Celtic Showed Some Real Strategic Thinking Yesterday. Don’t Underestimate That.

Image for Celtic Showed Some Real Strategic Thinking Yesterday. Don’t Underestimate That.

I was not surprised, just disappointed, to read so many comments on social media last night from people who very obviously misunderstood, or just chose not to acknowledge, what happened yesterday when Rodgers got a one match ban and a one match suspension for his comments in the aftermath of the Hearts game.

Some of them think we lost somehow. They’ve missed the point. They’ve lost sight of the big picture. Others just hate our board, reflexively, and are unable to find a single thing for which they will give them praise, even when it is wholly deserved. Yesterday, the club played a blinder. It may be the closest we’ve come to showing strategic awareness than I’ve seen in a long time.

I always try to be fair on this site. Our club does so, so much that is right. The areas where we get things wrong are really few, and a lot of it is down to a lack of clarity about how we can achieve our goals. I think the things we get wrong are in tremendously important areas. That’s one problem. We are not good at doing the big picture, long range stuff.

One of the areas where we have failed, lamentably, is in reforming the SFA. We suffer for that. As long as it goes unreformed, we will continue to suffer. Did yesterday succeed in getting us reform? No, of course it didn’t. But that’s not what yesterday was about.

The Rodgers decision was not a full vindication of our approach, but I firmly believe it was a win nonetheless. Because when the rulebook clearly says that a manager cannot criticise an official by calling him either corrupt or incompetent and then your manager does exactly that, those whose role it is to enforce those regulations have got the upper hand and an open goal to shoot at. Rodgers did it. We were never going to get a “no case to answer.”

Never. Not in a million years. It was open and shut. The rule they pulled him up on is a joke. The double standards and the hypocrisy of disciplining him for what he said when others have done far worse is lamentable.

But that could not matter less. The rule exists. What he did violated it. We were never going to accept a sanction without a fight, but there’s nobody at Celtic who would not have privately acknowledged that some form of one was coming our way. The only question was – and it’s the critical question – how bad was it going to be?

They pulled Rodgers up with every intention of handing him a multi-game ban that at the very least would have massively disadvantaged us and could have derailed us completely. I read some stuff online last night about a couple of other bosses who received this sentence; that was not going to be the fate of Brendan Rodgers. I firmly believe he was facing a lengthy spell on the sidelines, and the timing of the hearing itself was so obviously positioning him for missing the game next weekend that few of us doubted that this was the objective all along.

Celtic very clearly believed the same thing; that’s why they went and hired a top gun sports lawyer. They could see the way this was heading. The SFA was all set to deprive us of the manager for Ibrox and perhaps much longer until we forced them to back down.

That some people think we should have “done more” or that this is some sort of surrender … I don’t accept either argument, and if you ask them what more we could have done, or what we should have done, the kind of knee-jerk responses you get tell you everything.

From suggestions that our club could boycott games and forfeit points (which means handing Ibrox the title virtually uncontested) just to make some ridiculous stand, accomplishing nothing, to “taking the issue to the courts” … but what issue, and on exactly what grounds? We’re being cheated? And we can conclusively prove that, yeah?

One thing I’ve learned; you have to know the difference between what you’d like to see happen and what is achievable, and as I said in yesterday’s opening article it’s not always enough to be in the right. You need to set realistic goals and have realistic objectives.

It’s like the argument over pyro in stadiums; people keep on saying that the clubs need to work with the fans. But to do what? The issue isn’t with the clubs, it’s with the law, and unless someone proposes a strategy for changing the law then you’re pissing up a brick wall.

Let me tell you about one of the “best” wars ever fought; I am not saying that this was a just conflict or that it wasn’t complicated and that there wasn’t a lot of idiocy and hypocrisy surrounding the roots of it. I’m saying that it followed a very specific path towards a very specific goal and that it completed its objectives and wrapped up in good time.

On 2 August 1990, Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. George H.W. Bush, who was the US President at the time, made the decision to assist Kuwait and expel the Iraqi army.

The war which followed happened in two phases; the first phase involved the deployment of US military forces to Saudi Arabia to stop Saddam from doubling down and invading them next; there is ample evidence that he was planning to do just that. That phase was called Operation Desert Shield.

The second phase was called Operation Desert Storm, and it involved US forces, along with others, rolling into Kuwait and sending the Iraqis back across their border.

The first phase lasted from 2 August until 17 January the following year, and the second phase, the military engagement against Iraq, ran from 17 January 1991 until 28 February. Both phases combined totalled six months three weeks and five days.

It was an absolute success. Both objectives – securing the Saudi Arabian border and removing Iraq from Kuwait – were completed.

But for years Bush was told that he had failed, most notably by his own son, which partly led him towards his own disastrous campaign in the Middle East. Why? Because Bush Snr didn’t send the tanks all the way to Baghdad to overthrow the regime.

It’s as if the critics who charged him with failing didn’t grasp that the US went into that campaign with a clear strategy, based on fulfilling those two objectives and only those two objectives. And on that basis, it was nothing but a resounding success.

We saw, the world saw, what happened when “coalition forces” drove the tanks all the way to Baghdad after 9/11. The collapse of Iraq as a country. A civil war. The rise of ISIS. Bush Snr knew those sorts of consequences were likely, which is why he took the decision to limit the scope of the mission against Saddam in 1991.

He wrapped his up in six months. It took the Western coalition nearly 20 years to extricate ourselves from the shambles of Operation Iraqi Freedom. There is no question whatsoever that Bush Snr made the right judgement call and that any other course of action would have been disastrous. His was a good strategy, following a clear, coherent plan.

Yesterday we went into that hearing with one clear goal, and it was the only thing that mattered. To have Brendan Rodgers back in the dugout for Ibrox. That was it, that’s what we were aiming for. Look at the papers today. Job done.

We were not going into that hearing with the intent of overthrowing the hierarchy at Hampden. One job at a time folks. Call this Operation Celtic Shield, and it was about protecting the manager and protecting the club.

Without a doubt, there needs to be a follow up. Operation Celtic Storm; we need to get to that, but that’s tomorrow’s problem, that comes farther down the line, and I’m not even saying our club has a plan to get us there … but it’s a question for another day.

Yesterday was about assuring that we’ve got as much stability as we can possibly have going into the last part of this season. The goal is to win the title, that’s the first and most important objective here, the first strategic objective as opposed to yesterday’s tactical skirmish. For the first time in a long time, we may well be thinking in those broad terms.

Here’s a good pop culture reference; in The Godfather, when Don Corleone negotiates the peace with the heads of the Five Families in the aftermath of Sonny’s death, he already knows that the other mafiosi will think it’s weakness.

His sole reason for making the peace is that Michael is in hiding in Sicily. He calls the truce to make sure it’s safe for Michael to return, which can’t happen whilst the Families are still at war. He knows it will look like a defeat, but in fact it’s nothing but a tactic. It’s part of Vito Corleone’s overarching strategy, which is to bring Michael home and groom him to take over in his place; as Michael will be under none of the obligations laid down at the summit meeting, he will be able to take revenge and restore the Corleone’s pre-eminence.

Yesterday should not be mistaken for an SFA win. Let me repeat; we were never getting a “no case to answer”. It was, in fact, a tactical victory for Celtic. It was about getting Rodgers back in the dugout as soon as was practicable, and we had to bring out the shooters to make that happen.

The rule under which they disciplined him is a joke. The regulations are a mess and Ibrox drives through them because in certain areas there’s too much ambiguity. But in those areas where the wording in those rules is iron clad you’re pretty much out of wiggle room.

I see people questioning why we brought in a top sports lawyer just to accept a one match ban; first, we didn’t just accept it. Even after securing our primary goal, we’ve made it clear that we think the system is broken and that changes have to be made.

That might be important later on. That might be the precursor to Operation Celtic Storm.

We brought in a top-class sports lawyer to argue that Rodgers was basically correct to draw attention to the very real issues that exist with refs here in Scotland and which our club has been warning the governing body were going to result in serious embarrassment for all concerned. We brought him in to argue that our manager shouldn’t be excessively punished or our club penalised because he expressed an opinion that they don’t happen to like.

We were, to use the old expression, walking softly whilst carrying a big stick.

The case itself was preposterous. We know that. A lot of rules and regulations are. But try breaking them and going into a hearing with a legal argument that amounts to “this is a joke!” and see if that stands up. I published a lengthy piece last night on the Hate Crimes legislation which comes into effect on Monday; it’s a disgusting law to pass, but I will do my best not to stray within its clear field of fire, because to do otherwise is to invite consequences.

On top of that, we can highlight the hypocrisy and the double standard of Rodgers getting sanctioned whilst another club skated on a technicality over the Willie Collum affair.

Technicality, I hear you say? Yeah, a technicality.

Because no club official put his name to any statement of theirs alleging bias. They didn’t even allege bias openly, they made sure not to directly do it and let their fan media take that on instead. I think they could have been done for bringing the game into disrepute, I think that would have been wholly justified and I couldn’t believe they weren’t, but in terms of the charge Rodgers faced, they can’t be done for that because they were sly about it.

That’s what I mean when I say that those rules have more holes than Swiss Cheese. Celtic’s legal team would have pointed that out, but Whataboutery isn’t an effective legal strategy either. We can argue that it sets a bad precedent when one club behaves like that and gets away with it whilst we find ourselves in the dock over this, and that’s a valid argument … but it’s not exculpatory. It doesn’t change the fact that what Rodgers did broke the rules.

We can’t fight a war on two fronts right now, and for the rest of this season that’s what we’d be trying to do, and to no benefit to us at all.

If we had gone in there yesterday to upend the SFA disciplinary system all that would have happened is that the SFA would have done what they were originally intending to do; handed Rodgers a multi-match ban and kept him in the stand until the final day of this campaign.

Let’s pause for a minute and talk about the “evidence” some folk say we should have shoved in their faces. I keep hearing about “missing audio” or “missing video” or something like that … do we even know that this stuff is true though?

It feels a lot like we could disappear down a rabbit hole chasing that stuff. John Beaton was photographed in an Ibrox supporter’s bar … that’s a fact, that picture exists. Let’s deal with what we know, not with what we heard through the grapevine.

I’m not saying there isn’t stuff that has happened and which our club is aware of. I’ll get to Crawford Allan a little further on, but it’s circumstantial right now and right now is what matters. Don’t count on evidence existing to provide us with some silver bullet. Don’t rely on missing evidence that would have suggested impropriety; it’s all vapours and rumours.

Had we gone in all guns blazing and missed the target, the SFA would have banned Rodgers for the rest of the season and we would have had no recourse whatsoever. Yeah, we could have threatened court action and everything else, and even gone ahead and tried it but in the here and now, none of that would have changed the outcome, which would have been John Kennedy in the dugout, when we need Rodgers and his experience most.

And that would have lost this title.

To accomplish what?

Nothing that won’t still be there to be accomplished once the title is secured, once we’re champions and in a stronger position than right now.

One goal at a time. A good strategy depends on working in stages, and at each stage you ask yourself two questions; what do I need to get to the next link in the chain, and how do I make achieving that serve the final objective?

Phase One of the liberation of Kuwait; Operation Desert Shield. Move the first 100,000 US troops to Saudi Arabia and from there progress over the weeks and months until your forces are such that you can achieve supremacy on the battlefield. At every stage there are tasks to be done, logistically, politically, intelligence gathering and even a little diplomacy. You don’t launch Phase Two, Operation Desert Storm, without all the assets in place and ready to roll.

Don Corleone’s strategy depended first and foremost on making sure Michael was safe to return to the US, free of fear of assassination or arrest. Everything he did prior to that moment was in service of that goal, without which nothing else would have mattered.

One step at a time. One tactical victory at a time, which makes you stronger for the next part and from then to the next one and then the one after that.

That’s how it’s done. That’s why when I was talking earlier in the week about what I thought the outcome would be – until we unveiled the legal team, I thought we’d lose this, I thought the SFA would just bunker and aim to deliver the knockout blow in the title race – I said that our next step should be to start the debate on SFA reform, in public, by releasing an earth-shattering denunciation of the current system and the structure at Hampden.

But we got the result we were after. Not even damage limitation; look at the reports on this. Almost everyone in the commentariat knows the SFA bottled out from doing what they had so very clearly set out to do when they scheduled the hearing for this week.

I’ve long advocating going on the offensive against these people. I think it’s clear that something big has happened behind the scenes and that we have landed a major blow. The SFA had to save face, and we’re comfortable with that at the moment because we knew they would have to regardless; we achieved our goal. Rodgers will be in the dugout at Ibrox.

Whatever the club has been doing behind the scenes, I can only draw your attention to the corpse of Crawford Allan, still wandering Hampden like he’s not a lame duck, but who people should be following shouting “Dead man walking! We’ve got a dead man walking here!”

Rodgers is spending a night in a cell, with a suspended sentence hanging over his head. For some, that looks like a defeat, as Don Corleone suing for peace did.

But Crawford Allan’s on death row, and if you don’t think our club had a hand in that then I would urge you to think it through.

We’ve certainly played a role in his early demise. That it came slap-bang in the middle of this case is compelling evidence that we had some part in setting his downfall in motion. There’s a lot more happening here than we can see.

I know this much; a guy like Desmond isn’t going to just sit and watch as these people try and throw Ibrox a title race. He’s the manager’s number one fan. He’s not going to let Rodgers get stomped on, and he has very deep pockets to make sure it doesn’t come to that. Even if all we did here, in terms of bringing in the top lawyer, was force these people to play it straight … that’s a not a minor matter, not when they were so very obviously setting up a crooked table.

The system is a joke and everyone now acknowledges that it’s a joke. When you even have a professional troll like Keevins taking our side and calling out a structure which doesn’t allow criticism then the argument is over, and the other side can play defence all it wants, but it’s done, it’s finished and that’s a system that’s waiting for the last rites.

Matlock couldn’t have gotten Rodgers out of that room yesterday without some form of sanction. That’s just a fact. We hired that guy to show we were serious and to intimidate them into the lightest possible sentence. Job done. There was no need to drive the tanks to Hampden, not at this time, not without a plan, not when there was a league title to be won, where an extended battle with the SFA was only going to hamper that effort.

Rodgers will be in the dugout for Ibrox. We can focus on the title race now and not have this turn into a distracting soap opera.

Operation Celtic Shield accomplished its objective.

If and when the time comes for Operation Celtic Storm, we’ve got a shot now at doing it from a position of strength, and with a Champions League pot of gold for the war-chest.

That was what yesterday was about, and at the risk of going all George W. Bush here, it was Mission Accomplished.

That’s strategy as opposed to tactics. For the first time in a while, we might just be playing the long game. And that’s going to deliver in the long term.

Share this article


  • SSMPM says:

    Soz man Beaton cheated and got away with it and though Brendan only got a one game ban, he got a ban. Yesterday was damage limitation for breaching unjust SFA rules, rules selectively applied, rules we as a club should be challenging far more vociferously than with this so called strategic approach.
    The outcome was Beaton you can keep doing what you’ve always done, and Brendan and Celtic shut up and take the punishment we decide. If there is a next time it will be worse.
    I too have never really considered Robertson as a cheat as such. I always seen him as a man that allows tougher hard tackling than most but he at worse colluded with Beaton and at best allowed himself to be corrupted by Beaton.
    Reminds of the man that was found guilty of murder and presented the fact that he was an orphan thus had a difficult upbringing as mitigation for a lower sentence. Trouble is he was the one that killed his parents.
    It’s a rigged ball game. Beaton and the SFA won and Brendan and Celtic lost. No warped thinking presented as strategic success applies here no matter how many times you repeat it. HH

  • Stephen says:

    I’m I deliberately not getting it Brendan broke the flexible rules FFS this needs sorted. I’ve been complaining since Tony Mowbray days.
    If you’re happy good luck to you.
    No more the back of the bus for me.

    • James Forrest says:

      Enjoy yourself on the roof of the bus or under the bus or wherever it is on the bus you think you are.

      By the way, the back of the bus? Nobody HERE is in the back of the motherfucking bus.

      • Stephen says:

        James you don’t seam to like opposing opinions.
        Have you joined the happy clappers of this world.

        Maybe you’re being fed propaganda or a wish to dine at the top table.

        • James Forrest says:

          You’re lucky you’re not getting booted for that you clown.

          You are an arsehole mate. I don’t mind opposing opinions. I don’t like debating idiots, and your comments reveal you to be one.

          • Stephen says:

            You’re the one handing out the abuse.
            My thoughts don’t count because James is right at all times.
            FFS grow up.
            If you feel the need to boot me off, boot away.

Comments are closed.