Celtic 5-0 Dundee: Ledley relishes captaincy as gap widens

Ledley_2905590

(skysports.com)

Joe Ledley put in a mammoth performance in a week where he stated he wants to remain at Celtic for a long time. He took Scott Brown’s place as captain ahead of Kelvin Wilson and Fraser Forster to lead the team to another fine domestic performance.

Lennon rested many of his starters for this match against Dundee – a side struggling in isolation at the very bottom of the table. The game highlighted the increasingly dull nature of results in the SPL, despite an exciting game that featured a red card, and penalty, five goals, as well as a Dundee goal that was called offside.

Other than the side Lennon put out against Inverness prior to the Juventus game, this starting eleven was one in which Lennon left the most of his top twelve or thirteen on the bench or out of the squad entirely. Commons, Matthews, Samaras, Mulgrew, Lustig and Brown all missed out.

Formation and Lineup

The now regular 4-3-3 system was the one that Celtic began with. Ambrose started at right back, and Kayal anchored the three in front of the back four. McGeouch got a rare start on the Israeli’s right hand side, and Forrest, Hooper and Stokes formed the front three.

Celtic vs Dundee 5-0

Celtic’s 4-3-3

McGeouch played wider on the right, whereas Ledley stayed more tucked in, and let Izaguirre overlap, maintaining the width when Forrest cut inside. Kayal began the game solidly, and is generally very capable of playing as the rock in the middle of the system, although Wanyama is clearly first choice for that role.

Dundee start strong

Dundee troubled Celtic in the opening moments of the match. They had a free kick which found the back of the net, only to have it ruled offside. Celtic didn’t look like dominating the match and the three in midfield were badly outnumbered by Dundee’s five men in the middle of the park.

Ledley’s goal came from a Rab Douglas mistake, but Dundee continued to trouble Celtic at times, and the game didn’t look like getting out of hand for the visitors in the opening period.

Wanyama came on just before the half to replace Ambrose, who appeared to have picked up a knock. In all truth, it was a change that added incredible stability to Celtic. Ambrose, while good going forward, had given the ball away while attempting to dribble, on more than one occasion.

Wanyama stayed at right back; a testament to Lennon’s desire to keep both units of three intact and give Kayal and McGeouch the chance to see out the game in their natural positions.

Red Card 

Lockwood came on for Dundee at the half and was dismissed three minutes later following his denial of Hooper’s blatant goal scoring opportunity.

sport.stv.tv

McGeouch celebrates the third of Celtic’s goals (sport.stv.tv)

Somewhat surprisingly, James Forrest stepped up to the spot, however his conversion was as good as side foot penalties come. Shortly after, McGeouch converted a sublime ball from Stokes, who lifted it over the top for the young Scot. Just minutes earlier, Forrest and Stokes had swapped sides, and it was the Northern Irishman who was causing the trouble for Dundee down the left.

Stokes has been in fine form since his return, and although unable to find the score sheet, this was one of his best performances of the season. His running and confidence on the ball opened up all sorts of channels for Celtic. After moving to the left side of the pitch, his link up play with Joe Ledley was eventually the largest contributing factor for Celtic’s prolific  performance.

Tom Rogic

The young Aussie replaced Emilio Izaguirre in the 65th minute; a substitution that changed the shape from 4-3-3 to 3-4-3. Wanyama, Wilson and Rogne stayed at the back, while Rogic joined Kayal in the middle, and Ledley moved out left.

While not quite as impressive as in the win against Caley, he still played well, spreading the ball about the pitch and helping to maintain the width of the side. If there is one criticism, it was that his final ball wasn’t quite sharp enough.

This is simply a product of inexperience and lack of polish which will come in the next three to four years.

However, based on some of his past performances for Central Coast, it appears that he shines in more open games where he is able to run at the opposition defense. In this case, Dundee were sitting deep, and there wasn’t much for him and Kayal to do but switch play in search for open channels.

Familiar Game Flow

Ledley added another beauty, and then set up Hooper for what was the best goal of the five. With four second half goals, the patterns of victory for Celtic have become more predictable as the season goes on.

The first half of this game yielded small amounts of quality football, as the game was less open than was expected. Following the red card however, Celtic ran riot round Dundee, scoring four, and always looking threatening.

The remainder of Celtic’s games are effectively irrelevant on the rest of the league campaign. Taking a positive stance on the state of the SPL, if things are to remain as they are for years to come, the absence of any opposition to Celtic’s title chances mean an increased focus and importance on Europe will be both welcome and affordable.

Most influential January transfers: #5 – #1

transfersgalore

(sports.in.msn.com)

Here it is: part two of our top ten most influential January transfers for 2013. In this edition, we reveal who we believe will prove to have the greatest impact with their new teams.

Don’t forget our criteria for the list: what impact will the player have in the next five months, how that impact will extend into the future, and how much of a bargain the transfer will prove to be. If you need a refresher as to who was in part one of our top ten, have a look here. Otherwise relax, and enjoy a complete summary of our top five most influential January transfers.

5. Didier Drogba (Shanghai Shenhua to Galatasaray)

Drogba’s Chinese stint with Shanghai Shenshua was neither lengthy, nor prosperous. It was rumoured that a return to England was imminent, however Turkish side Galatasaray snapped him up for five million euros before anyone else could sink their teeth in.

The Ivorian’s impact on Chelsea’s Champions league win last season cannot be overstated. With Galatasaray having more than a realistic chance of progression to the last eight of the competition, a vision of Drogba doing the same for Gala as he did for Chelsea was no doubt in Faith Terim’s mind when he made the signing.

drogba

(goal.com)

Drogba’s addition to an already able bodied list of strikers will make the Turkish outfit capable of scoring against anyone. Baros, Elmander, Yilmaz and Drogba are all well known names. However, if Terim is expecting Drogba to replicate the form, passion and inspirational play of last year’s competition, he may be solemnly disappointed. It’s unreasonable to expect the same effort two years in a row from an aging legend, and furthermore, unlikely he will stay for long at the club.

4. Demba Ba (Newcastle United to Chelsea) 

What is there to stay about Fernando Torres that hasn’t already been said. Failure? Flop? Waste of money? The list goes on. And so when Chelsea sold Daniel Sturridge and brought in Demba Ba for a lowly fee (lowly for Chelsea, anyways) of seven million pounds, Chelsea fans must have been ecstatic.

Ba Chelsea

(telegraph.co.uk)

Although money isn’t really an issue at Stamford Bridge in these days, bringing in Ba is the best piece of business in recent times for the blues. Chelsea’s system requires a lone striker who can finish swiftly and capitalize on service from those behind him. A striker in any team is meant to score goals, and while some systems rely on that notion more than others, in no formation is a striker’s job more clear-cut than in the one Chelsea play.

This season, Ba has scored fourteen goals in league play; only four less than the prolific RVP. Torres’ count on the other hand, lingers at seven.

It’s really a no-brainer who Chelsea ought to start, and their need of a striker who can simply and purely score goals is long overdue. In Ba it seems, they have found a player who can fill that role.

3. Wesley Sneijder (Internazionale to Galatasaray)

Once thought of as amongst the best players in the world, Sneijder’s fall from utter stardom has been quite something. Over the last two years he has struggled to fit in at Inter, and it was no surprise that he left Italy. What was somewhat of a surprise was that he was on his way to Turkey and Galatasaray.

wesdog

(sportsnewsireland.com)

It wasn’t long ago that Manchester United were chasing his signature for the hefty sum of more than twenty million. His value has diminished since that time however, and Galatasaray bought him for ten million pounds, making a statement of ambition.

Terim likes to deploy a standard 4-4-2 with his team, however it’s difficult to see Sneijder fitting the mould as one of two central midfielders well. A change of shape may be needed to accommodate his attacking prowess in the side.

At 28 years of age, he should be in the prime of his footballing career. However, even if Sneijder struggles to recapture the same form he was in two years ago, he will still be a superb asset for Galatasaray to have and could help them to re-establish themselves as a European power, as well as dominate the Turkish game.

2. Lewis Holtby (Schalke 04 to Tottenham)

How Tottenham managed to capture Lewis Holtby for the modest fee of one and a half million pounds and avoid too much media chatter about the incredible bargain they had just received is astonishing.

Holtby was certainly one of, if not Schalke’s crown jewel and to sell him for that low of a fee to Tottenham, even after making an advancement on the pre-contract agreement doesn’t make much sense. Their replacement for him is the Brazilian Michel Bastos on loan, however, his services are unlikely to provide the same dynamism and ability to run the match that Holtby gave.

Lewis_Holtby_4

(talksport.co.uk)

So as we criticize Schalke for throwing away most of their hope of a last eight spot in the Champions league, Tottenham have gained an invaluable asset.

With Sandro injured, AVB has already begun Holtby’s integration into the squad. Tottenham face battles with Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton and Liverpool for two Champions league spots, Tottenham need all the firepower that they can muster to secure a spot.

As big an impact as Holtby will have for the remainder of the season, it’s the future that we look to as the real prize in the bargain. As one of Germany’s best, most promising young players, he may well develop into one of the best in England. In Tottenham, he has the club to get sufficient game time at a high level, but without the same weight of expectation that comes with the names Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and United.

1. Mario Balotelli (Manchester City to AC Milan)

We bet you were wondering when you would see this name on the list. As controversial as the choice for number one is, we believe Balotelli being back in Italy will be as good as anything for the young maverick.

bibo

(itv.com)

At Manchester City there was an indescribable feeling that whenever Balotelli set foot on the pitch, people were hoping for antics more than they were goals. It was an environment where Balotelli was pushed aside to make room for Aguero and Tevez, and you can only imagine how he might have felt about Tevez’s return last spring after his disgraceful run of behaviour. Of course Balotelli had his chances there, but a personality like his is one that needs the spotlight and reliance of others and that’s something he never received in England.

Now that he is out of striking distance of the English press, his focus will sharpen. Milan seems an excellent fit for him, and a partnership with Stephan El Shaarawy could become the best young strike duo in the world. Against Barcelona in the Champions league he will provide a physical presence enough to hassle Pique, Puyol or Mascherano, and he possesses the ability to score from nothing, as we saw in the Euros against Germany. Furthermore, he’ll help to recuperate Milan’s wavering domestic form.

There is no denying that Mario Balotelli is a supreme talent, and we believe that his addition to Milan will provide more goals, less antics, and a perfect platform for him to shine. And if it doesn’t, who ever said influence had to be positive?

Don’t agree with our top 10? Think we’ve left someone out that deserves to be in? Tell us your thoughts by submitting a comment

Celtic 3-0 Raith Rovers: Penalty opens doors to victory

Kris+Commons+celebrates+after+scoring+a+penalty+against+Raith+Rovers

Commons celebrates opening the scoring from the spot with the backdrop the open side of Raith Rover’s stadium. (dailyrecord.co.uk)

There was to be no dream Old Firm matchup in either of this year’s cups after Rangers lost 3-0 to Dundee United the night prior to Celtic’s match. The league leaders were away to Raith at one of the more old fashioned grounds in the country: Stark’s Park.

After losing to St. Mirren last weekend, everyone at Celtic knew the importance of progression to the quarterfinals of the Scottish Cup. This was reflected in the starting eleven that Lennon set out.

Lineup and Formation

Injuries to Emilio Izaguirre and Georgios Samaras in the midweek game against Kilmarnock meant that the starting eleven was fairly predictable. Wilson and Lustig anchored the back four with Matthews and Mulgrew on either side. The four midfielders formed a diamond with Hooper up front and Tony Watt alongside him as Lennon moved away from the 4-3-3 shape which has been deployed with regularity in the last three or four matches.

Celtic vs Raith Rovers, Cup

The 4-4-2 didn’t take long to transform into more of a 2-6-2. With Rovers only playing one man up front, and their midfield sitting deep for the vast majority of the opening period, Matthews and Mulgrew could push on as a wingback would and Lustig and Wilson comfortably dealt with the lone number nine for Raith. At times they were higher than Kayal and Ledley, the respective wide men in the midfield diamond.

Fullbacks 

Adam Matthews and Charlie Mulgrew both had strong games. Mulgrew in particular was the premier source of attacking support in the opening minutes. The majority of play in the first half was down the left hand side, and Mulgrew spent most of his time on the ball attempting to deliver it straight to Hooper and Watt. Both him and Matthews were so advanced that they were the ones linking with the two front-men, and not the midfielders.

As a result, Commons was left with a bit part role for the bulk of the half and Kayal and Ledley tasked with trying to win the knockdowns. With Matthews and Mulgrew playing so high up the pitch, they began to pin back Raith in wide areas. As a result, Wanyama was left with acres of space to switch the play in the middle and Ledley needed to cover for Mulgrew when he wandered up high on occasion.

Celtic style of play 

There were few gaps in the home side’s defense to penetrate, and so Celtic stuck with long balls into the box as their chief means of attack. The idea was to catch Raith out of position rather than allow them to settle into a defensive shape; a scenario which makes them more dangerous on the break.

The heavy and wet pitch was easily cut up, and so any ideas of playing swift, passing football was quickly out of the question. This was likely influential in Lennon’s selection of Mulgrew at left back, and reasoning for playing a 4-4-2. From the left back position, he was able to use his delivery skills to send diagonal balls into Hooper and Watt. He wouldn’t have been able to do that as effectively as a center back or playing in a system with only three defenders.

Raith Rovers managed to do a fine job in the first half of making sure Celtic didn’t win the long balls. When they did, the home team managed to prevent link up play following a knock down.

Mensing Mistake

Celtic started the second half better than they ended the first. Matthews fired a ball just over the bar, and Tony Watt saw his glancing header drift just wide of McGunn’s right hand post.

Mensing Rage

(telegraph.co.uk)

The visitors were awarded a penalty on the fourth claim of the match when Commons went down under Mensing’s challenge. Commons was facing away from the Raith goal and there was no need to put a challenge in. There were claims that Commons dove, however Mensing’s leg was certainly outstretched and clipped the right foot of the Celtic player. It was a criminal mistake by the defender, and one that, predictably, shaped the flow of the remainder of the game. The spot kick was coolly dispatched by Commons himself, and the floodgates opened for Celtic.

Substitutions and Change of Shape

Scott Brown and James Forrest replaced Beram Kayal and Tony Watt in a double change following the penalty. Forrest took Watt’s position up front rather than playing out wide. Brown had a few decent chances, but saw his efforts sail well wide. Stokes then replaced Commons and Celtic moved to a 4-3-3.

4-3-3 vs Raith

The change allowed them to take advantage of Raith’s aggressive changes following the penalty. They were forced to press, and as a result, Celtic were able to go with three in the middle and three up front, allowing for more link and build up play.The long balls hadn’t been especially effective in the first fourty five minutes, and neither had Hooper and Watt had much success running at the Raith defenders, so the changes were welcome in conjunction with the altered circumstances following the first goal. Forrest and Mulgrew secured a victory, and the scoreline suggested a more comfortable win than was the case for Lennon’s men.

The game may well have been forced to a replay, as Raith were plodding along just fine until the penalty. However, once the spot kick was converted, it changed the entire nature and fluidity of the game, allowing Celtic to go on to comfortable victory.

Most influential January transfers: #10 – #6

Catenaccio Conquered has compiled a complete list of the top ten most influential European January transfers of 2013. We’ve decided to go with ‘most influential,’ because discussing the ‘biggest,’ transfers seems vague, and ordinary, and unoriginal.

The criteria for the players in the top ten is based largely on how they will help and influence their new teams first and foremost, over the next five months. Secondly, further into the future, and beyond the summer, and in a minor sense, the price tag. In other words, how much of a bargain the transfer will prove to be. Whether their influence helps their team to avoid relegation, secure a Champions league spot, or win their respective title is irrelevant.

Beckham? Ba? Balotelli? Find out for yourself. Enjoy, and prepare to be surprised, impressed, dumbfounded, and captivated by our opinions.

 

10. Loic Remy (Marseille to QPR)

Loic_Remy_11

(talksport.co.uk)

Harry Redknapp made his ambition in the transfer window no secret after he stated that the QPR players he inherited from Mark Hughes were incredibly overpaid. One of his more  high profile signings was Frenchman Loic Remy from Marseille, who for eight million pounds, was neither overpriced, nor an incredible steal.

While Samba may seem like the more logical of Redknapp’s signings to break into our top ten, QPR have had an awful time scoring goals this season, and that’s the reason that Remy makes it in. Rangers have a better defensive record than Wigan, Villa, Reading, Southhampton, Newcastle, Fulham and Norwich – all teams above them in the table – however they have scored only eighteen goals; five fewer than Aston Villa’s twenty three, who lie nineteenth in that category.

Take QPR’s recent 0-0 draw with Norwich as an example. They didn’t concede, but failed to create many genuine chances. Sure Adel Taraabt missed a penalty, but that’s further proof of their struggle to find the netting. It was a game that Remy missed through injury. When he’s back fit, QPR will need him to score goals if they are to have any chance of survival come May.

9. Giuseppe Rossi (Villarreal to Fiorentina)

When Villarreal were relegated at the end of the 2011-12 season, there was a general consensus that Giuseppe Rossi would be out the door right away. Instead, he lingered for a few months, before making a ten million euro move to Fiorentina.

The American-born Italian is capable of playing essentially anywhere in an attacking capacity. His ability to play as an attacking midfielder, or as a striker give Fiorentina options. A team on the brink of regaining a Champions league spot after three mediocre, mid table finishes in Serie A will be glad to have the services of the Italian national player.

Giuseppe Rossi

(footballbible.net)

At the moment, Rossi is still out with a knee injury. His anticipated return however, isn’t meant to take much longer. His addition to Fiorentina should create a potent mix alongside Stefan Jovetic, and the already aged Luca Toni.  If he regains the form he was in prior to the injury, he could propel Fiorentina towards becoming a genuine threat in Italy, and Europe once again.

8. Daniel Sturridge (Chelsea to Liverpool)

There was a feeling when he left that Sturridge was never really given a proper chance at Chelsea. He was brilliant at times while on loan at Fulham, but he usually struggled to find that same form while wearing blue and when not being given the unspoken title of the main man in the team.

sturridge

dailymail.co.uk

His move to Liverpool came as little surprise, as Rodgers had tried to sign him in the previous window after lending Andy Carroll’s services to West Ham. So far he has impressed at Liverpool, most recently in their 2-2 draw with Arsenal. He seems effective both as a starter, and coming off the bench and he’s begun to develop a partnership with Luis Suarez that could represent a nightmare for any defense in England.

It’s unreasonable to expect Sturridge to drag Liverpool back into a position where they are challenging for a Champions league spot on his own, but we can expect his contributions to be substantial. Liverpool are indeed closing in on Arsenal and those other clubs challenging for a top four finish.

7. Moussa Sissoko (Toulouse to Newcastle United)

One of the many new additions to Pardew’s ever-expanding French army, Sissoko has taken no time to impress. Likened to Patrick Vieira and Mahamad Diarra, he is an all round, box to box midfielder. He recently scored two in the win against Chelsea on a day that was meant to be Demba Ba’s.

Sissoko

(bbc.com)

His signing from Toulouse was largely for the purpose of replacing Cheik Tiote, who is off at the African Cup of Nations. Tiote was an important cog in Newcastle’s fine league form last year, but this year, he’s failed to recapture that same form.

“The Cheik of last year would have been a massive miss. But this year he’s struggled a bit.” – Alan Pardew

With that in mind, Sissoko looks so far to be a fine replacement for the out of form Tiote. Since his arrival, Newcastle have jumped from eighteenth to fifteenth in the table. He’s also capable of playing higher up the field – an attribute that may allow Pardew to combine Cabaye, Tiote and Sissoko in the same team.

6. Lucas Moura (Sao Paulo to PSG)

The Brazilian youngster’s anticipated arrival from Sao Paulo has not dissapointed. PSG bought Lucas for thirty five million pounds in the summer and agreed to bring him to France in January.

Lucas

(sambafoot.com)

Lucas has already made four appearances for the Parisian outfit, and he has impressed more and more with each one. With PSG seemingly facing off against Lyon for the title, Lucas could be the spark that the team needs to kickstart Pastore, Lavezzi, Menez, and the rest into their best form. He has shown that he possesses tremendous skill as well as superb vision and a high work-rate  With Valencia in the waiting, Ancelotti will know that Lucas Moura could provide that little bit of magic that may be needed. PSG will be happy he has finally arrived.

 

The power of the Scottish underdog

A dejected Scott Brown looks on as Steven Thompson pots a third for St. Mirren; enough to see them through

A dejected Scott Brown looks on as Steven Thompson pots a third for St. Mirren; enough to guarantee them one more game at Hampden (telegraph.co.uk)

The 3-2 loss to St. Mirren made it three in a row for Celtic at Hampden Park, dating back to last year’s 1-0 loss to Kilmarnock in the Scottish Communities League Cup.  It was a match in which Celtic were meant to stroll to victory. In that case, Danny Lennon would have done well to take a quote from Neil Lennon’s book following the massive upset. No one really did give St. Mirren a prayer in the build up, yet they are the ones that will march on in the competition towards a trophy which has once again eluded Neil Lennon and his team.

Previewing the cup semi final objectively, it made sense to give St. Mirren little to no chance of conquering Celtic on the day. They hadn’t scored against the champions under Neil Lennon in eight attempts leading up to the match, let alone beaten them. However, beneath the surface lied Celtic’s dismal recent record at the national stadium, as well as consistently shaky domestic form which was masked by two blistering performances against Hearts and Dundee United. The Hooper and Wanyama transfer buzz was yet another distractor. In that case, the result may not have come as an overwhelming surprise to some who could see through the media opinions and Frank McGarvey’s assurance of a Celtic victory.

As big an upset as it is, there are similarities between St Mirren’s victory, and Celtic’s remarkable European journey this year that can be drawn upon.

Lennon Despair vs St Mirren

Manager in despair as Celtic’s chances of a domestic double were dealt a blow, and hope of a treble extinguished altogether (thescore.ie)

At the beginning to each season, it’s customary for most clubs to set targets which outline their aspirations for the coming year. It’s reasonable to suggest that Celtic’s would have been somewhere along the lines of making it into the Champions league group stages, and securing a domestic double at the least. It’s ludicrous to think that winning the SPL was not at the top of the list for Neil Lennon.

Those are some lofty targets for any other team in a European league; comparable to those of the best in the continent. However, Celtic aren’t currently in that category. They are an underdog in European competition, and that’s what suites them.

St. Mirren on the other hand, wouldn’t have been setting targets to challenge for the league. Perhaps one of them was to secure a Europa league qualifying berth, but even that seems ambitious given their current position in the table. With the nature of the SPL and the virtual guarantee of Celtic winning the title, most Scottish clubs place great importance on both domestic cups. As a result, its those one off games against Celtic and Rangers in a cup that become so meaningful.

For comparison’s sake, let’s imagine Celtic played a season in La Liga. They’ve beaten Barcelona this season, and lost with the last kick of the game at the Nou Camp. Over the course of a season however, it’s mad to think Celtic could challenge for the title against the likes of Barcelona, the Madrid sides, Athletic Bilbao, and Valencia.

It is in these scenarios – the one off games – that the true danger of an underdog is revealed. They’re the situations where complacency exists, even if subconsciously for the favourites, and overwhelming drive and motivation stews amongst the less favoured. Furthermore, the expectation of maintaining focus and achieving results in league competitions takes its toll when it comes to cups. We cite the recent FA Cup results as evidence of this. Tottenham, Liverpool, and Chelsea all stumbled at the weekend, even if the latter was able to make a miraculous recovery.

While the threat of an underdog exists in football and sport all over the world, the situation in Scotland remains curious but inspiring. There is no other league in Europe where such a gap remains between the countries top club, and the comparative standard of the rest of the teams in the nation. Accordingly, there is also no other league where for the top team’s superiority, they still remain relative minnows in terms of European standards.

Barcelona and Madrid dominate La Liga – for the most part. Galatasaray are the team of choice in Turkey, and FC Basel continue to be at the top of the Swiss league on a consistent basis. The latter two are definite European dark horses, however the difference between their leagues and the SPL, is that a substantial wealth of European caliber teams are currently challenging for the Swiss and Turkish titles.

Celebrations vs Barca

Despite that monumental underdog victory, Celtic continue to suffer the same fate which they inflicted on Barcelona, domestically. (uefa.com)

Perhaps then, it truly is a testament to the dire state of Scottish football; the fact that so few teams can compete on a stage larger than their domestic one. One thing is for sure. It’s a setup which heightens the thrill of victory when one of the smaller Scottish clubs is victorious against Celtic. Accordingly, Celtic’s season in the Champions league has shown that a Scottish underdog is nothing to be taken lightly.

St. Mirren’s win over the league leaders highlights the power of the Scottish underdog. In fact, so many recent quality domestic results against Celtic coupled with the Glasgow men’s European adventure suggest that the term ‘underdog’ may be becoming obsolete in Scotland. Although recent results have contradicted the following statement, it’s not often that the less favoured are triumphant against what is perceived to be much stronger opposition. In that regard, is Scottish football getting stronger in European eyes, or does ‘the underdog factor’ simply heighten the gloom which has plagued the national league over the past few years?

Dissecting the Gary Hooper saga

Gary Hooper

bbc.co.uk

Before the transfer window opened in January, Neil Lennon did an admirable job reassuring the fans about the security of his top players at the club. With the Juventus clash upcoming, and a healthy standing in all three domestic competitions, who would ever want to leave? In light of this, Mulgrew, Ledley, Watt, Izaguirre and others signed new contracts keeping them at the club for years to come. Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper’s refusal to sign new deals on the other hand, brought an elephant into the room that has grown immensely in stature since the beginning of the month.

Since Henrik Larsson’s monarchy ended in 2004, Celtic have not held the services of a more prolific striker. In the past two years, Gary Hooper has turned into an absolute poacher, and has, only in the recent glow of the Champions League glory, begun to get proper recognition. However, it’s bad timing for Neil Lennon and his staff, and while it brings attention and potentially large sums of money to the club should they sell him, it also heightens the expectations and ambition of the player.

It seems then, and understandably so, that a sense of panic is emerging from within the club, when just days ago, Lennon laughed off Norwich’s initial bid for Hooper. The dread of losing his top players has surely worried Lennon to no end since the window opened, but he has done ample job in cloaking it. If his act fooled any fans into thinking their top goalscorer was surely going nowhere, it was blown open when he admitted that Gary Hooper has his price.

Henrik-Larrson-Celtic

It seems increasingly unlikely that we’ll ever see a legacy like Henrik Larsson’s at the club again. (totalbarca.com)

Johan Mjallby’s plea for Hooper to follow in the footsteps of Larsson confirmed their desperation to convince him to stay. While he could well be the next cult hero who cements his status as legend at the club, in today’s money stuffed environment, its simply not possible. The lure of England, higher wages, and top quality football and increased odds of being picked for the national side outweighs the odd season beyond the Champions league group stages and domination of the SPL.

The fact that Celtic have already begun to look into replacements for Hooper not only helps give a sense of the likelihood of his retention, but also suggest Lennon is not entirely confident in his current strikeforce’s ability to give Juventus a good run, and secure a possible domestic double or even treble. It’s not exactly as if numbers are running thin upfront either. Stokes’ return from injury puts him alongside Miku, Watt, Lassad and Samaras as the strikers currently in the squad. Burnley’s Charlie Austin is one of the names circling around the club as a possible replacement for Gary Hooper.

With his continual refusal to sign a new contract, and Celtic’s dismissal of Norwich’s most recent offer, its tough to judge the outcome of Hooper’s future. The fact that he hasn’t signed a new deal is an indicator that the idea of a departure is at least swirling in his mind. In Lennon’s ideal world, Hooper signs a new deal and sees it out. However, the option of him signing a new deal, earning increased wages for the next six months and then moving along in the summer is an offer that you’d think would appeal to the player. However, moving to England also represents an opportunity that is difficult to hold off for six months, even if he knows he will likely be making the move in the summer anyways.

To Hooper’s credit, he has behaved in an admirable and professional manner. He refused to sign a new contract, and if he does want to leave, he hasn’t stated it. Taking into account his recent performances where he bagged braces against both Hearts and Dundee United, the only thing that will be taking Hooper away from Celtic Park is an offer too good to turn down. Its unlikely that the player himself will cause any disturbances. There appears the sense that he will happily stay on until summer if he is not sold, but will be equally delighted to move on to the next stage of his career, should a high bid materialize.

Hooper has been an absolute colossus for the club since his signing in 2010. Even while the price Celtic paid for him is quite high in terms of ther spending capacity, he remains one of Lennon’s best bargains. If he moves on, all fans can do is thank him for his massive contributions and recognize his desire to test himself in a top league.

Having said that, its difficult to envision looking at Celtic’s team sheet versus Juventus and seeing Charlie Austin or Miku’s name at the spearhead of the attack, endeavouring to fill a gigantic Gary Hooper sized hole. Chances are, we’ll be left wondering what could have been.