Saturday 10th April will be a day that Celtic fans will never forget.
The 2-0 defeat against Ross County, a team playing Highland league football only 16 years ago was a new low, following on from the St Mirren debacle leading to the sacking of the beleaguered Tony Mowbray.
It is certainly not the first time that a dark shadow has hovered above Parkhead. Comparisons with the Ross County defeat can be made with Inverness famously beating Celtic in 2000. Once again, another defeat against minnow opposition that led to a managerial sacking of John Barnes. In this case, the knives are already cruelly out for the recently started managerial career of Neil Lennon following that dreadful showing at Hampden.
What is clear however is that Celtic are probably at their lowest ebb as a club for the first time since the early 1990’s. For the majority of the season, the team have played to ghastly low crowds at Celtic Park. Take in a 3-1 home win against Kilmarnock recently in Neil Lennon’s first match in charge as interim manager. The game attracted a crowd of 41,000. However last season’s corresponding fixture pulled in 55,000 which states that supporters were clearly losing faith. Celtic in the early 1990’s were playing in front of crowds as low as 15,000 and were playing in a stadium, which needed modernised. Rangers were the dominant force then, just as they are becoming once again now. However the main difference between them and now is, that the club actually had more money now than they did then, where the board famously were nicknamed with a ‘Biscuit-tin’ mentality, in refusing to spend millions to try and stop Rangers in an era in which even clubs like Aberdeen and Dundee United were spending more money than the Hoops.
This time there are no excuses and bad decisions have been made. One thing that the Board is perhaps culpable for was appointing Tony Mowbray. Mowbray was the manager of last season’s bottom team in the English Premier League. Celtic should have far bigger ambitions which the Board should have realised. The considerable length of time it took to sort out a compensation deal with Mowbray’s employers, West Bromwich Albion led to ridicule from the English Media at the laughable standards of Scottish Football.
For as nice a guy as Mowbray is, it was his decisions that have led to the club spiralling down. Changing the entire squad, mid season, was almost a desperate policy, though from a sympathetic point of view, it was clear Mowbray wanted to stamp his own authority on the club. Celtic however have spent over £7 million in overhauling their squad, with a couple of high wage loan signings, where decisions have gone wrong. Rangers who will surely win the double now, are a team with no money and will be laughing.
So Getting rid of Stephen McManus and Gary Caldwell was possibly the right move seeing as the pair had made mistake by mistake whilst at the back. However, instead of buying experienced replacements, in came Thompson and O’Dea. Thompson was signed from a team recently relegated from the third tier of the English Football League, and should never have been playing, in a showpiece occasion. O’Dea on the other hand failed to break through into the first team at Reading in the Championship whilst on loan. If he couldn’t, break into the Reading team, why should he be able to break into the Celtic team?
Signing Robbie Keane was a good move at the time but one thing for sure is Keane is not the messiah, people thought he was. Critics from the media have deemed Keane to be a one man team. Despite his impressive performances, Keane is as culpable as every other player that played against Ross County. Indeed, the high £65,000 a week wages whilst on loan, have cost Celtic millions chasing a lost dream which they have gambled on. However, with credit to Keane, his strike partners have been poor contributors. Selling Scott McDonald who scored 64 goals for the Hoops, midway through the season was a bad move, and he would surely have been a fine foil for Keane. Keeping Samaras and the expensive acquisition of Fortune was a worse move especially when you consider both their scoring records. The pair have scored 23 goals between them this season but at the same stage, last season, McDonald had scored more goals than half the number between that pair. When you compare this record to Miller and Boyd at Rangers, who have scored 43 goals between them, it is indeed a depressing statistic to behold. Even Hibernian’s strike force of Stokes and Riordan have scored more with 33 goals between them.
Perhaps most of all, Gordon Strachan leaving the club has had large consequences for the club. A majority of Celtic supporters had always wanted him out. Scarily, the poison in this is the fans never saw him as ‘Celtic-Minded’. This was an absurd way to treat a man who on record was the most successful manager at the club since Jock Stein who led the club to their only European Cup win. However politics will always be the case at the Old Firm club, but surely a majority of fans must now wish they had not used these actions in hounding out a successful manager.
What sort of team goes from playing knockout Champions League Football a couple of seasons ago, to being knocked out by a recent former highland Scottish team in two years? Most importantly what can Celtic do now?
The club have been at this stage before. Some would say that Mowbray’s Celtic team are far worse than John Barnes team, which could still boast stars such as Larsson and Lambert. The crucial step for Celtic now is to get a manager in the Martin O’Neil type who is forward thinking and is also good at handling the notorious Scottish media. A good managerial appointment is the way forward, just as it was ten years ago. Then, the clear out of a desperate and detached squad can begin.