True or False – Cluj | Forster | Brown | Ntcham

In this Cynic classic, we give a talented panel a list of 4 statements and ask their expert (or not) opinions to determine whether the statement is, in fact, true or false. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and debating this week we have Eoin Coyne (@toomanybigwords), Liam Divers (@LDivers91), Sean McGinlay (@seanjmcginlay) and Alex Papadopoulos (AlexPapa67)!

Lennon and the Celtic board have redeemed themselves for the Cluj fiasco

COYNE: False. It’s always great to win at Ibrox, but it is just one win and it is still very early on in the season. Depending on how everything pans out we may well look at it this way but for now the memory of the Cluj fuck-up is still a little too raw. There was no real external reason Celtic couldn’t be in the Champions League this season – the problems were all in-house and if we are to judge ourselves on those bigger, European terms outwith our dominance over rangers and domestically in general then no, there is still some redemption work to be done there. Let’s see how the Europa League pans out before we start talking about who’s been redeemed.

DIVERS: True. I’ve went for true because there is no ‘Kinda, maybe, all dependent on the next few months’ option. The Cluj game was a fiasco and we’ve had a few over the years. What felt different with this one though was that the vast majority of Celtic fans had, for once, laid the blame squarely at the feet of the board. Lennon’s tactical mistakes were well documented and I assume (and hope) he has learned his lessons from it.  What most people were getting on the board’s back about was the fact we had once again failed to build from a position of strength and looked to be trying to cheap our way out of it, with no real plan in place. 

The board appear to have listened this time and went into the transfer market and secured some players that are necessary for the short term, as well as a group of development level players to hopefully build a successful team around. It was quite startling to see how well we reacted and I think it placated large chunks of the support. The challenge now is to make sure that we make this the norm for all transfer windows, shifting from a reactionary transfer policy to a proactive one. In short, the board and Lennon aren’t out the woods and a lot can change quickly in football, but as it stands right now we have done well to recover and should look to build upon that.

MCGINLAY: True. Now the Champions League collapse is something that derailed us, especially when the business that was needed had not been done before hand and the manner in which we were unable to shut out a game in which we had the upper hand. However, the board and Neil Lennon this time around have meant business since that moment, we have covered all the vital areas that we needed to strengthen in, to the point where we have a strong bench every single week. The team have become well structured, organised and clinical when opportunities fall and, to be honest, I prefer the Europa League these days anyway given the Champions League has become a circus for the rich elite. 

PAPADOPOULOS: False. While Celtic haven’t lost a game since the disaster at home to Cluj, the memory is not yet faded by any means. The loss to Cluj and the loss of Champions League money were due not entirely the short-term tactical planning on the day but also a failure to invest in the squad in the previous window or even early in the same one, which is a crime far more heinous than the former. This being this, a strong Europa League account from Celtic (as well as six points against the Romanians) and a comfortable title win and perhaps the bad smell of Cluj might be expunged. 

Verdict: True 2 – 2 False. I think a fair middle ground would be that Lennon and the club have done everything possible since Cluj to make up for it, and may well be on their way to doing so, but it was a massive and unnecessary setback. Hopefully, as the season passes, this will end up a resounding 4-0 but, for now at least, our panel are tied.

Forster on a permanent deal next season is a viable goalkeeper solution

COYNE: True. If he’s not looking for crazy wages then you’d imagine Southampton won’t be looking for much of a fee for their third choice keeper so it’ll work in that sense. At 31 he’s far from being done and we’ll know by the end of the season if he’s still a good fit for us. Even though he’s been back for a few games now he’s had it relatively easy so remains essentially untested. He definitely does seem to have a calming effect on the back four though and his sheer size gives us a bit more presence between the sticks. 

DIVERS: True. I don’t see why not. His wages are obviously an issue, but for a player at his age and what he has achieved, I don’t think it will play a major part in his decision making process. He clearly wants regular football (which he would get), he is clearly not part of the plans at Southampton and probably wants the chance to win a few more medals before he retires (which he wouldn’t achieve at Southampton). 

He has so far proved himself to be very reliable in his first few games back and will grow in confidence with the team as he continues to feature. Long term he’s not the perfect solution due to his history of injuries, but he’s still young enough that we can get a couple of years out of him while we try and focus on a long term replacement.

MCGINLAY: True. Now it is easy to forget that Fraser Forster still has another 5 years in him at a good level for us. He is a major presence with his commanding ability that only helps to breed confidence in the defenders in front of him. I’m of the belief that we should be scouting around for a new prospect that can shadow Forster for a couple of seasons before taking the reigns as we phase him out, however it is vital that we supplement a very young squad with top level experience wherever possible and Forster is the definition of that.

PAPADOPOULOS: False. Forster has been solid since his return to the hoops, but it’s still far too early to be sure that he is a longer-term solution to the problem between the sticks. Once he has played out his loan there will be enough evidence to make a better decision on him. It’s also likely that he won’t come very cheap, and for that money there may be better options out there.

Verdict: True 3 – 1 False. Alex is the only doubter of Forster as a long term solution. While it’s easy to be sold on the big man in a mix of performance and nostalgia, it’s a valid point that he hasn’t been extensively tested so far. Celtic have been dominant in most games with a defence that isn’t leaving much to chance. That being said, he has dealt with most threats to his goal so far – he saved a penalty on his first game back (is it too harsh to mention the fact that the rebound went in?). The jury might still be out for Alex but the rest of our panel are very happy with the idea of Forster guarding our goal for a few years to come.

In a midfield consisting of Brown, McGregor and Christie, Brown is the least valuable player in terms of on-field contribution

COYNE: False. He doesn’t do a lot of pretty stuff but the chasing down, the hassling, the positional sense and the ball winning skills of the captain are often overlooked or ignored altogether. I can see the argument for leaving him out for certain games but if he is not in our midfield doing those dirty bits then I genuinely don’t see anyone else in there who’d be capable of that. I know we all love expansive, pretty football but you need one hard bastard in there to win the ball back and set the tone or your more creative players simply won’t see enough of the ball. 

DIVERS: False. Scott Brown is a gifted footballer, who has led the squad fantastically for years now as we gobble up trophies. However, he has his shortcomings. The great debate rages on that Brown should be phased out and I would typically fall into the ‘Phase him out’ camp. But that’s purely on the basis that he can no longer complete a 60+ game season where he features in 45 of them. That’s not advisable for a player 10 years younger than Brown, let alone a 34 year old operating in the engine room of a high performing midfield.

Brown offers the team something entirely different to McGregor and Christie. Where Christie presses and snarls, winning the ball back and simultaneously opening up opposition defences, Brown controls the tempo of matches. Not scared to put his foot through the ball and clear it the length of the pitch when under pressure or to simply slow play down with some backwards passes when the match dictates. McGregor is all action and seamlessly links the defence to the attack through his bursting runs and incisive passing. But when McGregor bursts through, Brown is the anchor. The man sweeping up, covering space and making sure we’re never left over exposed. In Europe especially this is invaluable. While Brown may not be as all action as the two, I think it is unfair to say he offers less than the other two. 

MCGINLAY: True. When it comes to actual quality of play Scott Brown is a level behind Christie and McGregor. He offers an organisation, leadership and many of the intangibles that allow those around him to flourish, however if you were to push Christie back into the 6, McGregor in the hole and Ntcham in the 10, our midfield creativity would go on to another level at this time. What I would say is that Callum McGregor on current form due to his fatigue is probably behind Brown at this point but long term and generally, the statement is true.

PAPADOPOULOS: True. Not meaning any disrespect at all to Scott Brown, but from that three he is the one with the least footballing ability right now. You cannot compare his leadership qualities and his ability to drag the entire team by the balls when he has to with Callum Mcgregor’s passing or Ryan Christie’s press and ability in front of goal. But it does contrast with what they bring in terms of pure beautiful footballing excellence.

Verdict: True 2 – 2 False. In all fairness, this was a nightmare of a question so a draw is fair from the panel. You’re talking about 3 very talented and different midfielders so comparison isn’t the easiest. ‘On-field contributions’ means stripping everything else away and looking how they perform and just as many times as Brown has lacked technically in contrast with the others he has dug his heels in and led the team through a tricky game. On form, he is a machine – albeit in a different and less attractive way. Is it time to phase Brown out over the season? Probably. Are McGregor and Christie more technically gifted? Probably. Does that make Brown less of a footballer? Absolutely not.

Ntcham will be sold in January

COYNE: True. I just have a feeling about this one. It’s a pity too as he’s rediscovered some of his better form this season albeit he is having to mostly show that from the bench so far. Comments from the summer suggested he’d be open to a move and with Celtic well stocked in midfield you’d probably be safe enough to assume that if he’s still not starting come January and a club comes in with a decent offer that we’ll sell. Personally I hope it doesn’t come to that as he’s a class operator when on form and a great alternative midfield option.

DIVERSFalse. No chance. Ntcham is an incredibly talented football player who adds real quality to our midfield. He has featured more under Lennon since his comments in the summer were “cleared up” and has so far proved vital at coming on in critical moments of big matches. As the season progresses and the matches intensify, I can see him playing a more prominent role within the team. To lose him in January would be short-sighted and could potentially leave us exposed should any of our current starting midfield become injured or dip in form. 

MCGINLAY: False. I think that the board will try their best to cash in on an asset in Ntcham whilst he is in terrific form and I have no doubt there will be suitors, however I am of the genuine belief that Neil Lennon has won him round. I have always loved to watch Ntcham, not least because of his intelligence to link up with the forward line and to play passes that simply no one else in our side can match and I think Lennon sees that now too. It will be a struggle but I think Lennon will see Ntcham as too important an asset to lose, we need to play our part though and make a dent in European competition to keep players like Ntcham eager to stick around.

PAPADOPOULOS: True. I do not want this to be the case for a second, but deep down I can’t help but feel it will be. When used correctly Olivier Ntcham is a wonderful player, and I really like the way he has been used recently by Neil Lennon, bringing him on to give a push as a second half substitute. If he come into form consistently this season he will be away for big money in either January or Summer.

Verdict: True 2 – 2 False. A third tie from our panel. Despite differing views, I’d agree with most points made. Celtic letting Ntcham leave, especially in January, is a bad move. However, the Frenchman has already said he wants a move to test himself. If he doesn’t believe he’s getting that in Scotland, a second consecutive drop from the Champions League third round qualifier will seal the decision for him. Hopefully Lennon can persuade the talented midfielder to stay but at this point I feel that the question is more when than if.

If you have any statements that you’d like to put to our future panels, let us know in the comments below, on the Patreon app or alternatively on Twitter @90MinuteCynic or @SJRussell23. Thanks 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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