Friday, 20 January 2017

The Downfall Of Celtic's Most Successful Failure - Part 1

Celtic Park

In May 2014 Neil Lennon stepped down as Celtic manager to pursue new challenges and his departure brought the curtain down on four years of highs, lows and death threats. Under Lennon's command the Hoops lifted the title for three consecutive years, starting Celtic's quest to beat the record of 9 championships in a row that was set by the Lisbon Lions and then emulated by Glasgow Rangers in the 90's. During his time at the club Celtic were ramping up their strategy of buying cheap and selling steep. Several up and coming talents like Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper were signed and sold on for a tidy profit as the "strategy" began to pay dividends.During this time the club recorded one of the greatest results in their history with a remarkable 2-1 victory over Barcelona at Celtic Park. Unfortunately for Neil several players who wouldn't make the grade would also come through the door which when combined with the manager's unconvincing record in cups left a huge black mark against his name. What some fans at the time didn't know was that there may well have been other reasons Neil had tendered his resignation. Reasons that were linked to the "strategy" which would ultimately help to bring down the man who was chosen to replace him.

Former Boss Neil Lennon 

As the month of May came to an end there were fears that the "strategy" would be implemented in the hiring of a new manager. Fans were desperate to see a big name in the hotseat but with the situation in Scottish football being completely unique, it was expected that the Celtic board would opt to keep the club just ahead of the pack by bringing in a "project" manager who could be moulded into the kind of top name the fans craved. When an unknown Norwegian named Ronny Deila was unveiled in early June it seemed to confirm fears that the club was merely treading water and awaiting the return of a side called Rangers playing in the Scottish Premier League. Rangers were a massive part of Celtic's history and their undisputed rivals until they went bust in 2012. When a new club named Rangers was created they started life in the Scottish Third Division but had serious intent to climb the league and take their place as Scotland's top team. Whether the Celtic board intentionally decided to stay still in order that new Rangers could catch them remains open to debate. What is an undeniable fact is that the next few years would see the most paradoxical situation in Celtic's history. Where being crowned league champions was enough in any other time, Europe was now the arena where Celtic managers and players would be judged.

Ronny Deila arrived at the club with what can only be described as a modest pedigree, During his time in Norway he was the manager at Stromsgodset, winning the Norwegian Cup and guiding the unlikely side to the league title. Ronny appeared to tick all the boxes that Celtic were looking for in a manager: Young, Cheap, Enthusiastic and most importantly the sort of man who could be shaped into the club's very own image. Little did they know just how distorted that image would become in the next few years. Some fans bought into the "project" and got right behind Ronny from the very start. Others were less convinced, requiring some actual evidence that he was indeed the figure to lead the club into one of the most important periods in their history.

Ronny Deila

Ronny got off to a flyer in the Scottish Premiership with a very impressive 3-0 victory over St.Johnstone at McDiarmid Park and followed it up three days later at Celtic Park on flag day with a swashbuckling 6-1 dismantling of Dundee Utd. Unfortunately things weren't going quite so well on the European stage. After successfully negotiating the second qualifying round against KR Reykjavik of Iceland, the Hoops crashed and burned against Polish side Legia Warsaw. It was the first real murmurs of discontent in the Celtic ranks. Ronny's side's performance away from home was nothing short of scandalous with his own cavalier tactics playing right into the hands of the Poles. When all was said and done Celtic would crash 6-1 on aggregate following a 2-0 loss at home. Ronny was starting to flounder before he had really begun to get going.

Round about this time fans were beginning to notice some oddities in Ronny's statements to the press, particularly when they were compared with the actions he was taking. Asked by a reporter whether he would consider loan deals, the Celtic gaffer made it clear that no short term deals of that nature would be considered. Yet one day before the away leg in Poland the club loaned in Jo Inge Berget. Even more baffling was that he actually made his debut in the Legia game, making little impact on the proceedings. Wakaso Mubarek also found himself checking in on loan and the whole affair had a touch of the bizarre about it. If Ronny was insistent that no loan deals would be done, who at Celtic Park was going against his wishes? In total Ronny Deila would sign five loan players during his time at the club. All with mixed results. Working against the Norwegian was the esteem that Celtic fans still held Neil Lennon in. This was a man who had stood up the very worst elements of the sevco support and refused to back down. At one point he was attacked by a Hearts supporter in a match at Tynecastle and received death threats from sevco's psychotic fans. Neil was a brave, passionate man and a hero in the eyes of the Celtic support. Ronny on the other hand could barely get himself up from the dugout and the introduction of the embarrassingly transparent "Ronny Roar" was never likely to change the view that he was just a little too relaxed about the whole thing.

Lennon is a Celtic legend

Incredibly, where Europe was concerned, Ronny and Celtic would get a second bite of the cherry when it became clear that Uefa were investigating the Polish side for fielding an ineligible player. Bartosz Bereszynski only came on in the 86th minute of the tie at Celtic Park but his appearance was a clear breach of the rules. Uefa showed no mercy and awarded a 3-0 victory to the home side. Celtic were through on away goals and there was much howling at the moon over the issue. Particularly from Legia and the sevco fans. Celtic were now just a playoff round away from qualifying for the Champions League Group Stage and would play NK Maribor of Slovenia in a winner takes all two leg affair. To Ronny and the team's credit they managed a very respectable result away from home when a Callum McGregor goal earned them a 1-1 draw. It was all to play for and Celtic were in the driving seat for the return match at fortress Celtic Park. Unfortunately Ronny had started a trend that would ensure the stadium would be anything BUT a fortress. As the home match unfolded it became clear that this Celtic side were a nervous wreck and the first signs of the weak backbone, so commonplace under Ronny would rear it's ugly head. Celtic huffed and puffed until the 75th minute, when a Marcos Tavares ended their Champions League dream once and for all. This time there would be no reprieve.

Celtic fans outrage was understandable. The club had been given a Champions League lifeline and had failed to take it. Some argued it was the manager's first season but in their heart of hearts they must have known that Neil Lennon's team would have grabbed that oppurtunity with both hands. Celtic under Ronny looked weak and no amount of sugarcoating things could make it better. Many questions needed answered but some fantastic domestic form delayed them being asked. During the 2014/15 season the Hoops lost just four times with consecutive title number 4 being wrapped up with minimum fuss. Some argued it was the least the Celtic gaffer could do but that was besides the point. Ronny had delivered the title and the Celtic juggernaut would keep on rolling for the time being. Things were even better in the League Cup as a 2-0 victory over Dundee Utd at Hampden brought the trophy back to Paradise. Incredibly Celtic never lost a goal during the whole tournament and even managed to put newco Rangers in their place with an easy victory in the semi-final. Unfortunately Success was not matched in the Scottish Cup as the Hoops crashed out to ICT in controversial circumstances meaning there would be no historic treble.

For all his faults Ronny had delivered the double and some fans were prepared to give him one more season to see if he could deliver another title along with some progress in Europe.

The decision to do so would turn out to be a MASSIVE mistake......

Hail Hail

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