Thursday, April 21, 2016

Deila era highlights Celtic's lack of direction

So Ronny Deila is offski at the end of the season, after two rather mediocre years.  It's the right move for Celtic.  Sure, the Norwegian won the title and the League Cup last year, and is heading for a second title this year, but there's a compelling argument that, with a budget greater than every other Premiership team put together, the club could have achieved similar success with me, you, or a chimp  (or maybe even John Collins!) in the dugout.

Screwing up three domestic cup semi finals in four years - the latest, against Rangers, being the most galling - is hard to take, but pales in comparison to the European failures.  The bottom line is that the Champions League is where the money is...more than £10million of it each season, in fact.  Celtic have not made it there under Deila, and on both occasions they were defeated by a team with a much smaller wage bill but much more organization and heart.  Maribor and Malmo each finished bottom of their groups, and amassed a grand total of one win between them.

During Deila's inglorious reign, Celtic have become stuck in a worrying cycle: failing to qualify for the Champions League means a gap in the budget, so top players such as Fraser Forster and Virgil Van Dijk (who want out because they want to play at a higher level anyway) are sold, which results in a weakened squad which then fails to qualify for the Champions League the next time...and so on.

How to break this run?  They could pump significant amounts of money into the playing squad to drastically improve it.  Or they could improve the squad in another way - either by better coaching, or by finding better players on the cheap or from the youth setup.  The hope was that Deila would prove a tactical genius, an expert at recruiting players, and/or a great developer of kids.  But he has proved inflexible and unable to set up his team to defend properly, dreadful at signing players, and has managed to bring through only Kieran Tierney from the academy.

But it's clear that 'speculate to accumulate' is not an option for the current regime.  Gone are the days where Martin O'Neill could spend £5million plus on the likes of John Hartson, Chris Sutton and Neil Lennon.  Dermot Desmond has made it very clear that Celtic are being run as a business, and therefore losses are unacceptable.  This in turn will surely deter potential managerial candidates; they are going to be required to turn water into wine, or at least into a halfway decent cider.  It's curious that Neil Lennon is touting himself for a return north, given that concerns about his limited budget were a major reason for him leaving Celtic Park in the first place.  Two years on, the situation is no better and may even be worse.

Would more high-profile names really be willing to work under such constraints?  David Moyes, for example, may be a 'Celtic man' but even at the relatively prudent Everton he was able to fork out eight figure sums for players such as Marouane Fellaini.  More recently, his Real Sociedad came up with £11million for Asier Illaramendi.  And it's not as if the new boss only needs to tinker with the squad; an almighty clearout is required here.

The picture I'm trying to paint here is of a club that seems to lack direction - a realistic direction, anyway.  They demand and require European success, but are unwilling to provide the funds to guarantee it.  The club's signing policy is a mess, and rumour has it that Deila was not responsible for some of the dafter arrivals.  And there remains a dearth of young talent coming through; Liam Henderson and Aiden Nesbitt clearly have ability, but will they ever get the chance with so many older, better-paid players ahead of them in the queue?

Part of the problem I think comes from a lack of domestic competition; even Aberdeen's improvement has not really forced Celtic off their laurels.  Sunday's defeat, which suddenly makes the threat of a resurgent Rangers seem very real, may be the equivalent of poking the board with a cattle prod.

But Celtic's problems are actually not very different from two summers ago.  In June 2014, they failed to tackle them, and the consequence is that it will be even harder to do so now.  Either they completely overhaul things (with financial consequences) or they appoint another up-and-coming Deila-type, in the hope that this one really will be a miracle worker.  If they don't make the right decision this time round, who says they'll even be in the Champions League qualifiers a few years down the line?

Lawrie Spence (LS) has ranted and spouted his ill-informed opinions on Narey's Toepoker since September 2007.  He has a life outside this blog.  Honestly.

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