As habitants of the weird and wonderful echo chamber of Twitter may be aware, among the recent barrage of clover emoticons and “this is how it feels to be Celtic” tweets has been the growth of a recent subplot in Celtic’s season regarding the imminent departure of Kris Commons.
Firstly, I don’t think anyone would deny Kris Commons’ right to join a lap of honour and say his own goodbyes then – but getting time on the pitch after not playing a single game this season? This has proved a divisive issue among the Celtic support. Does he deserve a long goodbye? Was he even that good? And whether he does or doesn’t, what criteria should a player meet to merit this kind of treatment?
From choosing Celtic over Rangers to disappearing this season like some kind of mass hallucination (all via a brief but well -documented spell as ‘chief John Collins hater’), Kris Commons’ Celtic career has been a memorable one.
Let’s start with the good stuff: 5 Scottish Premiership titles, 2 Scottish Cups, 1 Scottish League Cup, a Player of the Season award, and becoming the league’s top goal scorer. 91 goals in 226 competitive appearances. Important goals against Rangers, Spartak Moscow, Dinamo Zagreb, Elfsborg and Shakhtar Karagandy. Oh, and that time he absolutely done Alan McGregor with a swerving 25-yarder.
There is absolutely no doubt: Kris Commons was an important player of the Neil Lennon era. His initial impact upon signing in January 2011 (Scoring on his league, league cup, home, and Glasgow derby debuts) made him an instant fan’s favourite. His ability to provide important goals and to be that perceived ‘spark’ that media cavemen so often seek garnered him an important place in Lennon’s mentality-over-tactics regime.
If you have a man there who can fish you out of a hole, be damn sure that you better give the ball to him. Thus, Commons’ undoubted technical ability made him the focal point of Lennon’s team. It is perhaps a reflection more on Lennon’s gradually toothless and withering squad in his final season that Commons became such a point of inspiration. We needed him because, well, we had no one else. Oh, except Teemu Pukki. So…yeah.
Had Kris Commons’ time at Celtic ended in 2014, there’d be no dispute over this goodbye. He had a job under Lennon and he did it as well as any realistic Celtic signing could. His arguable peak of 2013-14 may have been during a largely dull and turgid season for spectators, but we can’t blame him for that. So, in this regard, a Lennon signing did a Lennon job, and he did it well.
Now to the not-so-good stuff.
Ronny Deila. The young, progressive, Norwegian coach who came in with different ideas about football to his predecessor. He brought with him radical concepts such as:
‘Playing in the front half of the pitch doesn’t mean staying in the front half of the pitch all the time’
Also; ‘Hey, did you ever think of running when you don’t have the ball?’
And who can forget: ‘Chips bad, fruit good.’
This led to a media backlash of ‘but wait, Henrik Larsson (arguably the most talented striker of his generation, a general physical, mental and technical phenomenon – in general a total non-comparison to any other contemporary Celtic player) ate chips.’
Similar resistance is rumoured to have surfaced in the Celtic dressing room and Commons is generally considered to be one of these obstructive forces along with other ‘Lennon men’. However well-founded these allegations may be, we can’t operate on speculation, so let’s look at what happened on the pitch.
Deila’s general principles were of dynamism and fluidity; keep moving, keep pressing, keep tracking back, and work hard. In order to do this, players must be physically fit. Hence the emphasis on fitness, sports science, and not having ketchup with every meal.
Even Commons’ biggest fans must surely concede that Commons does not suit this style of play. His work rate was nothing short of abysmal, and his time under Lennon appeared to cultivate a deeply selfish mentality – like the boy in your school team who’d just never pass the ball when he saw the faintest glimpse of an opening.
It’s a testament to the cruelty of our universe that it made me watch Kris Commons launch the ball over the crossbar or drag it mildly by the post as many times as he did. This, coupled with clear issues over his fitness and physicality, made Commons a clear bad fit for Ronny’s side.
However, when results struggled, he was the man called upon by the media and often by his fanboys and relentless Deila haters as the solution when Ronny did not play him, regardless of how unsuitable he was for Deila’s desired tactical approach. It’s interesting now that Brendan Rodgers isn’t playing him, and is doing well, that no one cares if Commons is playing or not.
His unsuitability to fit into Ronny and Brendan’s team, as well as his sensational and frankly unacceptable – outburst on and at the bench in Molde that gloomy November night, rendered Commons surplus to requirements.
Due to fan and media pressure he was given a new contract in Deila’s first season, despite clearly not fitting in to the manager’s long term plan. Oh, and there was also that season during which he forgot how to put the ball between the posts and under the bar until about April.
So, having balanced the positives and the negatives of Kris Commons’ time at Celtic, we come to a conclusion that he was great under Lennon, but unsuited under Ronny and surplus to requirements under Brendan.
It brings us all the way back to our initial question – should Kris Commons be allowed on the park against Hearts on the last game of the season?
I’ve thought long and hard about this and the answer is yes, he should.
We could give Kris Commons’ a lap of honour and let that suffice. However, traditionally a lap of honour is, by definition, to honour the achievements of the season gone past. A season that Kris Commons has played absolutely no part in.
So the solution is this: let him play a part, even if it is just 10 minutes. Let’s not patronise a truly important player for the early part of our (hopeful) 10 in a row run by having him walk around having not kicked a single ball all season. My proposal is to let him get fit for the match, and bring him on as a substitute, allowing him to take part in the season rather than being a kind of honorary squad member – otherwise he might as well just play in the Legends game a week later.
If we are to go on and win 10 in a row with Brendan, it will not just be the 10th title that is important. Equal in measure is the first three with Lennon and the fourth and fifth with Deila. Kris Commons played a vital part in a significant part of those triumphs, as well as some recent excellent memories in Europe. Celtic is a club proud of its history, as we are seeing this season with the 50th Anniversary of Lisbon celebrations. The least we can do is respect properly the role the likes of Kris Commons – and others – have played.