay Steven followed up on the initial Celtic pressure after Johansen slid him through on goal, but Scott Fox more than matched the former United man’s drilled effort.
In spite of a decent start, Celtic looked susceptible to attack on the counter. Indeed, Nir Bitton’s missed interception enabled ex Celt Jackson Irvine to strike from distance, but his scuffed effort never troubled Gordon.
As the half wore on and the score remained 0-0, the frustration of the fans after recent results grew and appeared to affect the team, resulting in County being easily able to break up Celtic attacks, and spray the ball quickly. However, few chances befell the Staggies.
10 minutes before half time, Griffiths missed a glorious opportunity to put the Hoops in front. Johansen cut the County defence open with an inch perfect pass, leaving Griffiths to round the keeper. However, from point blank range and the goal gaping, the forward could only hit the post. Chants of Seboooo would have reverberated around the stadium had another agonising performance not been on the cards.
Fortunately for Griffiths, his blushes were saved on the stroke of half time as the Hoops took the lead. A Tierney cross was met by the head of Johansen, who nodded down to Griffiths before the hitman slotted the ball past Fox from 10 yards out.

Half time.

After a scrappy start to the second half, Mackay Steven had a glorious chance to put light between the two sides. Another excellent through ball from Johansen set the winger through one on one, but his powerful shot flew narrowly over the bar
Within 5 minutes, however, the Tic doubled their lead through Boyata. Stuart Armstrong beat his man on the left and floated a lovely ball to the back stick for Boyata to prod home with a diving header.
It took Celtic another 10 minutes to fashion a meaningful chance, as the Danish Gok Wan and home debut bhoy Sviatchenko could only put a header from point blank range over the bar.
The game petered out without incident to ensure Celtic left paradise with the 3 points.
We’ll all agree the last few weeks and the season as a whole have been difficult to watch and, to be brutally honest, today was no different. In spite of the comfortable scoreline, the frustration and rightful impatience of the crowd was tangible the whole way through. On another day, the game could have went the way of the Staggies were it not for some poor defending on their behalf. In terms of the Celtic performance, it was predictably lethargic, slow and uninspiring. Yes, its 3 points on the board, but it certainly doesn’t inspire hope for Inverness next weekend.

Peter Lawwell: The Reality Revisited

 

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Deadline Day at Celtic Park is always the same. There’s a bit of a buzz at the start of the day in regards to a potential transfer that never comes off, before ultimately ending in disappointment after the club announce a couple of mediocre free transfer/loan signing after a few fringe players are shipped out for some game time.

Perhaps more predictable than the transfer activity at Celtic Park, is the response from supporters on social media. Fortunately for Ronny, Deadline Day came straight after another abysmal result on Sunday for his side. As we all probably witnessed, Deadline Day is the semi annual day when fans bash Peter Lawwell for a perceived lack of investment in the team.

A lot has happened in the past few months since I wrote a defence of Peter Lawwell (Peter Lawwell: The Reality) for ETims.net. Unfortunately, none of it has been good. Embarrassing back to back defeats by the cash strapped Molde ensured we finished bottom of our Europa League group and without a win in the group stages of a European competition for the first time in our history. It hasn’t been great on the domestic front either, as a 6 match winless home run nearly cost Ronny his job before defeat on Sunday once again left us clambering in the ashes of our treble dreams. Yet still, some fans are lenient towards Deila because of their disillusionment with Lawwell.

Although I understood this disillusionment, I thought Lawwell deserved some credit. Here’s what I wrote back in November;

It always irks when Peter Lawwell’s name is mentioned in the Scottish ‘press.’ The man is often painted as the Chief Exec who ‘polarises’ the Celtic support and the man with a ‘stranglehold’ on the Scottish game with his undue influence on various boards and panels. Indeed, they might have a case for the latter, but the former is a statement of the overtly sympathetic nature. Lawwell’s name is a poisonous brand amongst the increasingly ostracised green half of Glasgow, who would probably prefer the skin head down the road with a magic hat to be in charge of affairs at Parkhead. Indeed, with every defeat, the former accountant is lambasted for failing to invest club funds in new talent, while many see him as a narcissistic sociopath intent on lining his own pockets. Failure to make the Champions League group stages two years on the trot and an incapability to assert domestic dominance across all platforms has only increased pressure on Lawwell, but is there a better man for the job?

Maintaining financial stability while putting a team capable of producing results on the park is becoming increasingly difficult at a time when European clubs are haemorrhaging money. Monaco, for example, have had to curb spending after exploding on to the European scene after many a lean year. They quickly realised that spending outrageous amounts on the top European players, Falcao et al, might have been profitable in the short term, but risked their security going forward. Indeed, A UEFA review in 2009 showed that more than half of 655 European clubs made a loss over the previous year, with over 20% of the clubs believed to be in financial peril. Clubs are refusing to live within their means as they look to prosper, and a look across the city highlights the dangers of doing so. Our former rivals, the club once professed to be the ‘biggest institution out with the church’, were liquidated, and in their place rose a new club, currently lingering in the depths of Scottish football.

 Celtic, however, have managed to become one of the most financially stable clubs in the game.

When Lawwell took over in 2003, Celtic had a staggering £35million debt and the club had recorded losses of £8million in the previous season despite making it to a European final for the first time in 33 years. Lawwell’s mandate was to wipe out the debt while producing a team capable of success.

Fast forward to 2015. Lawwell has successfully cleared the debt, and we are now continually raking in more profit than the elite clubs in England. Just for comparison, in 2014 the club made a pre tax profit of £11million, a figure greater than that of 12 English Premier League clubs including Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City. This, of course, is in spite of the fact that Celtic and the rest of the clubs in Scotland’s top league receive less than 1% of the TV revenue that is awarded to the top level clubs south of the border.

Indeed, in a 2014 report carried out by S&P Capital IQ into the financial stability of European football’s top clubs, Celtic were found to be the club least likely to default, while the same report also suggested that the Scottish champions were the third most financially stable club in Europe, with only Ajax and Arsenal ranking higher (The report can be found here).

Although the club announced a £4million loss in the 2015 results, that figure does not include the £13million sale of Virgil van Dijk to Southampton, which is due to be added on to next year’s figures.

 During this period of sustained financial growth under Lawwell, the club have enjoyed remarkable success, winning 8 Championship titles, 5 Scottish Cups, 3 League Cups, making it to the Champions League Group Stages seven times and to the Last 16 on three occasions. The Celtic brand has been expanded globally, with marquee wins over Barcelona, Manchester United, A.C Milan and the rest, while the front of the stadium has been redeveloped to cement Celtic Park as one of Europe’s finest footballing arenas. In short, Lawwell has overseen one of the most successful and profitable periods in the history of the club.

Weren’t we supposed to dissipate into a pile of flaming green ash when the almighty Rangers died?

The truth is we probably would have suffered tremendously had it not been for introduction of Lawwell’s controversial transfer strategy. Lawwell was aware the club had to adapt to the relative football poverty of Scottish footbally, consequently deciding that the way forward was to curb spending on established players in exchange for signing younger, lower reputation players. Players such as Gary Hooper, Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk, were purchased and all contributed to European and domestic success, before being sold on for huge profits. The model is still in place, with Lawwell giving Deila the green light to sign Scottish talents like Stuart Armstrong, Gary Mackay Steven, Scott Allan and Ryan Christie in 2015, with the hope of establishing a dynasty in the Scottish game for years to come. As a result, the £10million a season ‘black hole’ left by the demise of Rangers has been but a soft blow.

Unsurprisingly, many fans have rightfully been unhappy with the strategy. Although it makes sense economically, many of us have grown frustrated with the club finding a gem of a player, watching him for 2 or 3 seasons before moving on. It’s gotten to the stage where its nigh on impossible to get excited about a new player, knowing that they’ll be moved on for a quick buck when Lawwell and the board get the first sniff of a decent fee. Of course, it has led to a poorer quality team on the park and frustrating performances. It is Lawwell’s strategy, but let’s understand why it is so.

Of course, Celtic are one the world’s biggest clubs in terms of history and global support, and we’d all like to think  that we are capable of so much more than we’re currently doing. However, as we are all aware, the Scottish league is holding us back. There’s not a player over the £5million mark anywhere that’d be willing to play in our league. Even if there was, they’d more than like be demanding a weekly wage over the £50k mark, given that they could get that easily down south. Let’s say we could offer that type of money; would it really be worth the risk? Not only would it create a rift in the changing room, we’d be risking our very existence in the long term. The revenue and TV income is simply not available to support such reckless spending.

If anyone is any doubt, take a glance down the road at the club formerly known as Rangers.

Years of spending millions on the top players in Europe meant success in the short term, sure, but an era of living out with their means ensured that the club was liquidated and had to reform in the Scottish Third division.

Do we really want to go the same way?

Lawwell and the board are simply adjusting to modern football and the times we find ourselves in. If they were to have their way, we’d be in England and not only playing, but competing with the European elite. Unfortunately, we’re restricted, and the club has had to adapt.

Admittedly, the last two years under Ronny Deila have been difficult, and it is perhaps during this time that Lawwell has endured the most pressure of his Parkhead career.

There’s not a Celtic fan out there who didn’t feel utterly soulless as Malmo tore the heart out of our defence and ended our Champions League dreams for the second year in a row. It was an abysmal performance and was rightfully picked apart in the Scottish press. However, the analysis of the situation at Celtic Park on social media was a different story. A quick glance at twitter that night and you would’ve noticed a large proportion of the Celtic support blaming Lawwell’s lack of investment in the team and demanding his immediate resignation. A lack of investment? Really?

Lennon’s team got to the last 16 in 2012-13 and qualified for the Group Stage in 2013-14 with a similar investment in the side, so surely the current Celtic side should’ve been more than capable of making it playing a team whose budget is the equivalent of Aberdeen? Our squad actually cost 12 times that of Malmo’s to assemble. To put it in context, Derk Boerrigter cost more than the entire Malmo starting eleven in Sweden. This was a side, if we are to compare the quality of the two teams on the park, we should’ve put four or five past without coming out of second gear. Instead, our defence was beaten by three simple set pieces over the two legs, while our supposed best defender was left looking like a frightened rabbit. He would later sell for an absurd £13million.  Clearly the loss was not down to Lawwell’s shrewd transfer strategy, but a poor team performance and an absence of tactical know how on behalf of the management and his coaching team.  

Yes, the last two years have been hard to endure, of that there is no question, but to place blame with Lawwell is simply unfair. Lawwell’s, and subsequently the club’s ability to operate is restricted by external factors and conditions out their control. Since 2003, Peter Lawwell has managed to turn our club from one on the verge of spiralling out of control with debt to one of the most financially secure in Europe, while our club and our fans have managed to enjoy fantastic success. Let’s not use him as a scapegoat for the failures of the team for the past two qualifying campaigns.    

Lawwell’s not everyone’s cup of tea, least of all mine. He’s a hypocritical, ignorant, money hoarding megalomaniac. But he’s bloody good at his job.

I’ll admit, when I first wrote the original article I was a firm supporter of Lawwell, in spite of the negative press he is sometimes rightly awarded. That support, however, has wavered incredibly over the past few months as results have worsened. Not because I don’t believe in his transfer strategy or ability to keep the club afloat financially, but because of his continued blind faith in a manager who is out of his depth.

If this faith continues, our financial predicament will suffer (most will agree the present squad and management staff have little chance of making the Champions League next year) and Lawwell will have only himself to blame. Indeed, it might become the Chief Exec’s downfall.

However, does one mistake negate years of good work? Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. One thing’s for sure, we’ll know when we’re either glued to the TV or drowning our sorrows come the draw for the Champions League Group stages next year.

For now, the defence of Lawwell still stands.

Celtic’s Treble Hopes dashed as County triumph at Hampden

imageCeltic finished with 10 men as they were trounced 3-1 in the Semi Finals of the League Cup by Ross County at Hampden.

The result leaves the future of Ronny Deila in serious doubt, in spite of some poor refereeing decisions affecting the outcome of the match.

It took a matter of 30 seconds for the second League Cup Semi Final to kick into life.

Celtic hit the Staggies on the counter after a lovely through ball from McGregor cut the County defence open, leaving Griffiths with acres of space to square the ball to Mackay Steven who couldn’t miss from 3 yards out.

The Hoops almost doubled their lead minutes later, when Efe Ambrose miraculously missed two free headers from successive corners.

In spite of early Celtic dominance, County looked dangerous on the counter. An excellent run and strike from 25 yards out forced Craig Gordon into action for the first time, as he neatly pushed the ball out for the corner.

Celtic continued to press and harry the Highland side, and if it weren’t for a poor Griffiths touch inside the box, he would have been clean through on goal.

Shortly after the 10 minute mark, Celtic glee turned to misery. Another Staggies counter culminated in a through ball behind the Celtic defence. Ambrose turned like Dan Majstorovic on a 2 week bender in Ibiza, allowing the County attacker to nip in front of him before bringing him down. Penalty and red card for Ambrose. Woods emphatically sent Gordon the wrong way with the resultant penalty.
All square.

Definite contact from Efe, regardless of whether he meant it or not. No complaints.

McGregor made way for debut bhoy Sviatchenko to fill the gap in the back four.

Deila’s men initially coped well with the dismissal, as Armstrong’s curling effort from distance scraped the bar on its way over.

County looked to make their man advantage count, but they were unable to penetrate the resolute Hoops defence.

The next Celtic chance came from a dangerous Armstrong corner in the 40th minute, which was flicked on into the path of Bitton, whose first touch was mopped up by the county keeper.

Half time.

Celtic had little time to settle into the 2nd half before County took the lead. A Staggies’ corner was turned back into the box at the back post before Paul Quinn headed home from a few yards out.

Once again despicable set piece defending from the Bhoys, but there was a blatant foul on Craig Gordon as he was held back and prevented from reaching the corner. Poor decision from referee Thomson.

Deila’s men looked to hit back immediately, but were restricted to strikes from distance. Armstrong’s wayward effort from 30 yards summed up the Hoops’ day.

10 minutes later The Staggies put the final nail in the Celtic coffin. Lustig, who was lightyears out of position, failed to get on the end of a County through ball, leaving Woods to smash the ball passed Gordon in the Celtic goal to put County 3-1 up.

In a bid to get back in the game, Ronny decided to astonishingly replace Nir Bitton with the barely fit defensive midfielder Scott Brown INSTEAD of the abysmal Stefan Johansen. All hope had truly vanished.

Nontheless, Celtic were handed a golden opportunity on a plate after Thomson awarded a penalty to the Hoops after handball from a Staggies defender in the box. Griffiths, with all the composure of a gorilla, smashed the ball straight at Fox who easily saved the penalty. Shocking.

Fortunately, the resulting glorious opportunity from the County counter was brilliantly saved by Gordon.

Celtic continued to push for a second goal, and were awarded with their efforts after County began to tire. And, as was the way of the day, Celtic’s best chance was turned over the bar by Fox afters Griffiths managed to work space for a drilled effort on the edge of the box.

The game petered out without further incident. 3-1 Ross County.

In spite of dodgy refereeing decisions, its important to remember teams have won with 10 men in the past. However, Ronny’s tactical naivety has once again (Malmo, Maribor, Molde, Fenerbahce, Ajax et al) resulted in a team with 1/50th of our budget rinsing us.

I normally provide more of an analysis, but I think the following suffices.

Ronny, no apologies, get out now.

Mackay-Steven Double downs Saints

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Celtic cruised to a comfortable 3-1 victory over fourth placed St Johnstone to move 6 points clear of Aberdeen at Celtic Park.

A double from Gary Mackay-Steven and a Stuart Armstrong goal cancelled out Steven Maclean’s equaliser to ensure the Hoops left with the 3 points.

Ronny Deila fielded a similar team to the one which humbled Accies on Tuesday night, with the only changes to the line up resulted in Izaguirre and Rogic dropping out for Stefan Johansen and the mercurial Kieren Tierney.

Yes, once again Scott Allan starts on the bench. What does the lifelong Tim need to do to get a start?

Unlike Tuesday night, the Parkhead faithful were not treated to a goal bonanza in the opening 10 minutes. Nonetheless, there weren’t many complaints with a solitary Mackay-Steven strike to open the scoring!

Leigh Griffiths worked himself a yard to get a shot away on the edge of the box, which was fortunately blocked into the path of Mackay-Steven who coolly slotted the ball home under Alan Mannus in the Saints goal.

However, the Perth side wasted no time in getting themselves back into the game. Less than five minutes later, Sevco target Michael O’Halloran (Ballon D’or contender if we were to believe the mindless hordes of zombies) passed Simunovic with ease down the right before drilling an inch perfect cross into the path of Steven MacLean to toe poke home. Poor piece of defending from the big man, although he was left exposed by the absent Tierney. All square.

Deila’s men almost hit back immediately, with Nir Bitton forcing Mannus into an excellent save from distance.

The Saints appeared content to absorb Celtic pressure and hit on the counter attack, but the Bhoys were always quicker to the ball and recovered possession with ease.

On the half hour mark, a smart dummy and low cross from Tierney on the left was met by Mackay-Steven, who was unable to keep his left footed drive from going over the bar.

With both Celtic full backs causing the Saints problems, Lustig was left wondering how he hadn’t assisted the Hoops’ second of the day, after his cross-cum-shot was begging to buried in the back of the net. Miraculously, there was not a Celtic man anywhere near the ball.

With the Perth sided now looking more comfortable in defence, the Hoops were becoming frustrated and resorted to trying their luck from distance. Callum McGregor came closest to putting some daylight between the two sides when his effort from 20 yards was tipped wide by the impressive Mannus.

Just as it looked as though the two sides were going in all square at half time, Stuart Armstrong gave Celtic the lead. Another excellent cross from Lustig finally found a Celtic player, as the former Dundee United beat his marker to the ball to emphatically volley home to put the Bhoys in front.

Another impressive first half performance from Deila’s men, although the Saints might have felt hard done by after an astute defensive display.

Celtic went on to start the second half in a similar fashion to the first.

Mackay-Steven, who was giving the St Johnstone left back a torrid time, threaded a through ball through to top marksman, Leigh Griffiths, who could only blaze what would be the first of a plethora of relatively simple chances over the bar.

Luckily for the Hoops fans, they didn’t need their star striker on form to create distance between the two sides.

In the 55th minute, Stefan Johansen was able to pick out Mackay-Steven in acres of space, who made no mistake in drilling low into the corner past the helpless Mannus to put the Hoops two in front for his second of the day.

Further chances fell for the home side, whose precise passing and quick movement on the ball was looking as good as it has all season. However, the wasteful Griffiths was unable to convert from close range, while Armstrong had his low drive saved easily by Mannus.

As Celtic pushed forward in search of a fourth, St Johnstone duly began to cause them problems on the counter.

Simunovic, who himself had a torrid afternoon, was once again outpaced by O’Halloran on the right. In almost identical circumstances to the first Saints goal, O’Halloran drilled the ball low across the face of goal into the path of MacLean, whose effort was saved from point blank range from Craig Gordon. Close call.

Celtic hit back at the Saints immediately with, you guessed it, Mackay-Steven coming close to his hat trick after a mazy run. However, Mannus was more than able of matching his low drive.

The game petered out without incident, with only a wayward Michael O’Halloran strike coming close to affecting the final result of the match.

Talking Points

We’ll discuss the negatives first and finish on a high. In spite of some great performances of late, the same defensive frailties are more evident than ever. Simunovic had one of his worst games in a Celtic jersey to date. He was consistently outpaced and out muscled by MacLean and O’Halloran, while he looked awkward on the ball and distributed it poorly. Of course, maybe he is still trying to adapt to the Scottish game, but his performances have been alarming and the jury is still out. Fortunately, Sviatchenko has been brought in and looks like he could be the business.

On to the positives. It finally appears as though Armstrong and Mackay-Steven have returned to form! The former Dundee United men have been well below par all season, with injuries disrupting Armstrong while Mackay-Steven hadn’t started since November before Tuesday. It looks like the absence from the team has done him the world of the good however, as he looks physically stronger and sharper. Armstrong has come on to a real game as well, as it appears he is finally becoming used to his role on the left. He’s creating chances, making dangerous runs and scoring goals. Welcome back bhoys!

Overall, another solid win for the Hoops against one of the best sides in the division. It appears as though we have turned over a new leaf ever since Griffiths’ late strike sealed a 1-0 win over Partick a few weeks ago. The zest in the team is certainly back, with the side moving the ball much quicker, pressing more efficiently and creating an abundance of clear goalscoring opportunities. To be frank, 18 goals in our last 4 games sums it up. Onwards and upwards.

League Cup Semi Final up next against Ross County.

Griffiths bags a hat trick as Celts hammer Accies

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Leigh Griffiths netted an outstanding hat trick as Celtic thumped Accies 8-1 on a cold night at Paradise.

In what was a re scheduled fixture after the abandonment of the original game a few weeks previous, Deila’s men showed no mercy to the South Lanarkshire side.

Mikael Lustig, Nir Bitton, Tom Rogic, James Forrest and Callum McGregor also found themselves on the score sheet on a night to remember for the Champions.

Indeed, perhaps the biggest shock of the night came as the team was announced an hour before kick off; Stefan Johansen would not be in the match day squad. It appears Ronny has finally experienced the epiphany that was on most Celtic fans’ letters to Santa at Christmas. Either that or the tidal wave of abuse directed at the midfielder in response to recent Q&A for the player on the club’s twitter seems to have sparked the eureka moment in the manager’s mind. Big shout out to @weedaviecfc1888’s articulation of the general feeling of Johansen at Parkhead: ‘get tae fuck johansen how cum ur so shite m8.’

Anyway, onto more pressing matters.

Anyone turning up to Parkhead expecting a tough match had their fears quelled in an exhilarating 10 minute spell. After McGregor had a chance cleared off the line in the opening minute, the Bhoys won a free kick on the edge of the area. An excellent whipped cross from Armstrong found the head of Lustig, who was able to nod home from 6 yards out.

It wasn’t five minutes later when the Hoops doubled their lead. McGregor, the stand out player of the night, teed up Nir Bitton 25 yards from goal, before the Israeli unleashed a rasping thunderbolt into the top corner. Potential goal of the season contender from the big man.

Deila’s men had their third before the 10 minute mark. An exquisite flick from Gary Mackay Steven found the advancing Lustig on the right hand side, who drilled a cross into the path of Tom Rogic. The Australian managed to work enough space for a shot, which was deflected past the helpless keeper in the Accies’ goal. 3-0 to the Hoops.

Celtic continued to fashion chances at ease, and should have been four up when Izaguirre’s darting run produced a square ball for GMS, who was snuffed out by some excellent defending from Hamilton.

However, the Bhoys didn’t have to wait long for their fourth of the night. Mackay Steven took the ball on the half way line, skipped past four Hamilton midfielders before threading an inch perfect ball into the path of Leigh Griffiths, who coolly slotted home under McGovern from six yards out.

Moments later, it was time for King Efe to try his luck at goal. After scandalously failing to make the short list for the FIFA Ballon D’or, the Nigerian Lothario controlled the ball from a corner and, as he was about to send the Parkhead faithful into raptures, elegantly fired the ball 30 yards over the bar. Maybe next time, Efe.

As the second half began to peter out, Hamilton began to find their feet in the game, with Ali Crawford causing the Celtic defence some cause for concern as his shot narrowly fizzed by Craig Gordon’s right hand post.

A further Celtic counter, however, ensured that any hope for the South Lanarkshire side was quickly extinguished.

Tom Rogic found himself by the Hamilton corner flag, and was able to find Griffiths unmarked two yards from goal with astonishing ease. No prizes for guessing where the ball ended up.

Half time and Celtic were cruising at 5-0.

The bold fenian drum beat loudly at the beginning of the second half as the rampant Scott Allan made his way on to the park in place of Tom Rogic, while James Forrest was introduced for Simunovic.

Indeed, it didn’t take long for the two to make the mark on the game. 10 minutes into the second half, the two produced a neat one two inside the Hamilton penalty area, before Forrest’s well placed shot fizzed past the once again helpless McGovern to put the Hoops six up.

The Hamilton comedy show continued immediately from the kick off, as Griffiths was miraculously able to steal the ball from the slow footed Hamilton centre half and deftly chip the ball over the advancing McGovern for his hat trick.

Perhaps uncharacteristically of Deila’s reign, the Hoops weren’t content with just seeing the game out as they continued to probe the Hamilton defence in search of another goal.

Allan and Forrest once again showed a great understanding of each other’s play, as the ex Hibs man threaded an eye of the needle pass in to the path of Forrest, whose thunderous strike was tipped on to the bar by McGovern.

Stuart Armstrong was next up on the chance conveyor belt, but twice he was incapable of finding the target from the edge of the penalty area, much to the frustration of the Celtic support.

However, the inevitable complacency of such a comfortable lead finally settled in as Accies managed to claw a goal back from their first shot on target.

A lovely through pass found its way to 19 year old Eamonn Brophy, who cut in from the outside, waltzed easily passed Bitton before sliding the ball through the legs of Gordon in the Celtic goal. Cracking goal for the youngster.

The Celts were seemingly keen to see the game out without much incident after a terrific performance, but there was still time for man of the match Callum McGregor to get on the score sheet.

Stuart Armstrong managed to fashion some space for himself to pick out McGregor on the edge of the area with five minutes to go, and the midfielder made no mistake in drilling home from distance. 8-1 to the Hoops. Game, set and match.

Overall, it wouldn’t be honest to say many were expecting such a convincing scoreline before the match. However, the side Deila set out proved us wrong. In all honestly, it was easily our best performance of the season. In spite of Hamilton’s abysmal display, Deila’s boys moved the ball at a frightening pace, pressed the ball quickly and efficiently and, most importantly, were able to pick apart the opposition defence. Ronny’s ideology of such a fast, free flowing attacking game has always been admired, but this was one of the few games where his ideas have actually been translated on to the park. Quite honestly, an excellent performance.

Next up for the Hoops is a tasty home tie against St Johnstone on Saturday. The Saints have been performing brilliantly this season and should pose a lot of problems on the counter. If we perform like we did tonight, it should be relatively simple. However, knowing Ronny and his team, the chances are more likely a last minute deflected Carlton Cole strike should give us the three points!

@celticpost