Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Preview: Celtic v Hapoel Tel-Aviv

It’s funny what managing Celtic can do to a man. Gordon Strachan was the quick witted, Match of the Day, rent-a-joke pundit before taking over. By the time he left was a snarling bundle of rage, unable to decide if the fans or the media were most deserving of a Strachan savaging.

When Tony Mowbray arrived he gave the impression of a man doing the job he was born to do. Not a press conference would go by without Tony providing a lengthy discourse on the football that Celtic are supposed to play, the football the fans deserve.

Are we really only at the start of December? What have those few short months done to Mogga? The articulate student of the game, the dugout philosopher, has become the man who starts a press conference like this:
C'mon, let's go, I'm busy.
And goes on to rubbish whatever slim chance his side have of progression:
We need Hamburg to lose two games and it's highly unlikely they will do that as they are a high-class team.
And then rounds it all up by delivering a less than convincing boost to players already short on confidence:
I think the lifeblood of any club is new talent. The club has got to evolve. Players stagnate if they stay at clubs too long.
As promotion for the big event this was the press conference to give Don King nightmares. Even those Celtic fans who have already bought tickets might now be considering staying away.

The truth is Mowbray is right.

The Europa League, in common with much else this season, has been a poor, poor campaign. It’s only useful role will have been to confirm to him those players that he can’t trust to take the club where he needs them to be.

His anguish and frustration will have been the heightened by the realization that the number of players he can’t rely on is longer than he could have imagined.

Other than to cheer up his own fans – and give Scottish football a modicum of self respect – tonight’s game really serves no purpose for Tony Mowbray. He knows what is going wrong and he knows that he needs to make changes.

There is probably not another manager in Britain looking forward to the January transfer window as much as Mowbray.

His record so far has been almost unbelievably poor for a Celtic manager. He’s made it clear that the talent at his disposal must hold their hands up and accept a healthy dollop of responsibility for that.

January is his chance to start the revolution he promised. If he still can’t change things after that then these last few months will begin to look like a honeymoon period.

And another thing...


Numpty of the Week: Take a bow Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC) Deputy General Secretary Dave Moxham.

Calling on the Celtic fans to protest about Israeli invasion of Gaza at tonight’s match was one of the worst ideas by a union leader since Arthur Scargill looked in his bathroom mirror and thought he saw the man that could bring down Thatcher staring back at him.

Football games are not the place to make political protests, not the place to find answers to questions that, I’d suggest, are rather bigger than anything Mr Moxham deals with in his working day.

If they’re about anything more than a game they should be about celebrating what unites us not what divides us.

For a leading member of Scotland’s political community, with the backing of former Glasgow Lord Provost Alex Mosson, to attempt to hijack the game like this is astonishingly misguided at best, horribly irresponsible at worst.

And how would UEFA react? Perhaps it has escaped Mr Moxham’s notice that Glasgow has a bit of a reputation for football being poisoned by religious hatred and the politicising of supporters.

Any organized, premediated protest is likely to have far reaching consequences in the eyes of the footballing authorities and is hardly likely to promote the city as a welcoming football destination.

No doubt many Celtic will sympathise with the Palestinian cause. Others might have conflicting views that they might like to share with the world at large.

But they have to realise that a football match this evening does not offer them a platform to make any sort of reasoned protest. Mr Moxham, whose commitment to this issue I'm sure cannot be questioned, should be ashamed of his attention grabbing attempts to encourage them.