Now there are fans of all football clubs who very much believe in the theory that ‘well if hes paid well enough, he should be able to play anywhere’. Take example the England left wing problem at the start of the century. Sinclair, Cole, Gerrard, Scholes and Hargreaves were all used out of position to suit their own 4-4-2 formation. However players are trained from a very young age into a certain position and developed into specializing their specific roles and when moved out of that specific role it is understandable that those players suffer a dip in form and its not uncommon for the teams to suffer as a consequence.
So how does this relate to Celtic? Well already this season on a number of occassions Neil Lennon has resorted to playing Joe Ledley at left back when firstly Charlie Mulgrew was injured, and now that Izaguire’s out. Because it worked at home to St.Mirren in a 4-0 win, where in fact Ledley opened the scoring, didn’t mean it would work again, and it didn’t with Ledley being badly exposed in the 4-0 defeat in Utrecht. So what did Lenny do when we needed a response from Utrecht? He moved Ledley into the midfield and Celtic’s midfield won us the game.
On Saturday, at home to Hamilton, Lennon played Ledley there again and the Celtic midfield badly suffered, just like they did in the second half of the Hibs game when Ledley was moved to left back. The Celtic midfield was over-ran in the early stages by a fresh Hamilton team and all that was down to the fact that Joe Ledley wasn’t running the midfield like he has done everytime he’s played there. When Ledley isn’t in the midfield, it is clear to see we miss his presence in the midfield to battle for the ball and pass it. The opinion that Ledley is simply and only a ball player is completely wide of the mark. Celtic are by far a better team when Joe Ledley is in midfield, he’s been the mainstay of the Celtic engine room this season and long may that continue. Now I know both of our senior left backs are injured but there must be a reserve or u-19 left back waiting to break into the team? All we hear is of the Lennoxtown revolution of reserve and u-19 teams winning almost everything at home and abroad in invitation tournaments, but we’ve yet to see anyone really break through since McGeady, with Forrest’s injury derailing what was a terrific start to the season for him. Celtic loaning Milan Misun out to Dundee might have been so he could gain fitness after a long injury, but surely all the rave reviews we’ve heard of this lad he could’ve slotted into the left back position in Izaguire’s absence? Or even play Mark Wilson who’s shown he can do a shift at left back? It just seems criminal to remove our best midfielder from his comfort zone and smacks of us playing into the hands of the opposition. And Neil Lennon isn’t exactly unfamiliar with this problem. In 2003/2004 Lennon played in a team where both John Hartson and Chris Sutton suffered injuries prior to Celtic’s second leg against Villareal in the quarter final of the Uefa Cup. Instead of playing Craig Beattie up front (which O’Neill had done in the first leg against Barcelona) O’Neill plumped for Stan Petrov to play up front with Henrik Larsson, needless to say Celtic lost the match convincingly suffering from a lack of drive from the midfield (something Petrov would’ve provided) and lacked a spark upfront due to Petrov playing out of position.
Also, in 2005/2006 Lennon found himself in a team where Mo Camara was Celtic’s first choice left back, when he suffered an injury, flying winger Ross Wallace was drafted into the team, and Celtic were heavily exposed, most notably in the Hearts new years game when Wallace himself scored an own goal. Celtic, in both of these instances, weren’t fatally effected by playing players out of position, however there was always the opinion that ‘better teams wouldn’t let us away with that’ everytime a winger would fly by young Wallace and fire a cross out of the park.
So why would this year be any different? Well in my opinion this year, Celtic must win everything. 1 Trophy in two years is absolutely horrific for a club who had previously won 3 titles in a row. That would be bad enough in any normal circumstances, but to see us suffer against a Rangers side which is as poor as it is, both on and off the park, makes not winning titles or trophies all the harder to take. So the message to Lennon should be – absolutely no mercy to the other 11 mobs in the SPL which means playing players in their correct positions every single week even if it means dipping into the reserves or u-19s to find a player to play a specific position. Because I for one am more comfortable and more confident when the Celtic midfield includes a player of Ledley’s quality, and not in the left back position.
This is a year were mistakes are not an option and although at the moment everything is rosy and we’re winning every week, you know as well as I do that one bad result will have the ‘Lenny Out’ brigade in full swing. I dont mean to come across as an unhappy fan here, I’m very much delighted with the start to the season Celtic and Lennon have made and long may it continue, but theres just one or two slight wee things that could, possibly, maybe just in the future it might go against us when the business end of the season comes. So to finish this week’s effort, I’ll try and end on a happier note a wee bit of advice for Lenny when it comes to playing players in their specialized position. So in the words of a famous pop song from years gone by… “Its got to beeeeeeeeeee perfect!”