Current Celtic crop a far cry from brilliant Bhoys of old
Lee Gormley | October 28, 2015
On October 31st during the 2002/03 campaign, Scottish giants Celtic rallied to a 1-0 UEFA Cup second round triumph over former Premier League champions Blackburn Rovers in Glasgow, with Henrik Larsson grabbing a late first leg winner.
Under the watchful guidance of Martin O’Neill, the Bhoys then overcame their English opposition once again on their travels, with Hoops hero Larsson and Chris Sutton netting decisive goals to secure progression.
European anniversary highlights Hoops failings
Further along that heroic European path, the Hoops, who are 80/1 with Coral to triumph in the Europa League this term, also battled past Liverpool, before gracing the Estadio Olimpico de Sevilla for a final showdown with Jose Mourinho’s talented Porto side.
Stifling Spanish weather conditions only added to the tension and drama surrounding this epic clash, as Celtic became the first-ever side to lose on the ‘silver goal’ rule, which has since been abolished, after 115 minutes of absorbing action.
O’Neill’s gallant Bhoys twice fought back from a goal down, with the competition’s eventual Golden Boot runner-up Larsson netting both final goals, but a star-studded Porto featuring Deco, Costinha, Maniche and top scorer Derlei prevailed.
Europa League pain for Bhoys
Now, 13 years on from that agonising defeat on Spanish soil, after such a jubilant run to the final, Celtic’s current crop of stars are faltering in European competition, having long failed to live up to expectations set by past protagonists of this historic club.
Compared to the present side, currently guided by Norwegian coach Ronny Deila, European hopes couldn’t be further away, with club icons such as Neil Lennon, Larsson, Stiliyan Petrov and Alan Thompson all just distant reminders of past glories.
In the Europa League, Celtic are trying to restore some European pride, having exited the Champions League play-offs in futile fashion, but proceedings still look bleak after falling haplessly behind Molde, Ajax and Fenerbahce in Group A.
Deila: “I understand expectations are high..”
Along with the Hoops’ hope in Europe, Deila’s support from fans is also plummeting, and the under-fire boss has cut a frustrated figure in recent outings, with a lack of control seemingly set to be his downfall.
“To get into the Champions League and play in Europe is something everybody wants and that is what we are working to achieve,” Deila said recently, with his team 9/2 to win their group.
“We are now in the Europa League and we will do everything we can to qualify. But I understand there are high expectations and people are disappointed at the result [3-1 defeat to Molde] because the performance was not good enough.
“I think also we had two good performances against Ajax and Fenerbahce. It is very hard in Europe and you have to acknowledge your mistakes. We have to keep on working because the goal is to get through and to qualify for the Champions League next time.”
Celtic conflicts brought to light
Mixed in among the poor results and indifferent form both in Europe and domestically, Celtic have been surrounded by increased speculation regarding potential unrest, and it was evidently highlighted recently by Kris Commons.
After being withdrawn from that disastrous Molde performance, Commons put on a publicly petulant sideshow, verbally lashing out at Deila and the rest of his staff. An apology expectedly followed, but the damage was done.
“A country without conflicts or confrontation is a dead environment. It’s like they don’t care, and that’s the worst thing,” Deila continued.
“People have opinions and people want to get better but the most important thing is they show them in a good way, that they mean well to each other. We want to add something to the group to make us better, not to hurt someone. I’m not afraid of conflicts or confrontations but we have to do it in the right places.”
Ciftci causing camp friction?
Not long had the dust settled on Commons’ public outburst that another incident reared its ugly head, with Deila once again having to jump to the defence of his payers, after summer signing Nadir Ciftci was involved in a bust-up with Emilio Izaguirre.
Turkish striker Ciftci reacted angrily to a strong challenge in training from his teammate, with his trailing boot catching Izaguirre on the ear and requiring stitches to repair the injury.
“Nadir is a very emotional guy and that’s fantastic,” added Deila. “That’s why he’s a good football player. A lot of players here have pride and commitment in the game and I think Nadir has really, really gotten better on the pitch, he works much harder and he’s been very disciplined on the pitch as well. I think he has gone in a very good direction since he came here.
“He has learned. At Celtic, there have not been any incidents on the pitch. He’s been very good and he learns a lot coming to a culture like this.”
Ciftci was booked 30 times and sent off twice during his two season with rivals Dundee United, earning himself a reputation for being the biggest hothead in the Scottish Premiership, before securing a £1.5m switch to Parkhead.
Times they are a changing
The frontman’s emotions and aggression are what Celtic fans are used to seeing with previous stars such as Lennon and John Hartson, but his struggle to back this up with form has caused frustration.
To have previously featured for the Bhoys at the highest level in Scotland and to mount a solid challenge in European competition, the calibre of players required were a lot higher than what fans are currently witnessing.
The recent signing of Carlton Cole may be the icing on this distasteful Celtic cake. For a club whose previous strikeforces have included Mark Viduka, Larsson and Ian Wright up top, is a trio of Leigh Griffiths, Ciftci and Cole really potent enough to revive former success?
During that famous 2002/03 campaign, Celtic were involved in a frantic fight for domestic supremacy with bitter Old Firm rivals Rangers, as well as reaching the UEFA Cup final. Ultimately, the Bhoys were agonisingly pipped to top spot by a single strike on goal difference. Truly fine margins, but exceptionally better performances were on show.
Larsson liaison had substance
Although, comparing that crop of stars to the current Bhoys outfit brings only further bitterness, with the Hoops having gone from a spine of Bobo Balde, Paul Lambert and Larsson, to one consisting of Efe Ambrose, Scott Brown and Griffiths in just over a decade.
Of course, with Deila under immense pressure in the Hoops hotseat, managerial proceedings could have gone so differently upon Lennon’s departure as boss in the summer of 2014, as outlined by his former teammate and Sweden legend Larsson.
The Hoops hero has long departed Parkhead, but he will never be forgotten, and he was close to a special reunion last year. Could Larsson have been the man to reinstill the passion and drive into this Bhoys set-up?
“There was a lot of substance in that [rumours of taking charge], but I still feel that I wasn’t ready for it,” Larsson revealed. “The circumstances weren’t the right ones. I think the day you underestimate the importance of the job at Celtic football club that’s the day when you fail. I’ve seen a few coaches doing that.
“Was I tempted? Of course I was tempted, but at the same time I had signed a one-year deal to manage Falkenbergs and it wasn’t the time to leave them.
“We had a chat and we’ll leave it at that. I felt that the timing wasn’t right, not for me and not for the family. I think as long as I’m in this line of work I’m always going to be mentioned when Celtic are looking for a new manager.”
Deila under pressure
With the current Celtic coach under fire for prolonged failings in Europe and a hint of earlier domestic downfalls, the next man at the Hoops helm could be a momentous appointment. Though, the reigning Scottish champions are massively odds-on 1/66 to retain their domestic crown.
Past glories are now a distant memory for many of the Celtic faithful, but at such a huge club, things can always turnaround swiftly, though it’s a longing for change that could go on for quite some time with the current state of affairs in Glasgow.
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