Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Ronny Roars No More

Today’s confirmation that Ronny Deila will part ways with Celtic at the end of the season, comes as no surprise to anyone with an interest in Scottish football. Defeat at Hampden was the final nail in the coffin for Ronny Deila’s reign. Yet, while Sunday was unacceptable in both result and performance, my overriding emotion is one of sadness at what might have been for Celtic under Ronny Deila’s guidance.

We’ve come to a stage where this decision; whether Deila’s or the board’s, had to happen. There is no trust in Ronny’s capability to take the club forward. But how have we found ourselves here?

As an unknown entity to most outside of Scandinavia, Ronny Deila was always going to be under intense scrutiny when he arrived at Celtic Park. It was important he got off to a good start, making an impression on his new side.

A successful team depends on its relationships. Quality is, of course, vital; but a unified, determined squad can far exceed its potential on paper. Without meaning to be clichéd, we can look to the remarkable tale of Leicester City as an example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Why is this relevant? Because relationships are built on respect. Before Ronny Deila had even been confirmed as Celtic manager he was undermined.

"He was going to be brought in as number two when Johan Mjallby left… I don't know if it's confirmed with Celtic yet, but I know from contacts in the game that he is well respected as a coach.”

To be public knowledge that Ronny Deila was not the first choice appointment to be Celtic manager is one thing, but, for our then recently departed manager to declare that Deila was, in fact, intended to come in as his assistant showed a complete lack of respect to the incoming boss trying to forge his own reputation in Scotland.

They say football in Glasgow is like a goldfish bowl; something you will never fully understand until you have lived it. As a stranger entering the fray of Scottish football, it would be essential to have a strong support network in place. Step forward Johns: Collins and Kennedy. The decision by the club to assign (perhaps ‘inflict’ would be more fitting) their coaching staff on the new boss wasn’t unique to Ronny. It was a determining factor to their preferred option Roy Keane turning down the job, “They’d already picked the man who’d be my assistant… It wasn’t an ideal start. Were they doubting me already?” When business men are dictating fundamental footballing decisions before you’ve even accepted the role alarm bells should start ringing. They did for Roy, unfortunately they did not for Ronny.

Perhaps Ronny Deila was overwhelmed to be offered such a high profile role at an early stage in his career, but these initial decisions set the tone for his reign and ultimately, his demise.

Ronny’s first few months in charge should have been his chance to implement his ideas on his new team, bringing in new signings with the qualities he felt the squad lacked. In an early interview he stated, “Loans are a possibility but they're not ideal. You don't want to develop other clubs talent and not get any money for it.” From that moment until the closing of the transfer window we signed 5 players on loan. Was there a very sudden and very drastic change of heart? I suspect not. Ronny was entering unprecedented territory with unknown backroom staff and a playing squad assembled above his head.

In terms of implementing his own ideas on the team we heard of the importance of “fitness”, “high-tempo football”, and the need to be “24-hour athletes”. How do you get fitter? Personally, I had believed an important factor was to eat correctly and train well. Apparently not in Scottish football. Ronny Deila was mocked in the media, and indeed accused of being disrespectful, for banning fizzy drinks and “demanding” players ate lunch together. The irony of it.

As the season progressed Celtic began to find a bit of form, starting with a rallying late win away at title rivals Aberdeen. The scenes at the final whistle were befitting of a galvanised group, with the manager leading the impromptu celebrations; the Ronny Roar was born.

With performances now improving, the loaded questions about the possibility of a domestic treble (our first since 2001) were consistently put to the manager. Ever-honest, Ronny admitted that the goal was to win every domestic competition available. The inevitable defeat in the Scottish Cup semi-final was deemed a failure by Ronny to achieve his targets. The success of a league and cup double was belittled by those gleefully willing to stick in the knife.

As this season has progressed it has been clear for some time that Ronny Deila is unable to inspire these players. Passive performances have highlighted the lack of character within the side. Deila’s Celtic became incapable of overcoming adversity. In the biggest games we consistently failed. The Roar, though rarely performed, had (apparently) become “embarrassing” (god forbid a manager trying to connect with his supporters), and the silence from the club as every out-of-work manager in Britain touted themselves for the Celtic job, was deafening.

For some time Ronny Deila has looked a broken man; an isolated figure sold down the river by a club more focused on keeping an eye on their rivals in the division below, than on progressing on their own accord.

Am I angry at Ronny? No. My anger is placed firmly at the door of those who have been downsizing our club for the past few years. I am, however disappointed in him.

A rare man of integrity and honesty in football, he should have lived and died by his own sword. Numerous players have not performed for months; they don’t appear to have ever came close to buying into Ronny’s philosophy on football. They have shown no desire to fight for their manager or follow his instructions. Yet he has continually stuck by them. The insistence on using a formation that wasn’t suitable to the players at his disposal has been infuriating. We’ve played the season with an exposed defence, an overrun midfield, and an isolated striker.  In terms of the playing squad, any slight affection I held for them has waned (barring a few). But only Ronny has himself to blame for continuing to stand by the players who do not care for him. 

Young, clever footballers have had to watch from the stands as their ‘seniors’ have continually failed. It has appeared to have all become too much for Ronny, his fear of failure overcame him and he became petrified of change. At home to Inverness we witnessed the talented trio of Patrick Roberts, Ryan Christie and Scott Allan on the field together for a mere 8 minutes. Although a short amount of time, it was the best spell of football of the season, but they haven’t played together since. With Allan and Christie vanishing into the wilderness. Only Ronny knows why.

Another cliché is that you regret the things you don’t do in life more than those you do, and I sense this will apply to Ronny Deila when he looks back on his time at Celtic. He accepted the influence of the board in deciding his playing and non-playing staff, he accepted the media’s ridicule of his footballing beliefs, and he accepted being undermined by his senior players without punishment.

A man of charisma and character, Ronny Deila has never truly allowed his personality to flourish in Glasgow. While the blame for consistently disappointing team selections, the lack of progression in style of football, and the inability to motivate the team, must lay at Ronny’s door, it is those who have undermined him since his arrival at Celtic Park who bear the brunt of my frustrations.

Let’s win the league and give Ronny a roaring send off. The decision makers who have failed Celtic and treated the fans like fools should not be able to escape from this situation by hanging their manager out to dry.

Best of luck in the future Ronny, you’ve made mistakes, but you can hold your head high.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

You’re Gonna Hear Me Roar

Kilmarnock 0-1 Celtic, Motherwell 2-1 Aberdeen. Ronny summed up today better than I ever could… “Fucking yeah!”

We don’t need to kid ourselves on though, Celtic were dreadful (again). Performance-wise it was up there with the worst in a long list of drab displays this season. But we saw something today that has not been apparent for a number of month’s now, we saw some passion.

The importance of hunger, desire and unity cannot be undermined in this title race. Aberdeen have had it in abundance this season, and up until now, we have not. Did we display a win-at-all-costs mentality throughout the game today? Simply, no. To use my buzz word of the year, we were passive once again. Of course we tried to win the match, but there wasn’t the energy and drive of a team desperate to fight and win for each other.

Tom Rogic’s last minute screamer, and the ensuing celebrations could be the catalyst we have been waiting for in this disappointing season. There was jubilation in the stands; fans and players connecting at long last, and the manager showed he still has some fire in his belly.

In my last post I highlighted our lack of scoring late winning-goals throughout 15/16. Aside from a stirring display of attacking football, these are the moments which supporters remember most. Today’s goal was huge. I truly believe it saved Ronny Deila his job (had we drawn at Rugby Park and Aberdeen gone on to beat Motherwell, that surely would have been goodnight Ronny). The team selection was uninspiring, the performance was lacklustre, and my belief in us securing our 5th league title in a row was waning. But nothing does euphoria quite like a last minute winner, and a goal of the season contender at that.

During the match I considered Ronny Deila’s and my own rationale. If insanity is doing same thing over and over again and expecting different results, I’m not sure who is more insane: Ronny, for picking the same player’s time and again, or me, for watching those same player’s and clinging on to hope of an improvement in their play.

I say it time and again, but the players who aren’t giving their all for the manager need to be ditched. Whether he is the right man for the job long term or not is irrelevant. Right now our focuses need to be on winning football matches. It’s Ronny’s call who pulls on the shirt each week, and he’s going to have to learn to identify those not willing to fight for him, very quickly.

The likelihood is there will be changes in the summer, hopefully these will go beyond the management and coaching staff. But for now we are 4 points clear in the league (with a game in hand), and have a Semi-Final of the Scottish Cup to win.

It is time for that rallying battle cry now, Ronny. Celtic must ride today’s wave of good-feeling, these are the moments you can use to inspire; roll out the clichés about Celtic’s win being the sign of champions, laud the passion of the supporters. We need momentum, belief and desire, and today is the best place to start.

Whatever your thoughts are about the current management, you get the feeling it may be down to the influence of the fans to drive Celtic on in this title race. You’ve got two weeks off to get your voices back after today… Let’s hear you against Hearts.

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Something's Got to Give

I had considered starting this post with an inspiring quote about the importance of character in sport, the one's I came across, though, following my 30 second Google search, didn't quite fit the tone, so in true Celtic fashion (this season), when faced with a challenge, I've fallen short.

Friday night's draw at Hamilton was yet another frustrating game. The equaliser was inevitable when it came, and to be honest, I expected a Hamilton winner to shortly follow. Until recently, a ten-man Celtic side would still be favourites in almost every domestic match they played in, and against many Scottish opponents, convincing favourites at that. This is no longer the case.

We all know that the media often write to fit their own narrative. They frequently set out with an agenda and come up with stories to back this up, in all industries, not just sport. So, rather than an attempt at an emotive warcry, I've decided to take a statistical approach to analysing our performance when faced with any sort of adversity this season.

The tables illustrates all goals for and against up to and including Friday night's match against Hamilton (data pulled from BBC football website). We've scored 97 goals (all comps): 50 in 1st half, 47 in 2nd half; and conceded 53: 31 in 1st half, 22 in 2nd half. In terms of the time period of goals scored/conceded, perhaps the most glaring statistic is that 20/53 goals have been conceded from 31st minute until half time. An indication that we switch off defensively as the 1st half draws to a close.

However, the really interesting statistic to me is regarding late goals scored. The euphoria of a late winner is memorable, and we've had our fair share in our recent history. Off the top of my head these moments of last gasp ecstasy have dried up. I was pleasantly surprised to find that we have scored 14 goals from 76+ minutes, but further digging shows that of these 14 goals only 3 were decisive (equalising or match winning goals), Boyata's 82' winner v Qarabag, Rogic's 82' goal to put us 2-0 ahead v Hearts (won 2-1), and Griffiths' 90' winner v Partick Thistle.

Celtic have conceded first 8 times this season. Of these 8 occasions, we've come back to win 3 times. In each of the instances which we have turned the match around the goal was conceded before the 15th minute (Stjarnan 7', St. Johnstone 11', Hamilton 4'). No disrespect to the aforementioned sides, but overturning an early goal deficit to these teams is hardly anything to shout home about.

So far this season Celtic have played 44 times in all competitions, in 6 of these games we have received a red card. We've won just one of these matches (1-0 v Partick Thistle). Against Ajax, Celtic led 2-1 at the time of Izaguirre's red, we drew 2-2. Against Hearts it was 0-0 when Ambrose received a last minute red card, with the game finishing this way. In the 1-0 victory over Thistle mentioned previously the score was 0-0 when Bitton saw red, before Griffiths' late winner. Ross County in the League Cup semi-final provided the worst collapse of the list, at 1-0 up and flying Efe Ambrose was given his marching orders, we crumbled to a 3-1 defeat. And at Hamilton on Friday night, we were 1-0 up when Boyata exited the field, the game finished 1-1. Uninspiring to say the least.

While all wins (not cup) are rewarded with the same 3 points, some carry more significance than others. Beating title rivals/challengers in the League, and winning important Cup and European games gives the fans and, more importantly, squad an extra buzz and confidence in their ability, and helps instil a winning mentality. This season we have played a combined 22 games in: Europe, domestic cups, and versus Aberdeen & Hearts (our closest competitors), from 22 matches we've won only 9. Of these 9 victories, 2 were over Stjarnan, 1 at home to Qarabag, and 3 in domestic cup competitions against lower league opposition (Raith Rovers, Stranraer, East Kilbride). Of these 9 victories we were favourites in each of them. When you remove the 2nd & 3rd UCL qualifying round matches (as we were considerably higher ranked in UEFA coefficient), and lower league opposition from this statistic, it reads Played 15 Won 3 (Malmo 3-2, Hearts 2-1, Aberdeen 3-1).

The statistics are pretty damning in terms of the fight and character that Celtic possess. Last week I discussed my desire for Allan, Roberts & Christie to be given more game time. This was not a case of absence making the heart grow fonder. In a squad lacking leaders, their youthful exuberance could provide the spark we need to bring a fearless approach to games. Until we have a determined, unified squad, who play with hunger we are going to see no improvement in results when faced with adversity. Something has to change soon, and if it isn't the mentality and character in the squad, it will inevitably be the manager. Ronny desperately needs a catalyst a la Neil Lennon's 3-3 Kilmarnock come back. 

Something's got to give.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Hope over Fear

Saturday 20th February 2016, hopefully a date we will remember as the first time Scott Allan, Ryan Christie and Patrick Roberts appeared in a Celtic side together.

With each passing week that I check the Celtic team news at 2pm to find an attacking midfield three of Stuart Armstrong, Stefan Johansen and Gary Mackay-Steven a little part of me dies. Okay, that's a slight exaggeration. But alongide frustration and anger at recent performances, it is the disengagement and apathy amongst many fans that I believe speaks volumes about the state of our club at the moment. At times Ronny looks lost, the charisma and charm that we know he possesses, while yet to really be seen at Celtic, appears to have been replaced by a quiet and unassuming character. This reflects on the team. They perform with a lack of killer instinct and aggression. A nice bunch of guys who simply are not up for the fight. I cannot recall a Celtic side this season which has come back from adversity; be that going down to 10 men, an "honest mistake", or an Efe special. When this Celtic side gets stung, you can usually count on them whimpering out of the contest.

As the headline suggests, all is not doom and gloom. Or, at least it doesn't have to be. Within our large squad we have a small group of talented young footballers hungry to prove themselves. They have ability, vision and potential, and most importantly they play without fear when on the ball. Am I getting carried away?... Simply put, no. The grass is not always greener on the other side and I am not suggesting that the inclusion of the aforementioned trio will suddenly turn us into a Scottish Barcelona. We will still have a shaky defence, a lightweight midfield, and rely heavily on the goals of one man upfront. But Allan, Christie and Roberts, as well as, Liam Henderson and Tom Rogic possess a flair and excitement in the way they play the game. All 24 or under, they will go through periods of poor form as young players do, but we need a lift around the place, some entertainment to bring the fans back to Paradise. The link up play and positivity of Allan, Christie and Roberts was refreshing, but it is their movement and eagerness to receive the ball which I enjoyed watching the most. These kids want to play football. I don't think many would deny the usual starting trio of GMS, Johansen and Armstrong do possess talent (actually, I find myself doubting Armstrong's ability more and more each week), but they play without confidence at the moment, they are static, and they typify the passive aura which surrounds the entire club. They need taken out of the firing line, for their own sake as much as ours.

Ronny Deila is a man I have defiantly defended at times, I want him to succeed, the footballing ideals he speaks of are ones I believe in. Ronny is an inteligent man, if you've yet to do so, check out his 40 minute lecture on personal development and helping people reach their potential on youtube, it's a fantastic watch/read as long as you don't mind subtitles (but if you've made it this far you can't be that fussy about what you read).

The problem for Ronny is that his time at Celtic may already be up. It may well be that too many fans have lost patience. A year and a half into Deila's reign and the footballing principles and philosophy that Ronny speaks of have rarely been seen on the park, if ever. To me, he has nothing to lose now by showing faith in the youngsters who exude the energy he craves. They play with enjoyment and to a high-tempo, pressing up the park in hunt of the ball. This is the style of football Ronny wants Celtic to play. If he is to fall on his sword, I want to see him doing it fighting for what he believes in as opposed to going out with the same whimper we so often see from his team. I don't believe sticking with the safe option and falling over the finish line in the title race will be enough to keep Ronny in the job long term. It is time for Ronny to believe in himself again. There needs to be on-field evidence of progress regarding his outlook on the game, this side needs to start to become a team, united in their goals, and those not willing to participate should be kindly shown the door. Ronny and his Celtic side must rid themselves of their fear of failure. The passion that we saw in that very first, spontaneous, Ronny roar needs to return. We need a unified and energised Celtic; players, backroom staff, and supporters. We need some momentum, and we need it now.

If he doesn't show some hope in his team selections and style of play soon, I fear, Ronny's time will be up.

Show us what you're made of Ronny.