In many ways Sundays victory over Dundee was about more than just three points.  As the domestic season pauses for an international break, it was important for the team to see out a demanding run of fixtures while still keeping pace with the league leaders.  Questions have been asked several times this season about Postecoglou’s men; Can they perform away from home? Can the ‘system’ succeed in Europe or should Celtic be more conservative? Can they show the fight needed to grind out results the way a potential title challenger should?

Given back to back wins against Ferencvaros in the Europa League, which have guaranteed some form of competition after Christmas, and away victories against Hibs and Aberdeen some of those questions have been answered.  Despite a dominant victory to round things off before the international break, cheap goals conceded against a poor Dundee side and more dropped points against Livingston still mean that Celtic are very much a work in progress.

It’s also impossible to ignore the ‘protests’ by sections of the Celtic away support.  Looking into Ange Postecoglou’s post match comments will give some insight into how the manager see’s things and whether the support at large agree.

‘We’re still in the infancy of gelling as a team and playing our football. When we do that and are committed to it we’re a good side, but we’re nowhere near the levels now where we can take our foot off the pedal, and I thought for a small part we did. But it doesn’t take the gloss off it.”

This seems to sum up the overall feelings around the team at the moment.  The four goals scored against Dundee where excellent.  The attacking play was scintillating at times and, if not for some sharper finishing and a few decent saves, Celtic could have racked up a few more.  This is illustrated by the fact they had 24 shots on goal, 13 corners and 7 shots on target.  Given Celtic once again managed to rack up 81% possession, it is clear that when the players truly buy into what the manager is asking for they can score and dominate against anyone, certainly domestically at least.  Interestingly Celtic managed to give away 10 fouls despite that huge share of possession, almost the exact same as last week.  Meaning either they are fouling every time they lose possession, or perhaps the refereeing standards and decision making isn’t quite up to scratch.  That may be a discussion for another day.

‘We got a bit sloppy in possession before both of those goals and we’ve got to be a team who stays focussed, because we’re nowhere near the levels we need to be yet…’

The interesting point here that the manager is highlighting is that the teams slackness cost two goals, not just the defence.  This idea of the team attacking together, by the centre backs playing out and starting a move/retaining possession, has brought some brilliant success so far.  As mentioned the attacking displays this term have been excellent to watch.  The team defending together, however, is another matter.  Whether it was the midfield who didn’t press the opposition off the ball enough, or the attackers not closing players down or tracking back, it puts pressure on an exposed backline.  This has to be ironed out and Postecoglou seems all too aware.  He doesn’t seem to get too high on a great result or too low on a disappointing one, but by highlighting the importance of the team defending together, clearly he knows there is work to be done.

‘You would have to ask the individuals why they felt the need to do that…My view again is pretty simple, that we treat these things with respect and dignity – and that’s what we try to do…We certainly did and I think the majority of the fans did because that’s the kind of football club we are.’

Sadly, there is more than just the on field display to talk about.  Once again the Celtic away support, for good or bad, took the opportunity to politicise and protest. During the minutes silence for remembrance Sunday,  members of the crowd sang about Aidan McAnespie, an Irishman who was killed by British troops in 1988, before staging a protest against the board by throwing tennis balls onto the pitch. Regardless of the political ideologies associated with Celtic’s proud Irish history, it is hard not to feel that this was not the time to interrupt a respectful silence.  Many Celtic fans have strong issues with the wearing of poppies etc, that is their right and shouldn’t be challenged. However, a lot of fans have had family who either fought, or are fighting for the country they live in.  This trolling of a moment of reflection may seem like an act of defiance against British oppression, but it was also disrespectful act that has again put Celtic under the spotlight for the wrong reasons.  Regardless which side of the argument you may find yourself on, there must be a better way to ‘make a stand’ than this.

Regarding the tennis balls being thrown on the pitch, it was an interesting way of making the board aware of the feelings toward the appointment of Bernard Higgins.  The question remains though, is affecting matters on the pitch, by causing a delay, counterproductive to the team that you have come to support?  Another question that will likely never have a definitive answer.  It would be nice to celebrate the victory, and progress made, before the international break without off-field matters overshadowing things.  It would seem Celtic have more than enough to contend with on the field.

Another weekend, another eventful game for Celtic.  This time the opponents were relegation battling Livingston. On paper this not only represented a chance at revenge after losing at the Tony Macaroni earlier in the season, it gave Celtic a chance to reclaim top spot in the league.  With Ange Postecoglou’s men being in good form, having come through some difficult away fixtures, most fans would have hoped for a comfortable win and some post match celebrations.  However, anyone who knows the clubs recent record against Livi would have known better. In recent seasons they have become something of a ‘bogey team’ for the Glasgow giants. This proved sadly prophetic once again as Celtic dropped another two points in the title race following a 0-0 draw at Parkhead.

The manager spoke after the game and seemed as infuriated as the support. Looking at his comments in depth will provide a view on the state of play at Celtic at the moment.  Some fans are claiming Postecoglou is naive and has no ‘plan B’.  Some feel the players should be taking more responsibility.  The truth will be somewhere in between.

“It was one of those days in football when you know you have to get a goal to open them up a bit. We had those chances but didn’t get the goal we needed.’’

Chances not being taken is not something any manager can control.  With all the preparation in the world, it’s impossible to prepare for a striker missing a sitter, a midfielder having a bad game or a defender giving a penalty away.  The word ‘frustration’ surely sums up the mood of Celtic fans after drawing a blank against Livingston, especially given a win would have taken the team to the summit of the league.  That frustration must be felt by the manager also.  Not only was his team facing an opponent who had no intention to play football, but his players, when presented with the opportunity, fluffed their lines.  It wasn’t Postecoglou who missed the penalty after all.

“I think we created enough opportunities to win that game. If we won that game we’d be talking about a whole different thing.’’

With a staggering 85% possession and 90% passing accuracy you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a totally dominant performance by Celtic. Factor in that the team won c.80% tackles and 70% aerial duels and there can be little doubt that the men in hoops were in total control and little danger.  Despite these impressive stats, Celtic managed only 16 shots in total and only 2 on target.  Therein lies the problem.  When a team comes to Celtic Park determined to play ‘anti-football’ or, as some pundits described, and excellent defensive display, Postecoglou’s men need to be ruthless and clinical.  On Saturday that was not the case, not even with the aid of a last minute penalty.  If that goal had gone in, the optics of the game may have been different.  ‘Celtic overcome stubborn Livi’ would probably have been the headline.  Instead, ‘Celtic fire blanks and miss opportunity to go top’ is both damning and accurate.

“We moved the ball well, they had 11 players sitting so deep and we had to find a way through. We found a way through but couldn’t put the ball in the net.’’

Celtic’s style under Postecoglou seems to be decisive amongst some sections of the support.  When Ange had said he would change his system, that translated, to some less informed fans, as ‘I only know one way to win a game, I’ve no plan B’.  What he meant was that he would always want his teams to attack and play exciting football.  That’s how he wants to win games.  When Celtic drew a blank against Livingston people used the ‘system’ as a means to critique the game.  If an all attack display can’t break the deadlock, would playing more conservatively have worked? Of course not.  To further refute this particular criticism, midway through the game Celtic switched to a 4-4-2 and went far more direct with crossing and pressure.  Some might say that’s a plan B if the possession game isn’t working.  Ultimately, the tactics and system (which are different) rely on players executing them.

“It was my decision to have Giakoumakis on penalties. I made that decision a couple of games ago. He wasn’t on the pitch when we got the last one so Juranovic took it. He was on the pitch so he was the designated taker today.’’

Where Postecoglou does come under the spotlight is both team selection and his decision to change the penalty taker.  Given the manager himself said that the previous game against Hibs was the best performance his team had produced this season, it was strange to see top scorer, and talisman, Kyogo Furahashi dropped to the bench.  The return of Abada, who’s form has been inconsistent, in place of Mikey Johnson was also curious, if at least more palatable.  Perhaps Ange felt that Giakoumakis would offer a stronger physical threat against a stubborn Livingston defence, but rotation for rotation sake isn’t something that suits a squad who are both learning the system, getting to know each other and finally finding some form. Given Juranovic has taken the past few penalties, converting all, it was another strange decision to remove him from penalty duties.

The fact remains, regardless who played, any Celtic team should have enough to win against a lower table SPFL team. Was it the managers fault or the players letting the side down? It seems on balance that it’s a mixture of both. One thing is for certain, Celtic need to stay in touch at the top of the table and strengthen in January, otherwise frustrating results will quickly become a crisis in the eyes of some less patient supporters.

Celtic have been in a state of flux since the season began.  Between the overhaul of the playing squad and various behind the scenes changes, the first few months of Ange Postecoglou’s reign have been anything but smooth.  Now though, it seems a corner may have been turned.  Away wins against Aberdeen and Motherwell have put to bed, for the moment, the teams away woes.  For the first time this season the manager has had an, almost, full squad to call on. This combined with a comfortable Europa League victory against last seasons foes, the Hungarian champions, Ferencvaros has given the confidence around Celtic Park a welcome boost.

League business resumed with a dominant, if not free scoring, victory over a stubborn St Johnstone side to keep Celtic in touch of the current league leaders.  It is so important that this run of results and performances continues, but the teams next opponents will present another challenge that Ange and his men need to overcome. A midweek clash with Hibernian may not seem the most daunting fixture to face while on this run, but there is an interesting wrinkle to the game; It has been eight years since Celtic beat their green and white counterparts on the road.  The last time a Celtic team beat Hibs at Easter Road was in January 2014.

(The line up here is interesting!)

To be clear, that timeline takes into account the three years that Hibs were in the lower division, however to go seven fixtures against their Edinburgh rivals presents something of a hoodoo that Postecoglou men must overcome.

Games against Hibernian are always a tough affair, but there is more than just a sense of competition when the teams meet.  Celtic and Hibs have a shared background, a linked history that includes iconic players and charitable beginnings.

Formed in 1875 Hibernian football club, named after the Roman name for Ireland and representing the immigrant Irish community of Edinburgh, played a number of matches across Scotland with the purpose of raising money for those in need. One such game took place in September 1885.  A select team of Hibs players would take on a team playing under the banner of ‘Glasgow Hibs’, the proceeds of which would go to the poor children living in the East End of Glasgow.  One of the most prominent men involved in raising said funds was Brother Walfrid.

As most, if not all Celtic fans will know, on 6 November 1887, Walfrid would use the example of Hibs, who had been doing similar charity work for the Irish communities in Edinburgh in the years previous and form a club to help the poor children of Glasgow.  The major difference was the name, Celtic, which he wanted to use to represent both the Scottish and Irish roots of the people they would help.

The noble charity work and popularity amongst the locals set Celtic apart from most other institutions, but there was also an opportunity to commercialise this rise in profile.  Enter John Glass.  In the 1880’s football was, for the most part, an amateur venture amongst players.  However, in England, there was a move toward the professionalism of the game.  Mr Glass knew that Scotland would follow suit and, unbeknownst to the club committee, or Wilfrid himself, Glass began offering cash inducements to several of Hibs best players.  The likes of Willie Groves, James McLaren, Paddy Gallagher, Mick McKeown, John Coleman and Mick Dunbar would become Celtic players at the expense of the team from Leith.

Hibernian losing their best players to Celtic was incredibly damaging for the club at the time.  Their success dwindled and they struggled to return to the pinnacle of the Scottish game for many years.  Of course, in later years, many Hibs players have made the jump to Celtic. The modern game means this has become the norm for clubs outside of the ‘Big Two’ of Glasgow. John Collins, Leigh Griffiths, Anthony Stokes, Gary Caldwell and the most obvious example of all, legendary club captain, Scott Brown have all had great success when they made the switch from the green and white of Hibs to the famous Hoops of Celtic.

When the teams meet it is good to look back on the linked history and remember where both clubs come from.  The Irish heritage, green and white strips and charitable origins have defined both clubs for years and, while Hibs have moved away from the ‘Irishness’ of their history in recent years, the cultural impact both clubs have represented in Scotland cannot be underestimated.

When the talk of a ‘rebuild’ at Celtic started to surface, against the backdrop of a shambolic season, many believed that meant players.  Get the ones who don’t want to be there out.  Get new ‘better’ players in.  Simple as that? Well, not quite.  As the summer began and Celtic found themselves without a manager and several first team players, they also had a new CEO. A man who promised to ‘modernise’ the club and provide a platform for success for years to come. Every fan around the world who loves the legendary hoops agreed, although most wondered what that actually meant. For the club to rebuild it also has to fundamentally change how it went about its business both on the park and off. A complete structural overhaul on the back of a player exodus was needed. 72 days into this ‘project’ the new CEO, who promised a bold new direction, was gone.  Perhaps the ‘rebuild’ isn’t quite as simple as some expected.

Now Celtic find themselves toiling in the domestic league and struggling in Europe.  The manager, as of the writing, still hasn’t got his ‘own’ people in.  There is no head of recruitment, no one to oversee the academy, a temporary CEO who has had very little engagement with the fanbase. Celtic need a new direction. As a club they need to change how they operate.  We can only guess as to what the ‘modernisation’ of the club may have meant.  A few jealous glances across Europe will show clubs much smaller in historical stature than Celtic, taking more and more ambitious strides, while the Glasgow giants sit still.  The most common denominator of these clubs is the position of ‘Sporting Director’.  Sometimes known as ‘Director of Football’ or ‘Technical Director’ the position essentially comes down to the same things; Long term success and modernisation of football clubs.  Where have we heard that before?

Traditionally speaking a manager would have the final say in all footballing matters.  While the sport has evolved and changed, so too has this attitude.  With a (for the purposes of the article) Director of Football, or DoF, in place duties are split. The manager sometimes becomes known as the first team coach and he is responsible for training and picking the team. The DoF oversees the rest of the footballing side, identifying transfer targets, future squad planning. In terms of hierarchy within a club, the sporting director sits between the head coach and the chairman.  This helps the coach focus purely on the eleven players picked every week.  Given how intense and complicated Postecoglou style of play is, the more time concentrating on the players the better.  Also having someone in complete charge of the other footballing departments, such as transfers, means the search for players, department heads, academy players and boardroom relationships are all given more time.

Celtic need a long term vision, a style of play and a pathway system between the youth and first team that ensures they are producing players suited specifically to their style.  This also allows for continuity should a manager leave the club.  New managers will often bring in new staff and new players to fit their football philosophy. This is great short term, but when they leave, such as when Brendon Rodgers took most of his entourage with him to the EPL, this can lead to a squad overhaul that could have significant financial, and structural ramifications.  Fans of the Hoops can attest to that now.  If Ange Postecoglou had walked into a club ran this smoothly, with a list of players suited to a style of play he would have been hired to coach, alongside an established scouting system, state of the art conditioning and fitness coaches and youngsters ready to break through, it would have Celtic in a much stronger position.

Even if this all happened and Ange still failed to hit the heights required, instead of starting the ‘rebuild’ from scratch, the club would have the infrastructure to cope. A long-term philosophy established regardless of who is the manager, something that can be solved by hiring a sporting director with a clear on and off-pitch strategy, is an essential for a club like Celtic to move forward.

A Dof can recruit a pathway manager who will lead the academy players into the first team. A DoF can make sure, from the kids up, that a certain brand of football will be on display.  A DoF will recruit the best scouts and department heads who report to him, all of which will benefit whoever is coaching the first team players.  There are many advantages to this type of footballing structures barely touched upon in this brief, somewhat hopeful, rambling.  One needs only look around Europe as clubs like RB Salzburg pass Celtic by.  The ‘Rebuild’ was never going to be simple, but it must be brave and modern.  Otherwise Celtic will still be standing in the shadows, the roars of past glories merely a whisper in the dark.

As another international break approaches, fans of domestic football can pause for breath.  The great rebuild that Celtic have been going through may only be at the beginning, but for many it has already been a rough journey.  Ange Postecoglou’s arrival was greeted with a mixed reaction. That mix of views, even at this early stage, threatens to divide a support that is still suffering from last seasons shambles displays.  To help understand each viewpoint it’s important to look at the plussed and minuses of the Postecoglou revolution so far.

The Bad

A dreadful run of away results have blighted Postecoglou’s Celtic record until Jota’s late winner against Aberdeen.  Losses against Hearts, Rangers and Livingston have left the would-be title challengers languishing in mid table.  While most fans are willing to give Postecoglou time to turn the clubs fortunes around, even the most patient of souls will be getting anxious looking at the teams current form. Despite the mitigating circumstances around the rebuilding and lack of background support, any Celtic manager with this squad of players must be expected to do better. The visit to Tynecastle may have come while the team was short on players, Ibrox was a much tighter game than the previous seasons fixture, which Celtic lost 4-1, but losing at the Tony Macaroni Arena and dropping points at home to Dundee Utd leave a back taste in the mouths of the Celtic faithful. Fans have shown faith in the method, but that must be rewarded with wins.  Winning the league may be out width the current team this season, but a strong challenge must be mounted.  The supporters need to see progress or the murmurs of discontent will become louder and louder.

One of the biggest selling points when appointing Ange Postecoglou was his promise to bring on the youth at the club.  Building players for the future through the academy and allowing fans to see ‘one of their own’ don the hoops was something to be excited about.  The launch of the ‘B’ team into the lower division may have disjointed efforts to bleed in youngsters but there are many still in the first team squad who haven’t featured much, or at all.  When the manager is facing three fixtures in quick succession, and the players needing a rest, you’d expect the likes of Liam Shaw or Ewan Henderson to feature at some point.  Liam Scales, Dane Murray, Owen Moffat and Osaze Urhoghide are all players who could have expected to feature more than they have.  It raises the question; Are they not good enough or is Postecoglou not as willing to trust youngsters as he claimed?

On the subject of changing things up, the system Postecoglou plays, or ‘Angeball’ as its affectionally called, has become a bone of contention for some.  While fans love to see flair football, they also like to see their teams defend well.  Particularly in Europe, where the standard is generally higher than domestically, ‘Angeball’ has come under the spotlight of criticism.  Seen as naive and, at times ‘Kamikaze’ in its approach, fans have been asking ‘isn’t it time to change’ especially on the back of losing 4-0 at home to German giants Bayer Leverkusen. Ange, however, has stated that he will not deviate from his path.  While that attitude is admirable, many feel a more common sense approach to these games would serve him and the team better. If the players at the club do not have the skill to play that system, then why continue?

The Good

On the flip side of that argument, fans have been enthralled at times with the football on display.  Back to back 6-0 drubbings at home left the supporters and pundits purring.  All out attack, focus on scoring and ‘never stopping’ have created a brand of football that encompasses, in many ways, ‘The Celtic Way’.  While there have been some disappointing results, there was never any doubt that this style of play would take a while to put into play consistently.  Players already at the club would need to improve massively on last seasons fitness, bravery on the ball and inventiveness.  New players at the club would need time to settle into a new city and get to know their teammates.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.  The potential on display, however, has led to an optimism that, when ‘Ange ball’ clicks into full gear, it will brush any opposition aside.  If Celtic fans can remain patient through the rough beginnings, they could see a side that not only gets back to dominating domestically, but swinging ‘punches’ with Europe’s big hitters.

Creating magic on the park isn’t just down to the manager.  When all is said and done, and that whistle blows, only the eleven men on the park really matter.  They are the ones who dictate whether or not the teams wins, draws or losses.  In the transfer window just passed, Celtic saw 15 players leave the club with only 12 brought in.  Whether all of these incoming talents where signed as definite starters and not just ‘projects’ remains to be seen but there are already a few who have made a mark on the Celtic support.  Joe Hart has added security and confidence to a position that was becoming something of a joke amongst fans.  Carter-Vickers looks solid at the centre of defence, with a physicality and ball playing ability Celtic have missed.  Juranovic has shown in flashes he can add an extra attacking threat to the full back areas and last, but not least, has been Kyogo Furahashi. The Japanese international has been excellent so far for the club, his movement, attitude and goals have given the Parkhead faithful a new talisman to adore.  With the improvement in players like Ralston, Rogic and Captain McGregor, Postecoglou has shown that, if he gets another few transfer windows to complete his masterplan, the fans will see some real quality on the park.

Off the park is where Ange Postecoglou has impressed as much as on it.  His natural charisma has shown through in interviews. The way he has dealt with the press, dealing with sniping questions with ease and putting his point clearly across, has led fans to believe he will defend the club against any detractors.  Most of the good will comes from how he dealt with the abhorrent of abuse aimed at Kyogo.  He didn’t dive into cliched responses or rage against a system ingrained in division.  He instead told the media that this wasn’t and education issue but a people issue; just be a good human.  He spoke at how Glasgow’s multiculturalism struck chord with him.  Being an immigrant himself he knew how important diversity was in creating a great city, a value close to the hearts of every Celtic fan who truly knows their clubs history. He wants to play a style that honours the history of Celtic Football Club and all the greats who have gone before, and he never wants Celtic to be underdogs regardless of opponent.  These may be romantic beliefs and they may seem unattainable at the moment, but what is Celtic if not a club built on defying the odds and building a legacy.