On the road this week so today’s blog is by author Stephen O’Donnell:
Pick the bones out of that! I didn’t see Legia against St. Patrick’s Athletic in the previous qualifying round, but by all accounts they were fairly unimpressive, even in winning 5 – 0 in Dublin. I was even tempted to have a wee bet on Celtic to win by more than one goal on Wednesday night, and by the time my hastily arranged subscription to Premier Sports had come through things were looking good after Callum McGregor’s early strike.
Sadly, it didn’t last. It’s a measure of how poorly Celtic played on the night that they were lucky to escape from Warsaw with a 4 – 1 defeat because, let’s face it, but for Fraser Forster and some wayward penalty taking, it could have been worse.
As expected, it didn’t take long for the Celtic Newsnow stream to start filling up with tales of anguish and pontification from the mainstream media. From AEK Athens to Maribor, the list of European failures at certain other clubs (including one that is now defunct) is long and distinguished, but nothing gets the SMSM in full gloating mode like a painful Celtic defeat on the Continent.
On Wednesday we were reminded about Artmedia Bratislava, Utrecht, Karagandy etc., I even heard Neuchatel Xamax being mentioned at one point. The key of course is that there is no context and analysis provided when these previous losses are dragged up, Celtic supporters simply have to suffer such painful reminders.
This lack of constructive analysis is a pity because there are comparisons and parallels that can be usefully drawn with previous chastening experiences in Europe. It seems that new Celtic managers are particularly vulnerable to them; Tony Mowbray initially enjoyed a successful preseason, including winning the Wembley Cup, but his first competitive game was a 1 – 0 home defeat to Dynamo Moscow. Neil Lennon had Utrecht and Braga, and of course Gordon Strachan had Artmedia.
It’s what happened in Bratislava that I think has most relevance to Wednesday night – a new manager in post, replacing a club legend, trying to introduce a more cerebral approach, a squad clearly divided amongst those who are still pining for the previous incumbent and those who want to move on and embrace the new manager’s methods… the parallels in fact are numerous and really quite striking. Hopefully this is a sign that Ronny, like WGS before him, will turn this early setback around and grow into the role of Celtic manager.
One of the most important aspects of managerial success is the chemistry between the boss and his players. This lack of a connection in the dressing-room and on the training field is the reason John Collins failed at Hibs; it’s why Mowbray didn’t last out a season at Celtic. If the chemistry isn’t right then the team will lack focus, motivation and game intelligence at crucial times in the season, and these traits were all conspicuous by their absence in both Warsaw and Bratislava.
But chemistry takes time, it didn’t come immediately to either Lennon or Strachan, and Ronny Deila still has the opportunity to get his progressive ideas across and win the respect and admiration of his squad. If that happens then, like Lenny and WGS before him, he will go on to lead Celtic to domestic and European success.
In the meantime, there is the second leg still to come. If the parallels with Artmedia and Karagandy are to be heard in the media again then Legia could yet be in for a tough night next week. The tie is most certainly not over and it will slowly be dawning on the players who let themselves down on Wednesday that there is only one way to make up for what happened.
Pride and defiance have to come to the fore again, and the situation is still retrievable. All the ingredients are there for a potentially famous night at Murrayfield next Wednesday.
Follow Stephen O’Donnell on twitter @stephenodauthor