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Shiftless Celtic stumble towards success

Shiftless Celtic stumble towards success

Nicol Hay on 31 January 2013

Is an absence of Rangers in the SPL making Celtic complacent?

If there’s one skill in Georgios Samaras’ possession that can be said to be definitively world-class, it is his incredible range of bewildered expressions. There’s something about the combination of his large brown eyes, pouting lips and general air of boyish innocence that forms a face seemingly permanently unaware of what is happening in the general vicinity of Georgios, and why.

The Greek striker was able to put the full gamut of his nonplussed features to use in Celtic’s lethargic 3-2 loss to St Mirren in the semi-final of the Scottish Communities League Cup on Sunday. As the Glasgow side piled futility on top of futility – as through-balls clattered out of play off of unheeding shins, as routine passes became wild explorations into the remotest parts of the Hampden turf, as Celtic as a whole became a vivid illustration of Dr Ian Malcolm’s theories of inherent chaos in unregulated systems – Samaras looked more and more like a child struggling to comprehend why the Mini Eggs he planted in the garden have not grown into a chocolate tree.

While it is tempting to suggest that Celtic’s poor performance on Sunday was due to a understandable fear that winning through to Hampden Park fixture against Heart of Midlothian would simply result in a replay of the scenes witnessed last year, it would be unprofessional for me to speculate at the mental scars that Craig Beattie’s chiselled torso left on the Parkhead side. What isn’t in doubt is that this capitulation against St Mirren was simply the latest in a series of games that Celtic have conspicuously taken off this season.
We’re 23 games into the current league campaign, and already Celtic have lost four and drawn four matches, frittering away 20 points on afternoons of stifled yawns and absent effort. This would represent a fairly poor record for the leaders of any league at this stage of the season, but when you consider that Celtic dropped only 21 points in the entirety of their 2011-12 title-winning performance (the same record as Rangers in 2010-11, incidentally), this year’s vintage starts to look like a team on an intractable skid towards the doldrums.

Except they’re not. Celtic are, in fact, 12 points clear of second placed Inverness Caledonian Thistle, and are cruising to another Premier League title like Dennis Hopper on a triple-upholstered Harley. Without Rangers around to provide a credible challenge for top spot, Celtic go into every game with an unshakable belief that they are going to win. However, instead of channeling this belief into the raw grit required to strive every sinew until the winning goal is secured in the 99th minute, as the great Ferguson Manchester United sides have done, Celtic channel this belief into milling around the pitch until home time, expecting that enough goals will just somehow turn up.

What’s irritating for someone who actually tries to watch the SPL for pleasure (yes, I know – but football fandom is an incurable disease, as every Ramble reader is all too aware) is that even though the feckless Celts are often wrong in individual games, their overall record proves that their rheumy stumble through the fixture list requires no great re-think. While I’m certain that Celtic fans would prefer to win trophies than throw them away, I don’t think they’ll be overly concerned about missing the opportunity to add another League Cup to the pile as long as the larger goals of the title and Champions League respectability remain attainable.

During the Old Firm’s strongest years, Scottish fans would be told repeatedly that the lack of serious domestic challenge was fatally undermining the Glasgow teams’ continental efforts, as the mental conditioning required to leap from trampling frail Motherwell and Kilmarnock into trying to appear vaguely competent against Milan and Bayern Munich was more than anyone could be expected to handle. This year however, the highly focused discipline of European Celtic has been so distantly removed from the stifled yawns of Scottish Celtic that you have to wonder if eleven cunningly disguised ball boys aren’t giving Wanyama, Forster et al the weekends off.

If Celtic really have discovered a way to flick their concentration on and off between Champions League engagements, they’ll have to trust that the switch hasn’t rusted over during the long winter of bare-minimuming their way through their SPL obligations. Juventus are looming on the horizon, and Celtic had better hope that their approach to their domestic fixtures lies more on the ‘clever conservation of energies’ than the ‘woeful complacency’ end of the preparedness scale.

The irony is that between the shiftless and the diligent versions of Celtic 2012-13, only one of the teams is guaranteed to lift a trophy in May. Anything else would result in entire nation practising their Georgios Samaras Facial Theatre.


Nicol Hay watches a lot of sport and then writes about it. It's a compulsion, and he needs help desperately. His blogging can be found here, and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Comments

As a celtic fan I would say that your aerticle is fair comment. It is only natural that Celtic will 'fail to turn up' on occasion. I think lenny has done a great job to keep them motivated for as long as he has.

We do need a strong rival or two. Its fantastic that our old rival isnt there, I dont miss them but it would be nice if another team, Dundee Utd, Hibs Hearts or Aberdeen could emerge as a big force. I think we will see good things from all - except Hearts who seem to be in big trouble like their cousins - eventually and along with ICT, Ross County, and a fantastic St. Mirren side (on occasion) then the future looks bright for a competitive SPL.
by corrib04 on 31 January 2013 at 11:00 AM

Typical nonsense from a courtier of the obtuse.I suggest the OP would be better concentrating on the so called bigger teams in the EPL for teams stumbling towards title success, or better still whichever team he really supports and its obvious failure in whichever league they play in. Celtic aren't stumbling towards any title success, they will win it easily by atleast 15-20 points in the end without, coming out of 3rd gear
by Gazza on 31 January 2013 at 11:17 AM

Shiftless Celtic stumble towards success = win it easily by atleast 15-20 points in the end without, coming out of 3rd gear.

by Chris Nixon on 01 February 2013 at 01:30 PM

'We’re 23 games into the current league campaign, and already Celtic have lost four and drawn four matches'

First of all, by the 31st of January Celtic were 24 games into their league campaign, not 23.

In any case, is this supposed to be some sort of shocking statistic? Look at the rest of Europe:

Serie A leaders Juve: 4 draws 3 losses after 22 games
Ligue 1 leaders PSG: 6 draws 3 losses after 23 games
Eredivisie leaders PSV: 1 draw 5 losses after 20 games
English Premier League leaders Man U: 2 draws 3 losses after 24 games
Russian Premier League leaders CSKA: 1 draw 6 losses after 19 games.

The only major leagues in Europe that don't follow this pattern are Bundesliga, La Liga and the Portugese top flight. Celtic's points total this season isn't great, but it's hardly shocking either.

It's also worth pointing out that the game which precipitated this article was in the league cup. Quite why Celtic should be any more complacent about this tournament this season than previously is anyone's guess.

The SPL can't win with articles like this. If Celtic were winning all their games we'd be treated to pieces about how boring it all is. Actually, many of the games have been pretty competitive, but apparently that's a negative too. Also, it might be worth pointing out that Celtic have played far more games than any other SPL team this season. Could it be that tiredness, rather than sheer complacency, is the reason for these dropped points?

That said, I'd like to congratulate the writer on managing to turn Celtic's superb European form into a stick to beat them with. Truely that was a feat of rhetorical gymnastics.
by Patrick Ewins on 02 February 2013 at 05:01 PM

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