Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The chosen one?

Who's it to be then? The job may have lost some of its sparkle but its still a big chance for somebody.

The names in the frame so far:

Owen Coyle: Has performed wonders at Burnley after impressing with St Johnstone. A Celtic man (and how important we know that to be) but also about to embark on the Premiership. Spoke today about pitting his wits against Sir Alex and Arsene. Mixu, Csaba et al might not appeal.

Tony Mowbray: Got West Brom playing the football he demands. Got West Brom relegated playing the football he demands. The Championship is a fairly horrible place and the Celtic job might just have come up at the right time.

Mark McGhee: After the tragedy and achievements of last term has endured the difficult second season syndrome this time round. His track record suggests that longevity is not his number one trait so time might be right for change. Is it an inspiring prospect though?

Craig Levein: An interesting option. I can't think of a club and manager less suited than Celtic and Levein. A long shot.

Alan Curbishley: Like Mowbray might be more interested in Celtic than a Championship job. Reports suggest legal battle with West Ham are complicating things so some sort of compromise there might be necessary.

Steve Coppell: Out of work through choice. Unlikely to relish the unique stresses and pressures of life at Celtic.

Listening to English media tonight there seems to be widespread bemusement at the perceived treatment of Strachan at the hands of the fans. That might mean Celtic just now are less attractive to some down south than they might have been when Martin O'Neill left.

If we can rule out Coyle and we take the SPL contenders as outsiders then I can't get away from returning to Tony Mowbray. Time will tell...

Monday, May 25, 2009

Get real

At around 4.30 this afternoon Owen Coyle stood on the brink of taking Burnley into the top flight for the first time in over 30 years.

In Glasgow Jim Traynor was predicting that Owen Coyle would be a front runner to replace Gordon Strachan as Celtic manager.

Even in the insular world of Scottish football Jim's timing seemed a little off. Quite a way to puncture the Burnley bubble, the immediate speculation seemed about as appropriate as discussing who the widow's next boyfriend would be at a wake.

But there is another issue raised. It took Frank McAvennie, that well known Glaswegian intellectual, to point out what the essential arrogance that surrounds our attitudes to the Old Firm prevents Jim from seeing. Right now, claimed Frank, Coyle might well see Burnley as the more attractive proposition.

It is the best league in the world, with riches that Burnley could only have dreamed about. Or it is the SPL and a protracted battle with Rangers. It is the chance to work with players that have never heard of Burnley but fancy the Premier League or it is whoever will take the step down to the SPL.

Coyle might well follow his emotional ties. But it's not a foregone conclusion. Whisper it in Glasgow but the Old Firm have never been further from football's top table.

The story of Newcastle should be a timely reminder. The story had everything, of course, even the Bible makes do with just the one Messiah but there is a lesson well worth learning.

Throughout the travails the supporters clung grimly to the belief that they were a "massive" club. Too big to go down and big enough to withstand the grubby machinations of their owners and the failings of their managers. They weren't too big and the fans reality check couldn't be more painful.

Gordon Strachan realised the realities of the football world order and built a pragmatic Celtic team to survive in it. His reward was a complete lack of enthusiasm from his own fans. How many more falls will Celtic endure before the fans realise that wee Gordon wasn't a million miles away from be as successful as their new reality will allow.

Likewise Aberdeen fans seem to have found the lack of silverware delivered by Jimmy Calderwood to be beyond the pale. But history tells us that as the Old Firm march on to 100 league title between them, their SPL competitors are moving no closer to notching up 20 between them.

Aberdeen will win trophies only occasionally. The regular European place Calderwood delivered was Aberdeen's level. No, he wasn't a former player but former players haven't always delivered for the Dons. The idea being put around that Steve Coppell might be tempted to Pittodrie is proof of the wake up call the fans need.

At the moment the SPL gets more unattractive with every passing year and Scottish football falls further and further behind. Supporters have dreams and expectations and that is only right. But if the wild fantasies of the terrace begin to damage the club then the supporters need to get real.

Fond goodbyes?

Goodbye then dear Gordon. The reign ended as it started - that humiliating game against Artmedia set the tone, the meek surrender of this season's title will be the memory that defines the fans opinion of the ginger scamp.

Which is unfair. Three titles on the bounce. Six trophies. And, whisper it, further Champion's League progress than the sainted Martin O'Neill achieved with a far better group of players.

But the fans have never accepted Strachan and the unique pressures of the Old Firm have taken their toll - the wit that once brought Match of the Day riches has increasingly become a defence mechanism. The sarcasm that was once self depreciating has become aggressive. The end result is that Strachan leaves Glasgow a far less attractive proposition than he once was.

Will he find himself at Sunderland? Possibly. The pragmatism that he brought to Celtic is sorely needed at the Stadium of Light. But football fans live on vibes and feelings and the Sunderland fans will be well aware of the doubts that cascaded from the stands in Glasgow.

Time will tell. For now both Strachan and Celtic need to regroup. If nothing else the departure has been handled badly. The manager is said to have made his decision some time ago. That comes as no surprise and it might, however subconsciously, explain Celtic's apparent detachment in the last few weeks.

But a new manager now comes in with potentially tricky Champion's League qualifiers and having to play catch up with a Rangers team that will be rejuvenated by the promise of a European bonanza.

Celtic must choose carefully if they are to learn from the mistakes of the past four years.

End game

All that glitters?
And so we're finished. The cup final remains, of course, but the SPL is done and dusted.

Survival Saturday. Helicopter Sunday. Combined they turned out to be the footballing equivalent of a wet weekend in Blackpool.

Lex Gold took to the airwaves to boast about how exciting the SPL was, how the last day drama was proof of the thrilling brand this is his SPL.

And there was drama. But it wasn't provided by the gleaming quality of our 12 top teams. Rangers and Celtic were still locked in a battle because they are each as poor as they have been at anytime since the mid 90's. Falkirk, Inverness, St Mirren: did any one of them have more claim on survival than the other two.

This is a league topped by mediocrity, stuffed with averageness and rounded off by the truly awful. A helicopter at Gleneagles won't change that.

Will it improve? God alone knows. But, I'd predict, we will all be back, frustrated and enthralled as ever, come July.