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so farewell then...
tony mowbray and co.
So farewell then
Not so much the end of an era as the end of an error. Yes folks, it’s safe to come out from behind the sofa again as Tony Mowbray and his assistants have left the building. The fact that he does so with a fair degree of goodwill from a large number of supporters says more about his qualities as a person than his abilities as manager of Celtic.
It is also an indication of the groundswell of hope that accompanied his appointment that he was indeed the right man for the job. It had to be hope, for in truth there was precious little in his CV to suggest that he could make a fist of it at Celtic Park. An eighth place finish with Hibs in the SPL and relegation with West Bromwich Albion was hardly the kind of pedigree we were hoping for from our new manager last summer, even though for some, the fact that he wasn’t Gordon Strachan made him a candidate worthy of recognition. The far from inconsiderable matter of a £2 million compensation package to secure our new management team also rankled a bit.
Not that any of the other names being bandied about in the close season inspired much confidence either, but there was a definite feeling that BTM was not the board’s first option, hardly a ringing endorsement before the commencement of a season that was going to be so important in regaining the title from a club that was unable to sign a single player in either of the last two transfer windows.
Even the crowd that had gathered outside the Walfrid to greet the announcement of his arrival seemed a bit subdued and had an air of going through the motions about it.
Nevertheless, he came with a reputation for fielding sides that played entertaining football. What we had witnessed as the Gordon Strachan era drew its terminal breath was as entertaining as having your nostrils split open with a boat hook. Mogga’s Celtic would surely offer us some improvement on that score at least?
Initially, at least, that was certainly the case. Bolstered by the arrival of six new players, including a left back (alright, you’re not going to get the next Roberto Carlos from Coventry City but at least he was a left back), the Celts looked to be having a solid pre-season for once, even winning the Wembley Cup with victories over Al Ahly and Spurs.
The turning round of a first leg deficit in the Champions League qualifier against Dynamo - his own bit of Celtic history in his second competitive game - was stunning in light of our performances away from home in this competition in recent years. Mogga managed to dodge his Artmedia moment and guaranteed European football until Christmas.
Domestically it was a good start, as away wins were secured at Easter Road and Pittodrie with a decent home win against St. Johnstone sandwiched between. In Europe, a defeat to Arsenal - even as tame a defeat as ours - is no disgrace, but subsequent performances in the Europa League were embarrassing, the away game in Tel Aviv being especially significant in drawing attention to the management team’s inability to cope with the Celtic job.
BTM tried a new formation for the match in Israel - an important European fixture, when else should you experiment? - with three central defenders on the field. One was playing in his first Celtic game of the season and another, Caldwell, was playing slightly out of position. His position should have been sitting in his living room watching on the telly after running to the Record with his contract concerns.
Using the Heid in midfield hasn’t worked before. You didn’t have to be Derren Brown to predict the outcome of this particular lottery.
One up and cruising, Mowbray’s players were unable to put enough pressure on opponents who in the first half looked as if they’s spent the build-up to the game watching videos of the Lisbon Lions, so in awe of Celtic did they appear to be. Instead, as Celtic retreated into their shell, Hapoel grew in belief, and the result had a depressing inevitability about it long before the coup de gras was administered.
One of the most concerning aspects of the manager’s performance was that with five midfield players to choose from, when the hook came out, he picked the one player who was at least prepared to compete and win tackles in the middle of the park. Nguemo was replaced by McGinn, who wandered over to the wing and touched the ball approximately twice in the remainder of the game. Celtic finished the game looking like a shambles, with three wingers on the pitch.
It was our best chance of getting anything away from home in the group and we blew it big time. We hoped at the time that lessons would be learned and that the manager would be prepared to take the tough decisions required to sort this bunch of players out. Sadly, it was more like a sign of things to come, with the bizarre formations and baffling substitutions quickly becoming two of BTM’s most recognisable signature tunes.
The manager lost the confidence of many fans that night.
Another recurring theme of the season emerged during the first derby game of the season; Celtic deserved to take something out of a poor game but Rangers were on the receiving end of some helpful decisions from the ref, who had the gall to apologise the following Monday.
December offered brief hopes of a revival, and the return game against Rangers at Celtic Park was a chance to claw back three points, but once again Mogga was undone by a combination of bad luck, his team’s deficiencies and the antics of the Honest Mistakes Club.
The end of the festive season coincided with the end of Celtic’s football season. Afforded the chance by an increasingly under pressure board to go for broke in the transfer window in a desperate attempt to turn the league campaign round, BTM was allowed to bring in a flurry of defenders and handed Robbie Keane as a late Christmas present. The euphoria surrounding this move lasted 24 hours as we lost at Rugby Park in a match that finished with Scott Brown at left back and the usual kamikaze charge towards the opposition goal in an attempt to salvage something from a crisis.
The third derby game - and another in the ‘must win’ category that we never looked like winning - went according to the same script as the previous two, this time with the added twist of a ninetieth minute goal to add to the spew factor. It put paid to any lingering fantasy about making a challenge for the league this season.
He got the dreaded vote of confidence in February amidst rumours that he would be away before the end of the campaign, and the inevitable followed after the 4:0 defeat by St. Mirren, by which time he had run out of excuses as well as people willing to defend the indefensible.
At the press conference to announce his departure from the club he indulged in the usual platitudes, but in summing up his brief term in charge of the club still managed to sound like a punchy slugger who had taken one too many to the chin. His intention might have been to depart the Scottish football scene as a misunderstood purist casting his football pearls before ignorant swine; instead, his parting words came across as merely churlish: “Maybe it isn’t a league for trying to force the game and be expansive.”
Well, d’uh!! No shit Sherlock.
And, in a swipe at Rangers, he added: “Maybe it’s a league for playing defensive, negative football and having quality up front to counter-attack.”
Maybe it’s a league for organising your team properly, picking a defence that doesn’t give away free gifts every week, not allowing yourself to be outnumbered in central midfield and playing strikers who can play in inside the penalty box?
When it comes to his chapter in the history books it’ll probably be one which none but the most ghoulish readers will want to skip quickly (see Barnes, John). He certainly created some records, but they are the kind that Eddie the Eagle created - the ones you don’t want people to remember. 17 wins in 30-odd games in the SPL is the kind of record that leaves whatever reputation you once had in absolute tatters.
A nice guy and blah blah blah, but best to dwell on the time when he organised the huddle as opposed to having us huddled in a corner trying not to look at the pitch.