We played at Hampden on League Cup duty for the game after the death of Bertie Auld’s great pal, Jimmy Johnstone, Celtic players wore a number 7 on their shorts to mark his passing. There was so much emotion around the club that week, Gordon Strachan later said that winning his first trophy as Celtic manager that day was second on his thoughts, they simply could not lose with emotions among the community already so raw.
There is a symmetry with tomorrow’s game. It’s a League Cup semi-final, not the final itself, but Ange Postecoglou is also chasing his first trophy as Celtic manager and Celtic will wear Bertie’s number 10 on their shorts. If they play with a fraction of the guile and fight that Bertie showed when he pulled on those white shorts, St Johnstone are wasting their time showing up.
Celtic have won 12 successive games at Hampden, St Johnstone won on their four visit last season. The Perth side have struggled to score goals this season but remain a formidable defensive outfit who know how to win cup games, albeit against lesser opponents than Celtic.
That record of Celtic’s will count for little as for many who will play for Celtic tomorrow, this will be their first visit to the national stadium. It is a big game for the captain, too. Hampden has provided Callum McGregor with fond memories for years, he knows every inch of that pitch and can own it tomorrow. This League Cup offers him his first opportunity to climb the steps to collect a trophy as captain. I cannot see past Celtic tomorrow.
Newco provided their fans with a recognised name, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, who starred for Rangers before heading to Arsenal then Barcelona. Earlier this week, I suggested a manager should be, “tactically gifted, an effective communicator of ideas and instructions, as well as a working knowledge of a value market to strengthen your squad”.
van Bronckhorst was manager of Feyenoord for four years before a year in China. His first act as manager was to sign a loanee already at Feyenoord, Colin Kazim-Richards. Hmmm. He won the Dutch League, the latter by a point from Ajax, who played 19 European games that season, 13 more than Feyenoord. He resigned from Feyenoord having subsequently lost the league by 17 and then 21 points, without leaving evidence of being tactically talented. An 11th place finish in China left no one stressing about his departure. The Netherlands in not a value market, it is the most monitored country on the planet, every time a kid there bounces a ball, three scouts turn round and take a notebook out their pockets.
It continues to amaze me how appointing a famous player as manager turns otherwise sensible people into adherents of superstitious gambling. Evidence van Bronckhorst will succeed at Newco does not exist, this is a huge gamble, all the man has is name recognition and a title eked out against an exhausted Ajax team. Newco remain at their natural territory, the roulette wheel.