If you haven’t heard, this morning, about Gary Keown’s deranged rant against Brendan Rodgers and Celtic in general then brace yourself. Even if you have heard about it, I guarantee that unless you’ve read the full piece that nothing you have seen or heard will do justice to how bitter and demented it actually is. No, this requires the full treatment.
So I’m going to go through this toxic soup line by line. I cannot believe that any person who was capable of pouring so much bile and venom onto a page out of sheer naked hatred was free to do so without wearing restraints. Detached from reality, reeking of envy, loaded down with spite, this is Scottish sports “journalism” at its stinking, honking worst.
And it starts with the headline. You just know it’s gonna go downhill from there.
So let’s have it, headline first.
“GARY KEOWN: Do Celtic honestly believe Brendan Rodgers will lead them to a European final? He failed last time after making big promises and all evidence suggests he’ll fail again on his ‘Second Coming’”
Jesus Christ, right? What in God’s name has inspired such a nasty start as that? That headline already reads as if the writer has spent the full week stewing over Brendan’s return and cannot take it anymore and has vomited up every awful thought that’s been going through his head. That’s lamentable, right? Two things about that headline tell you we’re about to go through The Looking Glass, where white is black and black is white. The first is that Rodgers went seven trophies for seven here, and that’s some failure. The second is that Rodgers himself hasn’t promised or said any such thing. Indeed, at the time of writing he’s not yet the manager. So Keown’s entire deranged piece has started out in the worst way; it’s a work of fiction.
“There’s only one problem, really, with Brendan Rodgers and Celtic putting success in UEFA competition front and centre as they sell his Second Coming to a fanbase that was ready to string him up in Glasgow Cross not so long ago.”
Yeah, there’s a very big problem with it, as I pointed out above; it didn’t actually happen. Neither our club or our incoming boss has said a word or done any such thing.
“They did the very same thing first time around as well. And then pretty much gave up on Europe altogether before the entire project collapsed in acrimony, finger pointing and the Brodge droning on and on about other, bigger clubs having more money and better resources, and how just getting out of the Champions League qualifiers against mediocre outfits from the back of beyond was suddenly ‘a big achievement’.”
So much wrong here already. First, neither the Celtic board nor Rodgers promised a European final the first time either. Why would they? The manager certainly did not “give up on Europe altogether”, although those at the top of the house stymied his efforts in every way. And I get a little tired, I always get tired, of people expecting us to reach quarter finals and semi finals in Europe and calling it a failure if we don’t when no similar pressure is ever put on the likes of Aberdeen and Hearts and Hibs to actually challenge for the title. These people have no consistency at all in the way they argue. Most Celtic fans do not expect a European final. Most see it as a pipe dream, and just because a certain other club lucked its way to one has not changed, for one minute, my own central view that it’s a step too much. Progress is what we want to see. Intent.
“Let’s face it. Rodgers failed first time around at Celtic. If his second spin round the block is to be based around a five-year plan with the ultimate aim of reaching a European final, all available evidence suggests he will fail again.”
Rodgers – seven trophies out of seven domestically – failed last time. Wow. Isn’t that incredible? And what “available evidence” which suggests he’ll fail again is this clown talking about? Show me the evidence. Put it in front of me. There is none because this entire article is a angry Sevconut having a meltdown because we’re on the brink of pulling off a top tier replacement for Postecoglou. In short, this is a guy who is looking across the city and cannot believe what he is watching and it has driven him beyond the point of sanity. No sane person would have claimed that a man who had won seven out of seven domestically had failed.
“Yet, that would probably fit with the Scottish champions’ evident penchant for going round and round in circles. Looking backwards rather than forwards.”
And winning things, Gary. Winning trebles in particular.
“Peter Lawwell is back in a senior position despite being chased out of the chief executive’s role in an angry whirlwind of spraypainted ‘Shoot The Board’ bedsheets and flying crush barriers after Ten In A Row in 2021 disappeared into the ether faster than the infamous 2008 end-of-season Japanese tour.”
Back to 2008 and the “Japanese tour.” Dear God. How desperate. And when you think of how much can genuinely be hung around Lawwell’s neck it’s abysmal that a so-called journalist had to dredge up one of the minor, half-forgotten matters. Also, part of the reason for Lawwell’s stepping down when he did had nothing to do with Celtic … at least part of it was down to a terroristic attack made on his home by gangsters, because of a service he was doing to Scottish football. Not that Keown is bothered by modest details like that. I myself don’t like Lawwell being back in the building, especially not with the reek of nepotism in the air with the hiring of his son … but if these people back the manager instead of getting in his way I’ll take that as a win.
“The guy who is the new chief exec, Michael Nicholson, was the club’s Director of Legal and Football Affairs all the way through that shambles too, and Dermot Desmond is still pulling the strings at the top, so maybe it shouldn’t be any great shock they’ve gone for a manager who was probably more unpopular than any of them when he slinked out the door to Leicester City four years back?”
The “shambles” he refers to of course was the hiring of Neil Lennon which Michael Nicholson, in the role of backroom pen-pusher had no part in whatsoever. It goes to show you how ridiculous Keown’s entire premise for this piece is when he’s having a go at a guy who has been an almost phenomenal success in the CEO’s post … by simply letting the football people run the football department and providing them with the assistance to do it.
“After all, the Celtic punters have shown they are willing to forgive and forget almost anything as long as the domestic trinkets keep rolling in and no one dwells too deeply on why they have become a complete irrelevance — a laughing stock, even — outwith this silly little country of ours.”
A seat at the top table of the ECA. A seat at the top table of European football’s senior committee on financial sustainability. The name Celtic rings out. We are most certainly not an irrelevance, nor “a laughing stock” whatever this loon believes. And those “domestic trinkets” – which we call trophies; it’s no wonder he’s forgotten the name – are what gets you into Europe in the first place. This guy, not so long ago, was calling for a revolution at his own club because it couldn’t get its hands on any of them. And that was before we cleaned their clock last season. What a clown.
“Make no mistake, when Rodgers arrived amid much more ballyhoo and breathlessness in 2016, reaching for the stars in Europe was a big part of the schtick too.”
Yeah and then we got a Champions League Group with Manchester City and Barcelona in it. That will scorch a few well laid plans, won’t it?
“After securing a 1-1 draw at Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League group stage that November, a campaign that did carry some promise, the former Liverpool boss said: ‘I think that was the aim for me to come here — to really build the club and for us to qualify for the Champions League, get out of the group stages and see how far we can go. I would hope Celtic are a last-16 team in two or three years’ time.’”
Yeah, and then for reasons passing understanding the people above him at the club decided that the limit of our ambition for that summer should be a PSG reserve on loan, a Man City up and comer called Olivier Ntcham, a kid called Patrick Roberts and that we should spend £1 million on Jonny Hayes. Our schizophrenic transfer policy was exactly what you’d expect to get from a club which is run by an untitled director of football. That winter, we decided to equip him with three more players from our domestic league … and people wonder why we didn’t crack on.
“Of course, within two years, they were fielding a shadow side away to RB Leipzig in the Europa League because a Betfred Cup semi-final against Hearts was more of a priority.”
We qualified from that Group with nine points. So his point is idiotic. The real disaster that season was against AEK Athens, and we came close to qualifying despite our own acts of self sabotage. The story of what happened, especially before the Parkhead game, has been told a million times and everyone knows what was going on behind the scenes.
“Months earlier, Rodgers had decided to spend the eve of an ill-fated Champions League qualifier against a rotten AEK Athens slinging mud at the board for not spending enough amid a situation that saw Dedryck Boyata down tools because the manager wanted a £9million-plus bid from Fulham rejected in spite of him entering the last year of his contract.”
That’s exactly what happened. The conditions for playing a massive game like that could hardly have been worse. It was a minor miracle that the club rallied and got through it and that Rodgers himself was to get good performances in the Europa League campaign.
“Now, as then, the situation tends to be reflected upon as a simple case of Rodgers’ ambition being frustrated by parsimonious directors. Certainly, the failure to pay £2.75m to Hibs for John McGinn can be seen, in hindsight, as a bit of a boo-boo.”
Like Keown’s snide comment about “domestic trinkets” this massively downplays just how big a disaster our John McGinn policy was, and how pissed off the manager was about it, and the wider issues it revealed. He had submitted a list of players that summer and got none of them. The McGinn “replacement” was a guy on a free who had been released by Kilmarnock months before … I completely understood why he was thermonuclear pissed.
“However, it is worth mentioning that Celtic were running a £60m wage bill. Rodgers was on £2.5m a year. They had a squad big enough to play three different starting XIs.”
And that was the problem, as Keown knows well, as he’s about to say so. Except that he’s going to spin this against Rodgers as well.
“The only issue is that those starting XIs would have contained players such as Marvin Compper, Kundai Benyu, Cristian Gamboa, Eboue Kouassi, Daniel Arzani and Vakoun Issouf Bayo. So, who is to blame for that? Other than the lamented former head of recruitment Lee Congerton, of course.”
And there is a reason he is not in the building this time around. That said, some of those signings were certainly not players he recommended; Daniel Arzani, for one, was not signed off on by the manager or his head of recruitment. Still, the general point is right. Celtic’s policy was to buy in bulk and hope for a few diamonds in the rough. It was lunacy and a lot of us said it was lunacy. It left the club a bloated mess which needed serious cutting … good thing we were still running a surplus and could afford to carry our mistakes, without needing director’s loans to keep the lights on.
“Celtic, by anyone’s standards, were spending a lot of money. On a lot of players. Just to see off Derek McInnes and Aberdeen, because Rangers were still in that difficult phase of working under the misapprehension individuals such as Mark Warburton and Pedro Caixinha were actual, proper football managers.”
And there’s the first mention of this new attack line on Rodgers, one that Tom English and others got to before him; that Rodgers wasn’t tested last time. It’s funny, cause a lot of these same people thought their own club was good enough to win the title that first year, that the likes of Barton and Kranjcar and the English players they’d signed the year before would be too strong for us … the English players, in particular, you’d have thought were on the verge of full international honours. Does that remind you a bit of the present day? Well it should. Talk about “going in circles.”
“A sure sign the whole thing had gone to pot came when Maryan Shved was added to the cast of thousands and Rodgers, clearly not giving a monkey’s, stated: ‘We’ve got about a million wingers and don’t need another one.’”
A clear sign that anyone pointing the finger at Rodgers, or Congerton, for the disaster that was our bloated squad is pointing it at the wrong people. Why is it so difficult for these people to put two and two together? Or do they simply have a narrative – Rodgers the failure – which they are determined not to part from?
“By then, it was clearly ‘terminado’ time. The years can be a great healer, as the events unfolding at the moment prove, but they also allow you to forget how febrile and messy it was at Celtic before Rodgers upped sticks and skidaddled against the backdrop of banners at games calling him ‘a fraud’ and some punters singing about him being shot by the IRA. And that’s before we’ve even got on to Moussa Dembele’s cryptic Tweeting.”
Rodgers behaviour was deplorable. But the mess was not all of his making and most of us have known that from the first and are smart enough to take it into consideration. For Rodgers to even be contemplating this, and for the board to want him back, big things would need to have changed behind the scenes at our club … and you can see the evidence of the last two campaigns to see that those changes have happened. We’re in a good place.
“Naturally, it is good to hear of those at the top of Celtic promising strong investment to rectify a record in Europe — they haven’t won a game in the knockout rounds of any tournament since 2004, remember — that is worse than a bad joke. If they really mean it, it is long overdue.”
I must have hallucinated the victory over Zenit St Petersburg at Celtic Park in 2018 … that’s only five years ago. It’s bad enough that these people can spew their daft poisonous opinions without their editors taking them to task … getting the basic facts wrong like this is what’s really the bad joke.
“The question, then, is: Why Rodgers as manager? His record in Europe, over the piece, is hardly inspiring. He did take Leicester to the Europa Conference League semis last season, but the Foxes ended up with a wage bill of over £180m under his charge.”
Seven domestic trophies out of seven. It’s hard to grasp, I know, Gary, as your own club will never see those days. But that’s a reason right there. Win this title, overtake the Lie, and the Champions League campaign after that will shower us in gold. Good reasons right there.
“No matter how much extra Celtic commit to spending, they will never be able to give him that kind of budget. They need a guy who drills teams with limited resources to punch above their weight in that arena and there just isn’t much sign of that on Rodgers’ CV.”
Knutsen would have been my first choice for exactly that reason. But I’ll take the seven trophies out of seven guy and most fans of most clubs would, in a heartbeat. It’s funny how this “just find the right manager who can bridge the resource gap with his skills” is never applied to the other clubs in this league, just us when we play in Europe.
“He spoke a lot in the early days of his first spell at Celtic of sticking with his attack-minded philosophy. It brought a 7-0 loss in Barcelona and 12 goals shipped in two games against PSG.”
Those teams did that to better, and more resourced, sides than us. The Super Clubs frequently hand those kind of beatings out. Liverpool did last year haha.
“By the bitter end, and that last Europa League campaign that ended with a last-32 swatting-aside by Valencia, he was talking about changing the style and not leaving his players so ‘exposed’. It was too late by then, though. And it never really materialised.”
It didn’t materialise because he left shortly afterwards. Was he supposed to work that change by telepathy? What a moronic statement that is. And the idea that a manager might want to adapt his tactics to suit the circumstances; wow! However do these guys get jobs in management if they’re willing to compromise in order to get results, eah?
“Celtic need a manager with the necessary pragmatism to dig out boring 0-0 draws away from home in Europe.“
We need a manager who doesn’t think that’s a victory.
“They need someone with big ideas to bridge the big gulf that exists between the finances here in Scotland and elsewhere rather than descending into moaning about it — because the likes of Celtic are always going to meet teams at the business end of European competitions that are investing considerably more than them.”
Van Brockhorst talked about it. The Mooch has spent every day since arriving at Ibrox moaning about the finance gap between us and them … has this clown missed that entirely? Hey, the finance gap between ourselves and the elite clubs exists. Pretending it doesn’t won’t make it go away.
“Is Rodgers really that guy? Sure, he’ll still win domestic trophies.”
Oh what a disaster that would be for a football club, eah?
“Across the city at Rangers, Michael Beale is still battling to prove he’s not Warburton Mark II. Summer signings so far at Ibrox seem a little underwhelming, including a £3.5m striker in Sam Lammers who has managed eight goals in four years and had more clubs than Rory McIlroy.”
No matter. When he fails you can moan about the finance gap, and then say Rodgers only got his success because he was going up against a “weak” Ibrox side and a poor manager, and that next time they’ll be ready for him.
“Yet, if Celtic are going to hand the Brodge a paypacket bigger than anything ever dished out before, it surely has to be about more than just picking up the Viaplay Cup at the end of the winter.”
Yeah he’ll definitely have to do better than just winning the League Cup.
“The ground rules have been laid out. Europe is the focus. The whole narrative feels like a bit of a diversion from the fact that it is unthinkable they are going back to the well with this guy after everything that went on four years ago.”
So says the media narrative. Since neither Celtic nor Rodgers has uttered a word here this is simply Keown providing his own fictional story. If it’s a “diversion” it’s one the media is responsible for promoting, since we haven’t done anything of the sort.
“But that’s how the deal is being sold. And that’s how Rodgers should be judged.”
Sold to who? To Celtic fans? Certainly not. Rodgers is a proven winner. An outstanding boss despite the utter guff in this piece by Keown. That’s how it’s being sold. As to how he’ll be “judged”, if he delivers our ninth treble I think the judgement will be overwhelming positive … from the only people who matter. The Celtic fans themselves.
“If he couldn’t pull it off first time round, it’s difficult to see how he’s going to do it now.”
A desperate end to an angry, spiteful – and frightened – tirade. The guy isn’t even in the door yet and these people are pissing themselves with fear. This is going to be some week.