Sep 102014
 

The Legend Lives On

 

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Twenty-nine years ago today, John Stein C.B.E (more commonly referred to simply as “Big Jock”) died a short time after his Scotland team drew one-all with Wales at Ninian Park, Cardiff. He was sixty-two years of age.

However, whilst his famous physical presence may be gone from this Earth, the spirit of Jock Stein certainly lives on almost three decades after his death. In fact, Stein is held in such high regard – not only by the supporters of Celtic Football Club but by many around the footballing world – that his spirit will likely outlive us all, offering a fine example for aspiring players and managers to follow as long as the beautiful game continues to be played.

Comparatively speaking, few individuals are remembered by those outside of their friends and family long after their death, and many of those who are have their respective infamy or notoriety to thank for this. After all, it was Shakespeare who said that “The evil that men do lives after them, the good that men do is oft interred with their bones…”, but I suppose I do not need to recall the words of a sixteenth century playwright to tell you that Jock Stein was a truly remarkable figure.

However, it is true that the sporting arena often reflects the wider world around it. Heroes and villains are remembered whilst many other characters fade with the natural passing of the sands of time. It is also probably true that it is easier to be remembered as a villain than as a hero – one particularly bad tackle, glaring miss, ill thought out celebration or brow-raising transfer can ensure you that status. Conversely, football produces so many goods and greats that it is a much more difficult task indeed to climb the proverbial ladder to the sphere of the true legends. Often it takes the entirety of one’s career to reach such heady echelons. It is the culmination of a life’s work, and that is why it is such a special accolade to achieve.

 

Stein, Jock - Pics - Kerrydale Street

 

When Stein took the reins at Celtic Park in the spring of 1965, he became only the fourth manager in the then seventy-seven year history of Celtic Football Club, following on from Willie Maley, Jimmy McStay and Jimmy McGrory before him. The first of these three was a managerial behemoth in his own right, and the only man to lead Celtic whom I personally believe can be held in similar regard to Jock Stein.

Intriguingly, there were some notable similarities between the two men – both scored only two Celtic goals each despite making almost two hundred and fifty appearances between them, both learnt much from tactical errors they witnessed during their playing days, both could be immensely stubborn and both had famous confrontations with referees whom they felt were not carrying out their duties as they should have been.

Equally, both won the Scottish League Championship in their first full season as Celtic manager and both would see their respective sides break records with regards consecutive league titles (Maley’s side winning an unprecedented six in a row, a record which stood until it was broken by Stein’s side on their way to nine in a row). However, there were some clear differences between the two also which are worthy of mention, particularly regarding their respective approaches to training – an activity Stein was always heavily involved in (to an almost revolutionary degree) but Maley never took charge of – but I digress.

Anyway, whilst the two men were each successful if not legendary Celtic players, both would go on to become legendary Celtic managers.

Regrettably, the opposite could be said for the man whom Stein took over from at Celtic Park in 1965, Jimmy McGrory, whom most would agree was one of – if not the – greatest player ever to pull on a Celtic shirt. Yet, he only enjoyed relatively rare successes in his managerial role (this can, to some degree, be attributed to his friendly character and continual interference from the hierarchy at the Club, but that is a discussion for another day).

Regardless, when Jock Stein took charge, Celtic had not won a solitary piece of silverware in almost eight years, with their last triumph being the famous seven-one victory over Rangers in the autumn of 1957. Of course, this would all change less than two months later when two goals from Bertie Auld and one from Billy McNeill in front of over one hundred thousand spectators would bring the Scottish Cup back to Parkhead. Having reached the semi-finals of the European Cup Winners’ Cup twice in the early to mid-sixties under McGrory, it was clear there was some potential within the squad which Stein inherited. However, whilst change was certainly in the air, few could have predicted the level of success the Celts would go on to enjoy in the years to come.

 

Jock Stein - The Ghodfather

 

In all, Jock Stein would lead his Celtic sides to ten Scottish League Championship titles, eight Scottish Cup wins, six Scottish League Cup triumphs and, of course, one famous European Cup success. Added to this were the disappointments of a European Cup Final defeat, as well as two other losses in the semi-finals of the same competition which, hurtful though they undoubtedly were, with hindsight only emphasise the fact that Jock Stein had Celtic dining at and around the top table of European Football for a period approaching a decade in length.

During his tenure, he oversaw 690 competitive matches, 483 of which Celtic won – a win ratio of seventy percent. Losing less than one hundred times in all competitions, Jock Stein’s Celtic ended his thirteen year stewardship with a positive goal difference of well over one thousand, having scored 1790 goals whilst conceding only 660, a fine record indeed.

As I mentioned at the start of this article, Jock Stein continues to be both respected and admired by very many people within the footballing world. The style of play which he attempted to forge into the very hearts of his sides not only broke down the rigorous tenets of Catenaccio, but reminded us all that “the beautiful game” can indeed be a thing of beauty. Yes, immense levels of determination are required, as is some degree of physicality and grit, but Stein was a great believer that his players should try to entertain the thousands of paying spectators every time they took to the field. He was also a man who advocated openness and despised sectarianism, and yet even now, there are those people who attempt to besmirch the character of Stein, but such slurs fall on deaf ears.

Make no mistake about it, Jock’s incredible legacy has never been and nor ever shall be sullied by those who continually attempt to lay unfounded accusations at the feet of a footballing giant.

Instead, the spirit and story of Jock Stein will live on through Celtic Football Club and its supporters, whom he loved with all of his heart. The fact that his name adorns the stand at the traditional “Celtic End” of Celtic Park and his statue – European Cup in hand – has been given pride of place at the front of the ground is a lasting testament to this.

Brother Walfrid may have set Celtic Football Club on its path to greatness and Willie Maley guided it to many fantastic domestic successes, but it was Jock Stein who led the Club, players and supporters alike, to its pinnacle – a brief time when everything Celtic was the envy of the footballing world – and for that, he wholly deserves his sporting immortality.

And so, I shall leave you with some quotations not only from the great man himself, but from some of those men (many of whom were great in their own right) who played and worked alongside him over the years.

 

“My proudest moment? Every Friday morning when I look at the board at Celtic Park and see my name on the team sheet for tomorrow’s game.” – Jock Stein (as Celtic captain)

“Without fans who pay at the turnstile, football is nothing. Sometimes we are inclined to forget that. The only chance of bringing them into stadiums is if they are entertained by what happens on the football field.” – Jock Stein

“The best place to defend is in the opposition penalty box.” – Jock Stein

“Celtic jerseys are not for second best, they don’t shrink to fit inferior players.” – Jock Stein

“It is up to us, to everyone at Celtic Park, to build up our own legends. We don’t want to live with history, to be compared with legends from the past. We must make new legends.” – Jock Stein

 

Jock Stein with fans 1977 Celtic open day

 

 

“I am proud to say that I knew Jock Stein as a manager, as a colleague and as a friend…he was the greatest manager in British football…men like Jock will live forever in the memory.” – Sir Alex Ferguson

“A great manager, my pal for years. a great man as well, with a heart of gold who’d give his last shilling. Aye, Stein he’s the best!” – Bill Shankley

“The greatest manager in the history of the game. You tell me a manager anywhere in the world who did something comparable, winning the European Cup with a Glasgow District XI.” - Hugh McIlvaney (Journalist)

“Jock Stein was the greatest manager ever to draw breath. There was no one who came anywhere close to him.” – Jock Wallace (Rangers manager, 1972-78)

“Jock Stein put us on the park afraid of no one.” - Bobby Murdoch

 

Oh, to see his likes again.

 

 

Sep 022014
 

Last Minute Shopping Remains A Risky Business

 

 

Yesterday evening at 11pm, the summer transfer window “slammed” shut.

Previous to this, we were treated to all of the stereotypes transfer deadline day could throw at us; groups of people standing behind sports reporters trying to get themselves on television; all of the bizarre buildup to the arrival of Jim White and his yellow tie (followed by the nationwide realisation that he’s still rather annoying); and I’m sure Harry Redknapp probably did an interview from the front seat of his car at some point too. However, it was not any of these stereotypes which worried me, but the apparent insistence of those at Celtic Park to leave things to the last minute once again.

Since the 2011-12 season, Celtic have signed the following players on, or within a couple of days of, deadline day (including January transfers):

Leigh Griffiths (22 apps, 8 goals – £1 million paid – still with the Club)

Nir Bitton (18 apps, 1 goal – £700,000 paid – still with the Club)

Teemu Pukki (27 apps, 7 goals – £2,400,000 paid – now at Brondby on loan)

Max Oberschmidt (youth goalkeeper – loan from Fulham – now at Energie Cottbus)

Efe Ambrose (68 apps, 5 goals – £1,500,000 paid – still with the Club)

Miku (11 apps, 2 goals – loan from Getafe – now at Al-Gharafa)

Lubos Kamenar (goalkeeper – 0 apps – loan from Nantes – now at Gyor)

Lassad (14 apps, 3 goals – released by Deportivo La Coruna – now at Arouca)

Viktor Noring (youth goalkeeper, 0 apps – loan from Trelleborgs FF – now at SC Heerenveen)

Mohammed Bangura (11 apps, 0 goals – £2,200,000 paid – now at Istanbul BB)

Badr El Kaddouri (6 apps, 1 goal – loan from Dynamo Kiev – now a free agent)

Pawel Brozek (3 apps, 0 goals – loan from Trabzonspor – now at Wisla Krakow)

 

 

As you can see, only three of the men listed above remain Celtic players as I write this (their names are listed in bold). Finnish striker Teemu Pukki is currently on loan to Brondby (which would technically take this total to four), but as the Danish side have the option to buy him at the end of his loan period, it is likely he will not be a Celtic player for much longer should he succeed in his new surroundings.

The total cost of the above transfer fees (excluding any loan expenditure) is £7,800,000 – a figure which brought Leigh Griffiths and Nir Bitton (both of whom have shown some promise in the Hoops but have yet to really prove themselves), Efe Ambrose (the enigmatic liability) and Mohamed Bangura (who never scored a goal) to Parkhead.

Of the six loan deals listed, these players made a combined total of twenty appearances between them, scoring three goals, although it must be noted that three of these men were goalkeepers. Lastly, free agent Lassad showed one or two moments of class before disappearing into the footballing ether.

Now, with yesterday’s signing of Serbian striker Stefan Scepovic, the figure of £7,800,000 has risen to £10,100,000. Of course, I hope he is a great success at Celtic, and should he start to score goals left, right and centre, I have no doubts the vast majority of the support will quickly “forgive and forget” regarding the Getafe saga.

Celtic have most certainly been toothless up front thus far this season, averaging only one goal scored from every ten attempts they have had, and therefore the signing of a striker is a very welcome one indeed.

However, it could have been better. The John Guideitti affair rumbles on, and it remains unclear at this point whether or not he will join the Club on loan from Manchester City (and whether or not he will be eligible to compete in the Europa League if he does, which now looks unlikely). If the deal does fall through, questions will be asked of the decision makers at Celtic Park, for the Swedish striker could have been brought in earlier than deadline day, nullifying much of the risk with regards a situation such as this arising.

Increasingly, it does appear Celtic and the relevant domestic governing body had fulfilled their obligations on time, but Manchester City’s inability to hand over a particular form quickly may have been to blame. This is immensely regrettable, but as we know, agreements such as this often carry much higher levels of uncertainty when they are left so late in the transfer window.

 

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Equally, whether one casts their attention to Scepovic or Mubarak, thoughts will linger about what could have been had they arrived prior to our two eliminations from the Champions League qualifiers.

Everyone is aware, to some degree, of the financial and footballing constraints those in the hierarchy at Celtic Football Club must work within. Scotland is not regarded by many footballers as a particularly desirable country in which to play the game, and without the lure of Champions League football on offer, a move to Celtic for many sporting mercenaries loses a large chunk of its appeal.

Also, the Club simply cannot compete with the wages which are available in several other countries, particularly those just across the border in England. Whilst someone like Radamel Falcao could never be considered a realistic target for Celtic, the fact that he will have earned more money in the time it takes you to read this article than many hardworking football supporters will earn in a week only highlights the disparity in the modern game which continues to grow at a frankly alarming rate.

Regardless, it is clearly now difficult to attract players to Scotland. However, this should not dissuade us from trying. Simultaneously, we should always be on the lookout for homegrown talents at other Scottish clubs, aiming to blend the best which this country has to offer with some shrewd, carefully chosen purchases from the continent and beyond.

Being realistic, the negotiation of potential footballing transfers will be far more difficult in practice than in theory, and this is something we supporters must remember occasionally. However, the reason Chief Executives and other employees are paid their salaries is to deal with such issues, overcoming possible obstacles and ensuring the best agreements are made for player and club alike.

However, the facts regarding the current situation are clear.

Celtic spent £2,300,000 this summer on transfers (excluding loan fees) whilst receiving £11,500,000 in turn – a difference of over nine million pounds. We failed to invest prior to not one, but two eliminations from the footballing and financial “promised land” of the Champions League group stages, and we have paid the price for it.

Conversely, we managed to hold on to Virgil van Dijk despite interest from England.

So, all in all, was it too little from Celtic this summer? Perhaps. Was it too late? We’ll see soon enough.

 

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