It’s the return of one of our favourite features: True or False!
Three Cynical writers tackle the main talking points surrounding Celtic Football Club. This week, an American (Matt Evans), a Scot (Martin Friel) and an Irishman (Eoin Coyne) walked into the virtual True or False bar and discussed the reasons for Celtic’s league defeats, the disappointing Olivier Ntcham and whether Salzburg are simply better coached than Celtic.
Question 1: The main reason for Celtic’s three league defeats this season is the necessary evil of squad rotation.
Evans: FALSE. Celtic’s three league defeats have all directly followed difficult European matches. After a few seasons of the “European hangover” being less of a factor than in past years, it is back with a vengeance. Frankly, Celtic might have performed better with actual hangovers than they did sober in their lethargic and gutless display at Easter Road. It’s not only tiredness and a general careless attitude that bring about these defeats, but also the fact that the Celtic lineup after the “first XI” are not good enough.
It’s becoming clear that Celtic’s squad is not as deep as it looks on paper, and injuries have left their weaknesses at certain positions clearly exposed. This is a collective fault of management, from Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell on down to Rodgers. And many of the signings that have been sanctioned were poorly thought out and have helped the squad not one iota. So when it comes time to rotate the squad, there aren’t very many good options to choose from.
Friel: FALSE. It’s too easy an excuse. In each of the 3 games lost, the opposition have showed far greater determination and executed their game plan well. It’s not the end of the world losing three league games. In the grand scheme of things Celtic are on course for a good season, and just last weekend we saw one of Rodgers’ stand out performances. However there’s an increasing chance that Celtic get caught cold in a derby game or cup match, which would undoubtedly sting the support and be seen as a backwards step.
Coyne: FALSE. That’s a little oversimplified for me, it’s been a bad season for injuries and loss of form of key players as well. I’m also not sure quite how necessary an evil it is. Rotation is common enough but making wholesale first XI and shape changes for three of the toughest away days in the league might speak more of a marriage of poor judgement, loss of form and bad luck with injuries. It is important to retain fitness and spread games around the squad but as I type this we are third so, not a lot of wiggle room for experimentation. I think the hard fact is that outwith the strongest starting team we do not have much by way of quality ready to come in. Big January ahead.
Score: True 0, False 3.
Question 2: Celtic’s most disappointing player this season has been Olivier Ntcham.
Evans: TRUE. I will caveat this by saying that Ntcham has not been the only disappointment in the squad, not by a long chalk. Celtic attorneys are researching whether watching Scott Sinclair play violates the Geneva Convention. But Sinclair was disappointing last year as well, and it’s Celtic’s own fault that he has no competition for his spot. Brown’s two resurgent years under Rodgers had to end at some point, and the injury/age bell is currently tolling for him.
Olivier Ntcham was signed from Man City after a yearlong loan at Genoa, a Serie A side where he appeared in 20 matches. He should have the ability to perform well in the Scottish Premiership. Other players with far less pedigree do so match after match.
Although he has scored six goals this season – including the winner against Rangers – it is the sheer maddening inconsistency and blasé attitude he brings to the pitch that is truly frustrating and ultimately disappointing. When he pops up on the 18-yard line (or further out) with the ball, it’s less the goalie than the fans in row AA behind the net that need to be aware. With Callum McGregor excelling in the defensive/holding midfielder role Ntcham should be excelling in, the Frenchman may indeed be surplus to requirement.
Friel: FALSE. Marvin Compper. Ntcham’s form is inconsistent, but as he matures I still have faith there is a gem of a player there.
Coyne: TRUE. He’s not the only runner in that particular race in fairness but because Ntcham’s talent is so obvious it makes it that bit more frustrating that he can’t seem to put all those fine attributes together. He plays well in odd games and in flashes during games but rarely puts together a run of consistent, game affecting form.
There were rumours of Porto interest during the summer and maybe his head has been turned but after a bedding in season last year he was one I am sure we all thought would really kick on and thus far he has failed to do so. Hopefully his recent spell out of the team will do him some good, Ryan Christie’s injury and the Christmas run of games means we’ll be seeing more of him again soon. It would be nice to not wonder when you see his name on the team sheet which version of Ntcham will show up today.
Score: True 2, False 1
Question 3: Salzburg don’t have superior players to Celtic, they are simply a better team because they are coached better.
Evans: FALSE. False, mostly. Salzburg are a better team than Celtic because they are better through their entire management and scouting system. Their squad cost half of what Celtic’s cost, and they have a very decent record at buying players cheap and selling them on. Diadie Samassekou, who bossed the midfield against Celtic? Signed from a lower-league Austrian side for €270,000, and he is now worth nearly eighty times that fee. Takumi Minamino was signed out of Japan’s J-League for even less dosh and has eleven goals already this year at the age of 23. Their three main centre-halves were all signed from various German teams for roughly as much as Celtic paid for Jack Hendry.
Celtic, meanwhile, splashed the cash for Odsonne Edouard and then let a series of free transfers and loans speak for the summer window, and are now… what’s the opposite of reaping the benefits? Sowing the shite, yes, that’s it.
Marco Rose and Brendan Rodgers are both excellent football managers. The difference is that Rose has been with Salzburg for six years now, starting out coaching the U16s, then the reserve team before stepping up to the big chair before the start of the 2017/18 season. He is steeped in whatever the “Salzburg way” might be, and his influence and longevity with the club has surely paved the way to an intelligent and fruitful transfer policy.
Rodgers came to Celtic with an excellent pedigree, and has changed the culture at Parkhead and Lennoxtown to some extent, but he has been apparently far less influential when it comes to signing players. It is well-documented at this point that Rodgers wanted John McGinn, who slipped away to Aston Villa. It’s less well-documented but taken on faith among the support that Arzani, Mulumbu, Hayes, etc. may be players that Rodgers didn’t want and might not have even known were coming – which would be a failure of the front office and a major difference between Celtic and Salzburg.
Friel: FALSE. I’m not convinced many of Celtic’s squad have the competence to perform in that Saltzburg side, Benkovic, Tierney and Edouard perhaps. I’m hoping Rodgers and the Board realise that in terms of budget, the Austrians are getting far more bang for their buck than Celtic. Whilst I don’t advocate ditching your model and copying someone else every time you lose a match, I’d like to think the Board and Rodgers see Saltzburg as the blueprint of what can be achieved with strong recruitment and quality coaching.
Coyne: FALSE. They clearly have a higher caliber of player. If not man-for-man then certainly as an overall unit. Transfermarkt values the Celtic squad at 74.25 million whilst Salzburg’s is coming in at 112.55 million. I also don’t think they’re getting a hugely better level of coaching but better players will always take it on quicker. Their 4-4-2 diamond system appears to be incredibly well drilled but the talent of the players allows for that. Where they are probably killing us is in the scouting department.
The most notable standout in their transfer history being Naby Keita who they paid just 1.5 million for before moving him on to the Leipzig branch for a cool 22 million profit. This is typical of their operation. They buy relatively cheap and turn big transfer profits every year whilst also remaining competitive on all fronts. It is definitely a model we should be aspiring to. Albeit without all the corporate shitebaggery.
Score: True 0, False 3