Guest Blogger Kieran Devlin (@DevlinKieran) Evaluates Celtic’s Aims for this Season and their Hopes for the Future
On the 29th August, Celtic celebrated their return to the Champions’ League group stages with a convincing 2-0 victory against Swedish champions Helsinborgs, to the tune of nearly 60,000 slightly intoxicated green-and-white clad supporters cheering, singing and dancing their tone-deaf hearts out. It was a proud moment to be a Celtic fan; our team was back where they belong, once again amongst the highest echelons of competitive European football. We were quite literally doing The Huddle in the Champions’ League.
Three days later, Celtic drew two each with Hibs at home. This result was due to many contributing factors; it was an under-strength, and notably youth-focused, Celtic side due to multiple injuries and key players being rested; we were very unlucky with a number of chances; we suffered from poor finishing in others, and even weaker defending; perhaps most vitally, it was a confident, organised and professional performance from a highly criticised Hibs team (that 5-1 Scottish Cup Final defeat to Hearts will probably be a Maroon-coloured dagger in the hearts, if you pardon the pun, of Hibs fans for decades) beginning to finally make an impact in the SPL, with exciting talents being showcased in the likes of Leigh Griffiths and Paul Cairney.
These factors were deemed irrelevant by some members of our support that fateful Saturday, and, come the full-time whistle, there were boos echoing around Celtic Park. Boos? Directed towards a team which had just battled Celtic into the Champions’ League group stages for the first time in four years three days previous? This was not such a proud moment to be a Celtic fan.
This, Sevconian in nature, self-involved arrogance severely annoys me. This expectancy that Celtic will pummel every team 5-0 in all 38 of their SPL fixtures this season is an insufferably dismissive delusion; I doubt Celtic will walk the league as quickly as everyone believes. They can if they want, but their minds are on something else, something I too, would argue should be our primary focus for this season. In case my less than subtle hints haven’t worked, I am, of course, referring to the Champions’ League, or at any rate, a good stab at Europe. Celtic fans must make a choice; do they want to win the SPL by February, maybe have another go at the Treble, and try to finish the SPL season undefeated? Or do they want to give the likes of Barcelona, Spartak Moskva and Benfica their complete focus, and really give them a game, with 60,000, once again slightly intoxicated, green-and-white clad supporters roaring them on to…who knows where?
I am most certainly a fan of the latter. Not only does this mean that we give our all in the Champions League, it also means that we get to blood our youngsters in the SPL; the likes of Tony Watt, Filip Twardzik, Marcus Fraser, Joe Chalmers, Dylan McGeouch, Jackson Irvine and, when he comes back from injury, Paul George, are Celtic’s stars of the future. This policy of progressively bringing through the teenagers in order to, as Neil Lennon himself commented, ‘make our own heroes’, is one which has been consistently thrown at the support from the Celtic media, simultaneously implying that our youth development system is the replacement for any flashy transfer policy, but also highlighting our dedication to making sure that these players have the ability and confidence at playing at SPL level as early as possible.
I am excited by Twardzik’s passing, clearly seen as Ki’s replacement by Lennon, enthralled by Watt’s strength, speed and technical ability, and encouraged by Fraser’s no-nonsense solidity. I look forward to seeing these players make their mark on our SPL season, and hope they continue to start games, while constantly developing into Lawwell’s ‘Champion’s League quality’ players.
I understand the argument made that many people, due to financial or time constraints, cannot attend our grand European nights, and that they feel it’s unjust that they have to put up with a worse quality of football being played during the games which they can attend. I do agree that this is unfair, but I believe that it is a necessary evil (if you can call seeing our young players improve into future greats an evil) if we are to make significant strides in perhaps advancing in the Champions League, and developing our young players by incorporating them into first team action on a regular basis, a la Sporting and Ajax.
I view this as two steps forward and one step back; by sacrificing our potentially record-breaking season, we can divert our complete concentration on the Champions’ League, while allowing our talented teenagers the game time they need to turn them into the quality of players who will inspire fear and awe into the likes of Spartak’s manager, rather than provoking condescension. This is a huge and exciting season for Celtic; a turning point in our 125 year history. We just have to wake up and see the bigger picture.