This morning, Phil put up a very good piece on the self-inflicted nature of Celtic’s disastrous defeat in the Champions League on Tuesday night.
What made it a particularly interesting piece was the use of an historical analogy from a book called The Hinge Factor, by the eminent historian Erik Durschmeid.
I’ve never read the book, but I do enjoy studying military cataclysm and I remembered the broad strokes of the story Phil highlighted; the Battle (if you can call it that) of Karansebes.
It was fought – as the chapter heading suggests – over a barrel of schnapps.
Without getting into the detail, much of which I barely remember, a group of Austrian soldiers out on manoeuvres bought some booze, got drunk, got into an argument with their fellow troops over sharing the alcohol, opened fire on them and sparked panic in the ranks. A major firefight followed – Austrian forces shooting at each other, many thinking they were shooting at the Turks – until it sparked a general retreat. When Turkish forces did show up the following day, they found the dead and all the posts abandoned and took the nearby city of Karansebes without a fight.
It’s a lovely metaphor for what happened to us the other night; stupidity reigning supreme.
But Phil’s point wasn’t the battle itself, but that it proved to be a “hinge factor” in deciding the course of the whole of the Austro-Turkish war. His concern isn’t that we lost one game, but that the defeat might send us spiralling into a much larger crisis.
That battle arose from drunkenness and simple misunderstanding.
It may prove a “hinge” moment, but we cannot ignore that it takes place against the backdrop of a year of catastrophic failures at the heart of the Celtic operation. 3Treble has blinded us to how dysfunctional our club is at the moment.
That kind of dysfunction does bring empires down.
To look at real catastrophic failure, as a result of bad tactics and appalling leadership, then the Battle of Hattin really takes some beating.
It had all the hallmarks of how strategic failure right at the top combines with tactical ineptitute and leads to disaster.
Bear with me for a moment; the background is pretty dense but I’ll try and keep it simple.
During the late 12th Century, a French aristocrat named Guy de Lusignan became king of Jerusalem. He and a number of fanatical Christians – such as Raynald de Châtillon and Gerard de Ridefortl, – had already provoked numerous skirmishes with the Muslim general and leader Saladin. A general war was averted because the “leper king” Baldwin IV had been determined to keep the peace. Upon his death, power passed to his nephew, the boy king Baldwin V. When the boy king died – he had been frail and weak and sickly since birth – Guy, who was married to the boy’s mother, emerged from the political storm with the crown.
He and his cohort were determined to go to war with Saladin, in spite of the Kingdom itself being divided and key advisers unsure that this was a good idea. Factionalism abounded. Yet when the Muslim general laid siege to the city of Tiberius, Guy and his forces – around 20,000 men – marched in spite of warnings not to.
He left the city of Jerusalem – indeed, the whole Kingdom – virtually undefended.
Guy and his army camped at Sepphoris, a small city with a handy supply of water, which was essential to support the vast force. Saladin contemplated hitting them whilst they were unprepared, but he understood that besieging them there would be a disaster.
Knowing the minds of Guy and his generals, he realised that they would fight anywhere the Muslim army positioned itself, and so decided to lure them into the desert for an open plains battle miles from the nearest water source.
(He had his own logistics worked out well in advance; camel trains were bringing his army water from the nearby Sea of Galilee, which was on his side of the battle lines.)
He laid the trap, and the Crusader army walked right in, and set up camp.
Under the burning desert sun, the Muslim army surrounded them so tightly that in the words of one of its generals “a cat could not have escaped” and then waited for the climate to do its work. By the time the battle proper started the Crusader army was half mad with fear and thirst.
Less than 2000 of them survived. It is one of history’s most notable strategic and military catastrophes, not only for the abysmal tactics of the generals but for the consequences; the total loss of the Crusader army which left the Kingdom of Jerusalem at Saladin’s mercy.
De Lusignan, de Châtillon, de Ridefortl and a host of other key commanders were captured.
The City of Jerusalem was left without a garrison and although leaders like Balian of Ibelin cobbled together enough forces – around 6,000 men – to mount a defence when Saladin laid siege, the Muslim general and his forces broke them and took the city on 2 October 1187.
The rest of the Kingdom fell in due course.
The end of the Second Crusade is a wonderful example of how bad planning at the strategic – big picture – level can combine with tactical blunders to turn a rout into a catastrophe.
Lennon’s tactical gamble the other night, leaving out Bolingoli and putting our best midfielder at left back was shocking, of course, much as Guy’s tactics were.
But as with de Lusignan’s failure, Lennon’s decision creates bigger problems than just the loss of one game.
How, for example, are we meant to restore the confidence of the full-back when, as was entirely predictable, the entire media is writing him off and a lot of the Celtic fans are doing exactly the same thing? He will get no second chance to make a good impression.
This is, of course, made a thousand times worse by the financial implications of the defeat, as Lennon readily admits.
That may well stop Celtic signing another quality left back … and that leaves Bolingoli, with all this pressure on him, as the number one in that position for the rest of the campaign.
Thus Lennon’s single tactical mistake already has major strategic implications; it is nothing short of a disaster.
And so yes, it might well prove to be a “hinge” factor.
Celtic’s failure the other night emerged, as I said last night, from choices we’ve made under no pressure at all, decisions we’ve taken in our own house.
None of this was “forced on us.”
This is Celtic, running entirely as those in charge of it intend.
If some of us sound like broken records here it’s because, as I demonstrated in the piece last night, this club makes the same mistakes over and over and over again and without absolving Lennon of responsibiliy here, it doesn’t seem to matter who the manager is.
Allow me one more analogy, which is even more fitting.
At the moment I’m reading Alastair Campbell’s diaries, which are a wonderful insight into a complex, intelligent, but flawed man who was at the centre of a (very dysfunctional) Labour Party for well over a decade.
At a crucial moment in the first of them – the years between Blair becoming leader of the party and being elected Prime Minister – a Labour insider taunts Campbell on the growing disunity in the shadow cabinet. In a “eureka” moment which irritates Campbell precisely because he recognises the truth of it, the insider draws a diagram for him which points out all the difficult relationships which are causing so much chaos behind the scenes.
Gordon Brown/Peter Mandelson; Alastair Campbell/Peter Mandelson; Robin Cook/Peter Mandelson; John Prescott/Peter Mandelson; Parliamentary Labour Party/Peter Mandelson.
“Do you get the point?”, the aide asks him. “What would Sherlock Holmes make of that do you think? Maybe that Mandelson was the problem?”
In the same way, if you were to draw such a diagram on the upper echelon on Celtic Park, with all of our gripes down through the years over lack of ambition, lack of preparedness and the club’s shocking lack of communication with the fans, and what those things have meant in terms of downsizing and failures to reach the Group Stages against teams we should beat, you would have the names of six different managers … and one CEO.
What would Sherlock Holmes make of that?
Maybe that Lawwell is the problem?
It has long been accepted by most Celtic fans that we are in a uniquely strong position here as a club, and part of that was the collapse at Ibrox.
Part of it is that we are built on strong foundations, and Lawwell ought to take a lot of the credit for that.
But we’re not out of sight of the Ibrox club, and in recent years it has become shockingly apparent that there are major problems with our strategic outlook.
As some of the other blogs – and an excellent MSM piece from Stephen McGowan makes clear – Lawwell squandered months and months during this summer by continuing to have Congerton at Celtic Park and he looks set to waste more of them by having Nicky Hammond at the club only for the summer.
Not only did we fail to rebuild the scouting network when Rodgers left, leaving Congerton in place although his departure was inevitable, but we then went out and made a temporary appointment to replace him when he finally went; we got our head of football on loan, as it were.
This is farcical, this is not the way a well-run football club behaves.
Since Rodgers left we’ve had the fiasco that was Lennon’s appointment, the lost transfer dossier and months lost working off the list of a lead scout who had one foot out the door. We do not have a permanent replacement for him yet, and Rodgers walked ten months ago.
To be frank, people should be clearing their desks all up and down the Celtic Park power structure here.
Two of the players Congerton had identified and whose names were on that leaked list subsequently wound up at Ibrox; neither are, to me, that big a loss … but they symbolise the low-quality nature of that list and what our plans were in the latter part of the last campaign.
Based on the events of the last 16 months – from the McGinn shambles and the Rodgers/Lawwell bitch-fight on the night of the AEK Athens game at Celtic Park to where we are now – I wouldn’t trust Peter Lawwell to organise a coffee morning far less leave him in charge of a £100 million operation.
Whatever skills the so-called “sharp suited man” once had have deserted him completely and he’s now desperately flailing, a man drowning and us with him.
Some people think it’s time to “circle the wagons”; this is the same garbage we hear after every major setback, and especially the ones which can be traced right back to the CEO’s door. We could go through managers the way they do at Ibrox and still some people wouldn’t make the obvious connection that perhaps they aren’t the real issue here.
The men who appoint them and then fail to back them are the real issue.
And behind those decisions is one name, and one face.
We are here because far too often we circle those wagons.
Whilst I agree that we need to back the team and the manager – and especially as many of us have real, serious, doubts about the manager – this is most certainly not an occasion where we should shrug off and move on. We’ve done it too often already.
There are major problems with the way this club is run, and ignoring them won’t solve them and we know that because that’s a well trodden path.
This board does not learn from its mistakes.
We bloody well need to.