Yesterday, at Hampden, another Edinburgh club faltered.
On Saturday, Hibs lost to a goal scored by an Aberdeen team playing with ten men. Although I have a lot of time for Hibs, I preferred that Aberdeen won that game. They will present the Ibrox club with a stiffer test; in Barry Robson we know they have a manager who won’t just chuck it.
I knew it would be the Ibrox club they were facing.
My confidence in Naismith and his side was zero. The moment they conceded one I knew they’d concede a few. Three in fourteen minutes as it happened, as the players downed tools for a manager I doubt they have the least bit of respect for. In the aftermath he was making excuses for the defeat.
The mediocrity of the semi-finalists who lost is actually echoed in Aberdeen’s decision to appoint Robson. He’s not done a bad job, by the way, but it’s uninspiring to hire a guy with no managerial experience for the team that considers itself the third biggest in the country, an ambition (a low case ambition in itself) that they share with Hearts who have done the self-same thing.
And even as Hearts fans were debating whether or not Naismith had a future, they must have breathed a sigh of relief as one possible, and dark, managerial path was closed off to Ann Budge. I could hardly believe my ears when I heard that St Johnstone were considering Craig Levein. I was astonished yesterday in the aftermath of the semi to hear that they had appointed him.
From one extreme to another. He certainly doesn’t lack for experience. The thing is, he is a football throwback and it’s actually mortifying to see him at the helm of a club in our top flight, just as it was to see Craig Brown rock up at Pittodrie some years ago, more than a decade after he should have been doing the after-dinner circuit from his retirement home.
The decision to appoint Levein there is like a bad joke; this is the team that won a cup double when we floundered in the COVID year. I know they’ve gone backwards since this but to go from that to this must be deeply humiliating for their fans.
You could possibly excuse it if they were exhuming his mummified football corpse from its crypt as a sort of “break glass in case of emergency” measure to pull them off the floor of the league … even then I’d have had my doubts as to the sanity of it.
But they’ve given this guy a contract until 2026.
They’ll have paid him off long before that.
It’s a joke, that decision. Having him in the dugout of a top flight club is farcical. There are better options coaching five-a-side teams at PowerLeague on Kennedy Street. I read the announcement with incredulity; their board is actually congratulating itself on this, and they must be the only people in Scottish football who don’t think it is lunacy.
Ask Hearts fans for a start. Christ, they’re not exactly in Nirvana right now, but these are high times next to the fevered days of his alleged leadership. He was appointed as director of football before he got the managers gig for the second time; he appointed Neilson and then Ian Cathro, he of the 26% win ratio.
Only at a truly dysfunctional club could the man responsible for messing up two managerial appointment conduct a search for a third and appoint himself to the job at the end of it. Even Ibrox would balk at that.
Even after they sacked him, he still managed to find a way to hurt the club.
They retained him in an “advisory capacity” and he helped Daniel Stendel get the gig as boss. Nobody in football has touched this guy since, and nobody would have had St Johnstone not come along.
I had heard that Neil Lennon was in for that job. That, at least, would have been imaginative and daring and made St Johnstone an interesting club to watch for a while. If Lennon really was in for that gig, and they gave it to this guy … I’d consider that the final proof that my career in the dugout was probably over. I would have Lennon in two seconds flat before Levein and I would have thought that any club with the choice of the two would find it just as easy.
I despair of our game on a day like today.
Two Edinburgh clubs run by people who think it’s a minor triumph just to see inside Hampden. Kilmarnock, whose biggest “accomplishment” this season was knocking us out of a tournament and then falling at the next stage. Aberdeen, essentially in the hands of a rookie and asking him to deliver silverware, and now Craig Levein getting a three-year deal from the club which is rock bottom of the league, as if they weren’t in enough trouble already.
This is the league where even David Martindale can look sometimes like a tactical genius, if you believe the press that he gets. His side is second bottom, and although I have no love whatsoever for Craig Levein, who I cannot stand in any way, shape or form, and have nothing against Livingston at all as they are a club who have had a lot of Celtic connections down through the years, I do harbour the modest hope of seeing St Johnstone overtake them and forcing the board at Almondvale to a decision which I would applaud with the vigour of a performing seal waiting for a fish.
The sooner the Martindale’s of this world are out of jobs and decent, young, up-coming progressive bosses are in charge of some of the clubs here the better. But there’s that sneaking worry that if Livingston did sack Martindale tomorrow that they’d give it to Alex McLeish, plastic gums and all. This is the level of ambition across our game, at a time when there are genuinely good coaches out there, like Chris Wilder with his decent history at English clubs. He was linked with the Aberdeen and Hibs jobs, and I hoped he’d get one of them.
I always hope to see some talent like that at a non-Glasgow team. I want that. As a Celtic fan used to winning stuff every year and tired of reading how every Ibrox manager is finally the right man for the job, I want a challenge out-with that clown club across town, I want a team to emerge which has the beating of all the rest and sets its sights on us.
Not third place. The top spot. Being number one. A club run by a manager with a good track record and who looks at Celtic Park and Ibrox as just grounds to visit and who takes us on without fear. That’s what I want for Scottish football, that’s what I want from one of these clubs and I know their fans don’t believe that … but we’re going to Madrid tomorrow and a lot of folk dread that trip because although we’ve looked okay in Europe we’re not at that level and we’re never going to get to that level playing teams every week who put eleven men behind the ball.
If these clubs get better, we get better, it’s that simple. Which is why when I see Hearts appointing Naismith or Aberdeen giving Barry Robson the gig after a handful of games I want to sit down and cry somewhere. Hibs’ appointment seemed to show imagination of the sort I’m talking about but he, so far, has been a momentous disappointment and his team were easily the most negative we’ve played so far this season, which I am genuinely dismayed by.
I cheered on Hearts, Hibs and Aberdeen in Europe this season.
I wanted them in their Group Stages because every match there is money in the bank, with ticket sales, TV cash and every point you get putting more of it in the coffers, and that’s how these teams will grow and improve. Aberdeen should have won their last Group game, and would have but for a dire, dire VAR decision which still defies belief. I was willing them to do it. I will be willing them to get a result on Thursday against PAOK away from home.
They, of course, thrashed Hearts over two legs in Europe. Hibs had the dreadful luck to run into Aston Villa. But I was cheering them all on, all the way until they went out and I’ll cheer on Scotland’s European representatives next season just as loudly, all but one.
Celtic needs it. It’s not even about the co-efficient points; we need these teams to up their game, to find another level, to be regular European participants and to develop and get better through regular exposure to that kind of competition. Yes, we want harder games, of course we do. We’re not afraid of that, that will help us, that will push us to be our best selves.
If I could send a message to those teams, it would be “Stop screwing up. Stop doing daft stuff and making daft appointments like these.” These clubs need to start taking themselves more seriously and having a bit more self-belief. They need to appoint serious people who have serious goals and don’t believe a 0-0 draw at home against anyone is a moral victory.
St Johnstone, for God’s sake, what have you done?
Craig Levein, by Christ?
If ever a club seemed desperate for the Hell of relegation … that’s the kind of move you make when you want to assure it, not when you’re trying to avert it.
All they’ve done at the weekend is top up the pension pot of an arrogant, greedy charlatan who has already leeched enough money out of the game and who should have been left to his role as a third-rate pundit.
Outside of Celtic Park, this entire league reeks of the rot of self-inflicted wounds. Even at Ibrox, they are making the same mistakes as they have time and time again in getting over-excited by a guy who is just in the door, declaring him a messiah, accusing us of running scared … of what? Hysteria and hype?
Cause that’s the order of the day right now.
But for Tavernier (Penalty) I couldn’t tell you where their breakthrough was coming from yesterday. But for Tavernier (Penalty) they would have lost at home to Naismith’s awful tactics. A better team than Sparta would have turned them over in Europe. If there’s been an improvement at all it’s been modest at best although they’ve scored more goals along the way.
The league itself is going backwards. We have dreadful officials, non-existent leadership at the top of the house, a media which spends all its time writing gossip and focussing on fluff and clubs which would rather lose money than sell seats to willing customers from other teams … I mean it’s a backward environment and we’re expected to leave here and go and get something against a La Liga giant or endure days of headlines about how bad our European record is.
Look around. We’re playing in a desiccated football hellscape, and in spite of what some theorists believe we’re not the cause of this, it’s not about the “vast wealth” concentrated in Glasgow, it’s about mistake after mistake after mistake being made elsewhere, and I dearly wish these other clubs would stop bitching about the injustice of life as Scottish football’s afterthoughts and get a grip and be more than that.
It’s in their hands, not ours … and many of us are willing them to get there.