Yesterday, when I logged out early, when I wrote what I said would be my final article of the day, I was pretty sure that the club was not about to reward Moussa Dembele for his act of petulance by giving him exactly what he wanted, but there was a part of me that had to acknowledge that after a FUBAR few weeks there remained one last chance for those running Celtic to spring a final, horrible, surprise on us and I said so in the piece.
So it proved, on a night when the manager’s entire plan for the season was upended completely.
Let not one person try to kid you that we even managed to save face. The people who brought us to last night’s sorry pass claim to be united in the decision: I am glad to hear it because they own it, collectively, in all its majestic awfulness.
Dembele did no more than Boyata did and he did no more than the directors did and they did no more than Brendan himself decided to do. All thought it appropriate to let their private grievances become public. I agreed with Rodgers at the time; in hindsight he unleashed chaos on our club when he spoke so publicly against it. Everyone else followed suit, and we ended up exactly where I thought we might.
After all, when the men at the very top are bitching each other out in the media why wouldn’t the players get similar ideas?
Brendan Rodgers had a case.
Of course he did.
Save for a handful of holdouts folk with their heads so firmly lodged up their own posteriors that they can’t see sunlight, very few people in the Celtic Family believes that our manager was given even token backing for his plans for the team.
The signings have been a joke, to be frank, and are a damning indictment of the way our club is run above the manager’s level.
Lawwell, in particular, has a lot to answer for.
He gets an article all to himself tomorrow, after the game. He needn’t be under any illusions about how the vast majority of our supporters feel about him right now; he’s outlived his usefulness, and to be blunt perhaps that statement should have been written sooner. He has performed well on the commercial side, but this whole summer has been such a car-crash, with him at the centre, that it’s impossible to escape the impression that this is someone with way too much belief in his own PR, a guy who’s nowhere near as smart as he and others thinks he is, a guy perhaps nowhere near as good as he’d have us believe.
The commercial department isn’t just one man, after all, and Lawwell is not a miracle worker, he’s a guy selling something very special, something iconic.
The job does not require super powers, although the totality of the screw-up he has presided over in this window certainly suggests that he’s in possession of some warped ones. It should be impossible to make this big a mess and still have the nerve to show your face. Look out for a press tour, to his own hand-picked toadies, very soon in an effort to spin this as something other than the disaster it is. It’s way too late for that now, though.
Short of his resignation statement, he has nothing to say that most of us want to hear. It would be better for the stability of this club if he fell on his sword.
So yes, Brendan was 100% right to be pissed off and I believe for the most part that the fans have a right to know what’s going on the club.
But it was also an act of selfishness. It was an act of petulance where he put his own feelings before the good of the club. The timing of it reeked, on the eve of a mammoth tie when the team appeared to be flying and in good form. It was like someone opened the air valve on our mood; the positivity started bleeding away at once.
Brendan Rodgers is a smart enough guy that he should have the personal skills and the strength and conviction to fight his corner inside the club and leverage his achievements into getting what he wants. That he doesn’t have the juice to achieve that is deeply disturbing on any number of levels.
And it got worse, of course.
When an un-named person on Celtic’s board – and I know who that person was by the way; there’s no point to my writing that name, it can only do more harm – told Chris McLaughlin of the BBC that they were equally pissed at Brendan they poured gasoline onto the fire and so a bad day story rolled over into the next day and provoked a swarm of articles and pieces about how the cracks were appearing at Celtic Park … and the media was correct to write those.
For the sheer unprofessionalism of that act, the man responsible for it should have had his backside chewed on the floor of whatever posh hotel suite Desmond stays in when he comes over here. That person should have been put on notice; do it again, and you’re done.
Some of that person’s comments, both to McLaughlin and to other journalists in the days to come, stunk of an ego and arrogance that nearly defies belief. Suddenly the finding of raw footballers of potential and their transformation into top class performers who could be sold on for big bucks was the board’s success and not that of the scouting and coaching team. Appointing Brendan Rodgers was proof of their genius, and his achievements became theirs.
Nowhere did the articles mention that they had appointed Delia as well, and his two calamitous European campaigns. Nowhere did they mention that the same people helped drive Neil Lennon out of the door of his dream job.
(They also hired Lennon, an act of unpardonable folly which, fortunately for all of us, worked out better than I ever expected it to. I remain flabbergasted that our club took such an appalling and un-necessary risk as to hire a complete novice at a critical time. They escaped proper scrutiny for that and they shouldn’t have. It was proof of their diabolical complacency and lack of strategic vision. Only when Desmond himself intervened did we bring in true, proven, quality and in spite of Brendan’s love for the club we have no way of knowing how long we’ll have it.)
And of course, when the indiscipline at the top is so obvious that filters down to the players and Boyata’s public spitting of the dummy was hardly unexpected. What was unexpected was his decision to down tools, and at that point he should have been booted out of Celtic Park to the first club that would pay us a transfer fee.
But instead we made the problem worse when he was welcomed back to the squad, when he was named in the team, when he was cheered onto the park by some of the fans and then lauded a hero for a goal against Hamilton. I said in the piece on the afternoon of the game that we had lost a part of what made us special. It was a matter of time before a much more important player decided to air his own grievances in public by hankering for a move via the media.
We had decided to reward disloyalty with a Hooped jersey.
It made the club look weak and at the mercy of events. And I knew the vultures would come.
And come they did, in the form of Dembele and Peter’s “pal” at Lyon.
With friends like that, eah?
It had been coming, we could all see it.
Apparently, nobody at Celtic did because although it’s been looming in front of us since the night he scored twice against Manchester City there was no plan for replacing him. And please, nobody waste my time saying Edouard. The manager couldn’t have made it more clear over the summer that he planned to utilise both of them.
I wrote multiple pieces on how excited I was, and how excited the coaches were, about the planned change in the playing style – and which we saw coming together in pre-season, which would have seen the French Connection unleashed on team’s home and abroad.
The club knew there was a chance that Dembele would go, and we were not in the least bit prepared for that when it happened.
That is scandalous in and of itself.
What’s even more scandalous is that in spite of their protestations to the contrary, there is ample reason to believe that the club itself was perfectly relaxed about Lyon’s interest. They allowed Dembele’s people to open at least tentative talks with the club; don’t forget, part of the problem here is that Dembele knew, roughly, how much money he was losing with every day he was at Parkhead.
If there was a plan being followed in this window I don’t see it.
If there was a strategy unfolding it is one that is so complicated that, try as I might – and believe me, I did – I couldn’t follow it at all.
Sell Dembele, but keep Boyata who we allowed to do what no other player would have been able to.
Chase a player whose club would never sell him to us, and waste time on that instead of moving on to alternative targets. Let Mulumba rot on the dole for months and sign him in the last two days. Mess the manager around so much he got desperate, and thus burn all the goodwill from a second successive treble when the chance to hammer the last nail into Sevco was right there.
The window ends with our team weaker than it was and that’s hard enough to take, but football fans deal with that all the time. It’s the way the club has been weakened by the last few weeks that really burns, that really hurts. We have allowed ourselves to be embarrassed by Rod Petrie, bounced around by Boyata and finally humiliated by Dembele who is telling the media that he forced our hand, as if that was something to be proud of.
Our club is less than it was as a result of the last month. It has been left looking flat-footed, one paced, unable to think more than one step at a time. We have been done up by agents and players, our reputation as tough negotiators completely swamped, and if Dembele and Boyata’s people are believed by others in the game the damage will be worse than that; we’ll be seen as dishonest and untrustworthy to boot. It is a calamity.
If Lawwell had the ability to analyse this from an outsider’s perspective, he would go today. But he will be here after Rodgers has gone, and it’s that, and not the Steven Fletcher fiasco, for which he will be remembered forevermore. His legacy is in ruins.
But our signings in this window have been so poor, our options so limited, our performance so dire that the Gods demand a blood sacrifice and there’s an obvious one and frankly his position is absolutely indefensible, no matter who his mates are.
Look at what we’ve got; Izzy was at the club two years ago. Bain was playing for Dundee. Mulumba was at Kilmarnock. Arzani was foisted on us by City and Lawwell’s son who works there. Benkovic’s been on the radar for at least a year. Morgan was at St Mirren. Only Edouard and Compper suggest that any kind of real scouting has been done in the last twelve months and the German has been a disaster of epic proportions all on his own.
As it stands right now, Lee Congerton is offering us less than Compper does. His performance has been diabolical. If he isn’t cleaning out his desk as I write this there is more wrong at Celtic Park than this article will ever be able to properly convey.