Devil’s Advocate – Ralston Larsson & Forrest

In a new Cynic feature, instead of asking our panel of writers their own opinions, we take some questionable opinions and ask the panel to defend them in 100 words or less. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and joining me to debut this segment is Eoin Coyne (@toomanybigwords), Matt Evans (@SkylandsCSC), Sean McGinlay (@seanjmcginlay) and Stephen Wallace (@stephenwallac16)!

Ralston should be involved in first team plans this season

Coyne: We’ll apparently have two new right backs, but, what would be more typically Celtic for both to get injured leaving us with unpredictable Anthony. He has shown he can do okay in home games v the plankton. Recovery pace is simply non-existent though so maybe it’s just a matter of tweaking the role. If he’s not bursting forward and getting caught out, you’d get away with it for the season, just about.

Evans: So, there’s got to be something to this kid, right? Say what you want about the rat but, ahead of the 2017/18 CL home tie with PSG, he looked at Ralchops and said, “there’s ma right back.” Or something along those lines. And then the lad proceeded to get absolutely roasted by Neymar. But surely the gaffer saw something there. If Ralston isn’t going to go out on loan, and if Elhamed is meant to be (a rather uninspiring) first-choice right back, then Ralston needs 15-20 games so Celtic can properly assess him and move him along if he hasn’t made the grade. If he’s not good enough to go up against St Mirren and Hamilton, he can GTF.

McGinlay: When it comes to this season, we will have 60 games again. Looking at the current scenario at right back, we don’t have the flexibility to rotate in that position without Ralston. Playing the bottom six sides in the league, especially at home, we’re very rarely defensively tested, and Ralston has shown that in patches he is capable of pushing forward and creating opportunities. If we can make use of him as an additional attacking outlet in those types of games, it is worthwhile keeping him around.

Wallace: Ralston should be involved in first team plans next season because we have fuck all else at right back. Also, imagine two ‘Celtic Bhoys’ playing at full back when Celtic win the ten (Boli is a Celtic fan isn’t he?). On a serious note, I’ve had the pleasure of having a conversation with Ralston and he is a genuinely sound guy and he hasn’t actually played a horribly bad game for us. He also still has Neymar in his back pocket.

Without the signing of another right back (or two), this dystopian scenario could well become reality. While Ralston may not be an inspiring choice, at least there are some points that our panel could muster!

Celtic should primarily play 3 at the back this season

Coyne: Three at the back goes in and out of vogue. Martin O’Neill’s team used it to dominate the first two seasons before the system was sussed by Rangers and their deployment of nippy wingers down the sides – maybe its overdue a comeback. With improved centre half and midfield options I definitely think this could work and with the tactical variance we will be up against in Europe in particular I am a big fan of us having more than one way of doing things.

Evans: Three at the back means one extra attacker so let’s get stuck right in. We may not have a decent right back, but in Ajer, Jullien and Simunovic we have the makings of a badass back three. Jullien and Jozo to act as a stay-at home back two flanking big Ajer in the centre who will be allowed to play the ball out, helping link defence with attack. Celtic will use the 3-5-2 to go hell-for-leather against bottom-six sides who offer little to nothing in attack. The extra bonus is that Scott Brown will no longer be needed in these matches with Ajer essentially assuming the defensive midfield role.

McGinlay: This allows us to make better use of the aggressive attributes most of our centre halves have. It enables 2 of the 3 to push forward with the ball to break lines, particularly when looking at domestic games when opponents sit deep. It also negates the need for Brown to fall in as a third centre half to collect the ball. This opens up a spare man to run between the midfield and defensive lines to break the play and create opportunities. It allows for quicker shifting of the ball, but it’s dependent on the quality of the wing backs.

Wallace: At points last season Celtic had the ball for the majority of the game but didn’t have the right people in the right positions to capitalise on it. Having that extra man upfront or in midfield would make a huge difference to our attacking prowess. We also have Kristoffer Ajer who is a God amongst men and could play at the back himself.

Lennon’s first games in charge show that, even with a back 4 taking the field, Bolingoli-Mbombo has a tendency to get forward and skew the formation. Whether we set out to have a back 3 or not, if KT isn’t our starting left back next season and we don’t find a marquee right back, then a resemblance of this is likely. We’d better get used to it.

Henrik Larsson should return as the Celtic manager within the next 3 seasons

Coyne: Our hero, our mate, our…manager? Okay, so his record has been relatively spotty but what was Frank Rijkard doing before he took the Barcelona job? Getting relegated in Holland. Instant respect from everyone, a class act for the youth to look up to and someone who will conduct himself with a quiet dignity as opposed to a shameless self-promoter.  If he has anything in him at all as a manager/coach then this is the place to get it out of him.

Evans: It’s June 2021. Glasgow has finally finished cleaning up the confetti after a week-long green and white party to celebrate ten in a row. With nothing left to play for in Scotland, Neil Lennon takes his leave of the club. Rumours of the new manager have run rampant since trophy day, when Roy Keane, Rafa Benitez and Carlo Ancelotti were seen in attendance at Celtic Park – but everyone missed the Scottish Cup final, where Henrik Larsson was there watching, cunningly disguised as a steward. And so, it was another shock managerial appointment as, out of nowhere, Larsson was named to the big chair, with Mikael Lustig and Scott Brown his assistants, for eleven and beyond.

McGinlay: Henrik is still a young coach who has been given a chance to redeem himself in Sweden. Celtic, with the appointment of a Director of Football, albeit temporarily, seem to be changing the organisational structure of the club. In time I would hope to see a focus around a technical director who in turn works with a head coach who simply handles day to day on field coaching. In that structure I could see Henrik returning and being successful, players will want to play for him, he has countless contacts and experience to develop a younger generation of playing staff.

Wallace: This would be amazing. Let me set the scene, Larsson is manager, Sutton is his assistant, Petrov, Hartson and Mjallby are his coaches and Bobo Balde has scared Peter Lawell into making him Chief Executive. Celtic have just won the Champions League as well as a domestic treble.

While it’s equally likely that Larsson could ruin his legacy coming back as head coach, it’s really nice to enjoy a Football Manager-esque daydream where the King of Kings leads us to European success and gets it right up the blue mob across the city. I’m sold.

James Forrest should play on the left instead of the right

Coyne: I’ll admit to being a Forrest-sceptic until fairly recently. I thought he was a one trick pony, brainless, injury prone, all the things you say about wingers basically. However the arrival of dear, rat boy as manager saw a marked upswing in 1) The consistency and 2) The injury issues seem to have been overcome. He’s such a better rounded player now that a change of role is probably likely anyway, the pace will lessen over the next few years and he’ll have to be smart and adapt. In theory, him cutting in to shoot from the left should work.

Evans: Another winger, Scott Sinclair, got into some difficulty when everyone in Scotland figured out that he was as predictable as the sun rising in the east. Before most domestic matches, the opposing left back has nightmares about having to deal with James Forrest’s pace. So why not unleash that pace on both sides of the park? Since Forrest is often defended by two players, forcing the defence to be switched on at both sides is inevitably going to pull them out of position, which is key to Celtic being able to break the lines. 

McGinlay: Forrest already excels on the right and has brought his game to the next level by developing his traits as an inside forward. With the current squad, there is a plethora of right wingers who tend to cut in and use their left foot: Shved and Arzani  are just two examples. Forrest playing on the left enables the left-hand side to become less crowded in the attacking third, with Forrest drifting centrally to allow the full back to overlap, something Sinclair thrived with in his first season. I think Bolongoli would link well with Forrest in this sense.

Wallace: This one isn’t that hard to back up. At their heights during the invincible season, Scott Sinclair made a real difference whilst cutting in from the left and shooting or crossing with his right. James Forrest is a better player than Sinclair and would score more goals in this position. It would also free up the right-hand side for the Ukrainian Paddy Roberts.

While Lennon’s winger-switching experiments prompted this point, the arrival and debut goal from Marian Shved help sway me on this. But, then again, where would Mikey Johnston play? Can we have more than 2 wingers?

If you have any points you’d like to challenge our panel with, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below, on the Patreon app or on Twitter @90MinuteCynic or @SJRussell23. Thank you for reading.

Despite growing up, and now studying, in England, Celtic have always been a huge part of my life. I first watched the team with my dad; I fell in love and then there was no turning back. Torn between a statistically enhanced footballing style and a good, old-fashioned get-it-in-the-mixer-and-score style.

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