Every single one of us, no matter how smart or clear-headed, at some point falls prey to certain ways of thinking which depend on faulty logic or perception. It is important for us to fight through these when we recognise them.
Because not to leads to mistakes.
For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been turning a question over and over in my mind; is Celtic’s apparent slowness in getting business done in time for this qualifier a sign that nothing has changed at our club, or are we missing more important things, things that actually suggest that the opposite is true?
That, in fact, everything has changed and that’s the real issue?
It is tempting to look at where we are right now and see in this evidence that we’ve learned no lessons and made no real forward progress in how things are done.
But this is a simplistic view of a complex, evolving process … and so it’s no surprise that it’s the one that has been taken by almost all of our sports media, the most unsophisticated in the Western world.
Let’s begin with the facts, the harsh and cruel reality we’re facing.
There is no question that certain incompetent people at Celtic Park allowed months to be squandered on the fruitless pursuit of a single managerial candidate.
There is no question that in addition to their failure there that they also failed to put in place the support structure the new manager needs.
The people responsible for that failure should hang their heads in shame.
It was a disgrace and it still is.
Yet the person chiefly involved in that fiasco has gone already, and although he retains a seat on the non-PLC board he has no real influence and no power at the club whatsoever. I don’t believe he wants any.
His time has ended and he knows it.
Added to that is the reality that our new CEO has only officially been in the building for 18 days.
The new manager was formally appointed on 10 June.
The transfer window had been open for 24 hours at that point.
It is easy to say we should have been ready to go … but first and foremost, Lawwell was still officially still holding the purse strings and the manager didn’t know his own players yet far less trust whatever lists of targets he’d been handed to work off.
The partnership of McKay and Postecoglou was formally announced at the fan media conference, and the wider press events, on 25 June, more than a fortnight later.
That was the point at which McKay stepped out of the shadows as a man in control.
If we take that day as the starting point, we’re still almost a month down the line.
So how the Hell are we going into the Champions League qualifiers without real, radical surgery having been done on this team? Is it because this club actually learns nothing at all or is there more going on here than meets the eye?
Actually, there’s much circumstantial evidence to suggest that this is not the result of a club mired in the same old inertia. There are also reasons which explain the wait, or go some way towards explaining it.
For starters, there was the season ticket issue.
This club was unable to even assure the manager of his likely transfer budget until the final season ticket numbers were in, and the way the club’s pitch to the fans got more frantic with every letter and email they sent out doesn’t suggest that they started strong or that they were particularly strong until very late in the day.
For the first time in a decade, there were serious questions over what level of sales we might achieve, and consequently on how much cash there was to play around with. Adding this to the impacts of the global health crisis, you can see how leery it might have made the bean-counters at Celtic Park.
To have authorised major spending on the back of what might have been a consequential downturn in ticket uptake might have been satisfying, but it would also have been insane.
So if you consider that in the decision making a lot suddenly makes sense.
More makes sense when you consider that many of the off-field plans which had been laid throughout the first six months of the year were immediately put in cold storage the minute the new CEO took the controls.
He clearly looked at those plans and decided they were unsatisfactory.
A brand new process has since got underway, tailored to his specifications.
It is a damning critique of whatever Lawwell had planned.
McKay has decided to junk the lot of it and start again, and that has cost us some time but critically, we will know when those plans finally come together that they were born from fresh thinking.
The same thinking has obviously driven the decisions made by the manager.
We know he was handed a list of targets, but those targets were being signed to someone else’s blueprint. How do we know this? Because one of those targets was Charlie Wyke, then of Sunderland, a signing target that appeared nonsensical at first glance but which made sense in the context of Lennon’s style of play.
We were told that negotiations were ongoing through weeks of the summer; I daresay they were, as he was available on freedom of contract. But it required that the manager push the button to conclude the deal, and almost from the day of Postecoglou’s confirmation, all talk of Wyke dropped out of the news cycle.
It was clear Ange just didn’t fancy him.
Who else was on that list? Well, we know that it included a number of SPL players including Ali McCann from St Johnstone and Motherwell’s then centre back Declan Gallagher.
We know too that the lads from Hibs, Doig, Porteous and Nisbett were also on the list.
These deals would have been relatively straightforward, and they would have added known qualities to our squad.
Yet rather than offer Hibs £2 million for Doig, we reportedly offered twice that to Bologna for Aaron Hickey, who might seem cut from that cloth but who has levelled up superbly to prove himself capable at the highest level.
It is also inconceivable that we would have tried to do business at that cost for a player Lawwell let get away last year for want of a few hundred grand.
At the time of writing this, we have still not tabled a single definitive bid for a player in our domestic league.
That is another sign that the priorities have changed.
Did we scout the Israeli? According to Celtic, no we never actually watched him play.
So on what basis is he being signed? Well that’s easy; analytics and data, the new orthodoxy but one Lennon was not particularly taken with, which undoubtedly cost us.
This, in itself, is a radical change of policy.
We made a move for Vuskovic and the deal seemed done.
But either his people dragged it out longer than we wanted to wait or a better option presented itself in Starfelt. That deal has been done for days, so what’s the delay? Certainly not lack of will on the part of Celtic.
Bureaucratic flimflam in Russia perhaps, where he’s been playing these past few years.
Postecoglou spoke about this the other day; notice that he didn’t blame the club but rather the bizarre circumstances in which we presently find ourselves.
Signing a player like this would have been easier a year ago, and certainly easier a year before that … now every single player we sign from abroad has to go through work permit issues and health protocols on top of that.
Dealing with clubs in Eastern Europe has never been simple anyway, and this deal is no exception.
No wonder it’s not over the line yet.
Much easier would be dealing with clubs in England, except they’re already living in post-Brexit Hell and even modest players were already expensive down there.
Buying from them is fraught with all sort of difficulties, which is why we’ve done well to capture three of their best upcoming young players already, on Bosman’s, and are doubtless looking at others.
Lazy mainstream journalism abounds, with talk of us moving for Forster being the story of the day. These guys had not one clue who our targets were and still don’t. The three signings since Ange and McKay took charge completely blindsided them, as did the deal for Starfelt which probably leaked before Celtic wanted it to.
The manager has publicly backed Barkas, which makes a nonsense out of any suggestion that we’re looking at Forster in any capacity.
It has the whiff of the desperate internet rumour to it, and already it’s being termed “unlikely.”
You can say that again.
I said on Friday that the signing of the Japanese winger was the first concrete block that revealed the manager’s developing ideas about the squad. Everything we’re doing right now is suggestive of a much more structured and balanced approach to team-building.
Our young players know they will not be left to simply wither on the vine.
They will be used to augment the talent we have and the talent we bring in.
For the first time in a long time, I actually think that there’s an underlying strategy to what we’re witnessing.
Chaos on the surface, but that’s because these guys were literally starting on a blank page.
Timing issues with bringing people in? Maybe, but only in the context of the size of the job.
You would never think that we were the only club in Scotland which has thus far spent proper money; at Ibrox they haven’t spent a single penny yet … and you might say that theirs is a settled side, and you’d be right, but where it the clamour for the extra quality to get them through their own Champions League qualifiers? It’s certainly not visible in the press.
Instead, yesterday’s result is being presented as the proof that we’re in crisis.
Yet look at the total non-reaction in the media to the Ibrox club’s defeat, last week, to Tranmere.
It’s not difficult to see that there’s an obvious double standard.
Even the way our squad situation is being portrayed is grossly out of proportion to what’s happened at Parkhead. The focus is on how much weaker we are, without a serious analysis of that.
We have lost one member of the first team squad to date – Scott Brown – and the loanees have gone back to their clubs.
But let’s look at these things in their proper context.
Brown was at the end of his career, and fans had been clamouring for a transition away from him for well over a year and in many cases much longer.
The loanees who’ve gone were, as follows:
Shane Duffy, almost overwhelmingly regarded as an absolute waste of a jersey; Diego Laxalt, who couldn’t’ shift Greg Taylor from the team; Jonjo Kenny, who was not the right back answer and never would have been and Mo Elyounoussi, a footballer for whom the word “patchy” could have been invented. And we’ve since replaced him.
Neither Duffy nor Laxalt was starting every week so neither is a critical loss and thus we’re not worse off for not having them. Is Kenny really that much better a player than Ralston?
Yeah, it’s outrageous that we’ve not signed a right back yet but I don’t think we’re necessarily weaker than we’ve been since the turn of the year, when Frimpong left.
Only Elyounoussi is what you’d regard as a major loss, him and Kris Ajer who’s still technically at Parkhead but with his bags packed and both feet out the door.
Edouard stays for now and will probably play on Tuesday night which leaves Ryan Christie, who is a “take it or leave it” player if ever I’ve seen one and who really isn’t going to be missed based on his last year of performances.
Klimala left without having offered us anything, and then there are our own players we sent out on loan and who never returned; Bayo and Hendry. Letting Hendry go seems insane, but we’re not weaker for it as he never played a role in the team. Shved remains in limbo. Bolingoli is still on the books and I am confident he has a role to play.
The manager has spoken to Ntcham and agrees that it’s better that he stay here and screw the nut than the club cancel his contract. Griffiths, we’ll have to wait and see.
“Short of options” is how the press spins it, but nobody can argue that we’ve thus far lost players who are irreplaceable to the squad because in point of fact we haven’t.
Short on options isn’t the same as saying that we’ve lost major quality, because until Ajer and Edouard have gone, Brown and Elyounoussi apart we really haven’t lost anybody significant.
Almost every player who has departed Celtic thus far is someone we’re broadly glad to see the back of or who offered us so little it was hard to justify their retention.
Having some of this dross on the wage bill was why guys like Montgomery, Murray, Moffat and others never got a sniff of first team football. That’s just one of the things that’s going to change here.
Ajer will go. His replacement has already been sourced. Christie will go.
His departure still leaves us with Turnbull and Ntcham capable of playing in an attacking midfield role, to say nothing for the almost certain restoration of Tom Rogic to a prominent place in this team … and all of us will welcome them under a manager who knows how to use him best.
Edouard will go and then we’ll replace him with someone the manager and the data team picks between them.
If Griffiths goes – as he should – we’ll bring in another forward as well. The right back position will finally be filled, and the two wings already have their answers. The two boys from Sheffield Wednesday will give us cover in central midfield and in central defence … and if they’re half as good as the hype we’ve won a watch with both.
We may have left it late for this round in Europe, but that’s a consequence of the chaos left behind by Lawwell and the management team of last year, and the incomprehensible decision making which has characterised the last 12 months.
It’s easy to see where we are right now and conclude that this is the same old same old, but there are two men at the helm who know they inherited a shambles and are not willing to compromise their own visions – and a joint vision if you believe them – by relying on what plans their predecessors left behind. Both have struck out on their own.
The media has its way of looking at this, and of course it’s tainted by the anti-Celtic bias which runs through many of the press rooms. It also reflects their own lazy thinking and their rampant stupidity.
They can believe that Celtic is still mired in crisis instead of steadily, bit by bit, step by step, emerging from it … but we should be more careful in how we view this.
Because far from lacking in any strategic approach it might well be that, actually, for the first time in a very long time that it’s a strategic approach we’re taking.
In a fortnight’s time the domestic season kicks off for real.
The picture may look clearer, and different, by then, and it certainly will by the time the transfer window proper shuts.
At the moment, there are two competing interpretations … one is right and one is wrong.
But I am coming around to the idea that at long last we’re seeing the beginnings of a proper plan.