There Is Accumulating Evidence Of A Full Ibrox Melt-Down As Celtic Park Looms For Them.

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There is a misconception that there is a long-standing principle of the intelligence community that their agents must instinctively reject the idea that there are coincidences.

In some ways, they do operate according to the idea that if you think you see a pattern you treat it like one, but there’s also a requirement that you try to find evidence that it isn’t. What those people do is they look at the big picture and they pull together fragments of information to see if it adds up to anything. But good intelligence officers know that coincidences happen all the time … and some of them are actually disturbing in their implications.

Part of doing this job is trying to do that. To put together scattered pieces and find out if there’s a pattern.

I look at Ibrox right now, and I see one almighty mess.

But I’m ever conscious of the idea that there are coincidences, and series of coincidences … and they can distort the picture.

I’m going to tell you about one of them, and I’ll keep it as brief as I can although there’s a lot to unpack from it. You may have heard bits of this before. It’s when you examine it in its full context that it has the ability to scare the living daylights out of you. Before I start, I want to say that this example would have come to mind anyway, but it clicked into place because I just finished a tremendous – and horrifying – book by the Pulitzer nominated Annie Jacobsen, called “Nuclear War: A Scenario”, and this gets a mention in there.

I cannot recommend that book highly enough. If you have the stomach for it, and it’s grim, it’s ghastly, it’s scary, please give it a read.

Anyway, here goes …

In 1983, NATO conducted an operation called Able Archer. It was a full-scale simulation of a war with the Warsaw Pact, and part of it involved moving units whose battlefield utility was in delivering low-yield nuclear warheads against oncoming Soviet forces. Those same units were also capable of launching intermediate range missiles at the Soviet Union itself.

What they didn’t know was that at the very moment they were running that operation, the Soviets were at their most paranoid. The Foreign Ministry and the KGB had, just two years prior to this, set up a sophisticated system for monitoring the US and NATO political and military leadership on the grounds that many in Soviet high command were convinced they were preparing to launch an unprovoked nuclear attack on the homeland.

That program was called Operation RYAN.

Able Archer 83 was in November of that year, and a group Soviet analysts came very close to convincing the Politburo that it was, in fact, an attack and that they needed to forcefully respond to it. What they had pulled together looked compelling; in fact, it was nothing but a series of events, coming one on top of the other, which made it look like a war was about to begin.

In the early part of that year, the US began to ramp up their high-risk close-approach flights testing the limits of Soviet radars, using bombers and fighters. This had been going on for at least a year, but in 1983, partly in preparation for two major exercises, the second of which was Able Archer itself, the US started to step it up. And the Soviets were worried.

In April that year, the first of those exercises, FleetEx 83, a massive wargame involving much of the US Pacific Fleet, was launched, and it involved some of the most dangerous manoeuvres ever attempted in peacetime including US naval forces deliberately pushing into areas patrolled by Soviet nuclear armed submarines. FleetEx 83 involved hundreds of aircraft, thousands of naval personnel and over 40 major US surface vessels.

In September that year, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, believing it to be a US aircraft which had breached their territorial airspace. They admitted that they’d not mistaken it for a military plane, but pointed out that it could have been an intelligence gathering platform or up to some other malicious act. In fact, it was a passenger plane, on which there was a serving US Congressman, who died, with all the other passengers, in the explosion.

25 days later, on the night of 26 September 1983, we came closer to nuclear war than the world ever has before, save perhaps for an incident which took place on Black Saturday during the Cuban Missile Crisis when a commander on a cornered Soviet submarine debated firing a nuclear torpedo at American naval vessels which were trying to force it to surface.

On that night, a Soviet radar operator named Stanislav Petrov was working a shift when the systems he was in charge of detected a single ICBM launched against his country. Everyone in the room panicked, except him. He was supposed to pass that up through the chain of command, but before he did that, he took a minute to think about it.

He thought it highly unlikely that the US would attack with a single missile, when standard Soviet doctrine was to respond massively. And so, he kept his cool, and he waited. A few minutes later, he received solid confirmation that there was no ballistic inbound. When the system again flashed, this time suggesting four missiles, he ignored it. We’re all alive because he did.

In fact, Soviet early warning radar had been flummoxed by a weird pattern of sunlight on the clouds. That’s what almost killed us all.

But all this, when added up – even the “error” with the missiles was suspicious; they thought the Americans might be messing with the system – had the Soviets at their most heightened state of paranoia, and so when Able Archer started just a few months later, involving increased traffic between NATO capitals and leadership centres, exactly what Operation RYAN was supposed to look for, and they saw the movement of those intermediate missiles … they assumed that we were right on the edge and that an attack was imminent, and some of them urged the political leadership to strike first. Thankfully, sanity prevailed.

And then it was over. Able Archer 83 ended on 11 November, all the high-level military chatter ceased, NATO forces stood down, and the Soviets were left to wonder what in the Hell had been going on. It was weeks before the West learned how tense things had been on the other side of the lines, and that their “exercise” had almost provoked a war.

So, like I said, intelligence agencies are all too aware that coincidences happen … and so although they look for patterns, they don’t just assume that what they see constitutes one. I love that story because it’s the best illustration of how spectacularly wrong you can get it if you approach analysis with a preconceived notion of the people you’re studying.

Which brings me (at last, but hopefully not without losing your interest; I think it’s a fascinating sidebar, and there are some great documentaries about it if you want to study it in greater detail) to the point of the article; is Ibrox coming apart? Are we seeing a pattern of disintegration … or a series of weird coincidences? I think there’s something going on.

But Able Archer’s important because those Soviet analysts who got it wrong saw what they “expected” to see, and I wonder that maybe I’m doing the same. I believe they’re cracking under pressure, and if that’s true why wouldn’t we see signs of it?

I think they have unhappy players, a manager who is a madman, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some dissention in the ranks over there coming to the surface. I think Clement’s also acutely aware that for all his schtick about closing the gap that having gone top at one point people would have expected him to win the title … and so he’s under scrutiny, probably realises it, and probably isn’t very comfortable in that position.

He also seems like the type who would take that out on some of the players.

Let’s separate this into two distinct categories, just as intelligence analysts do; what do we know for sure, and what do we see that we compare with what we know?

We know that the dressing room is full of players who do not deal with pressure well. It’s a fact. Nobody disputes it. We know that Clement is a difficult guy. We know that because of his own words and actions, and we know that he’s spiky and prone to anger. We know that some of their players are out of contract soon. We know that there is speculation about other players having interest from other clubs, and we’ve seen for ourselves that this can have an unsettling effect whether there is truth in those stories or not. We know, because Clement has confirmed it, that in the case of John Lundstram, at least, the club and the player are miles apart in getting him to sign a new deal. We also know that he recently dropped long-serving Connor Goldson and that he does not rate several others in the squad as highly as they rate themselves; Raskin and Cantwell to name two of them.

So, we know a lot. There’s a lot to work with there. So, with that as our foundation, what else is out there for us to learn? And what does it all add up to?

Let’s start with Goldson.

There are rumours, and stories, that he and the manager have fallen out, big time, all the way, beyond repair. There is actually footage of an interview with him in which he disses the club’s youth and B team footballers as not worth spending time getting to know, an astonishing piece of video which, if it was a Celtic player, would have been in the headlines for weeks.

Clement said he was simply being kept out of the team because they wanted to give him a rest. At the business end of the season, with everything up for grabs. Credible? I have my doubts, that sounds oddly suspect. He’s not the only person in the team who’s been virtually ever-present for the last couple of years; if you’re going to take players out of the front line, wouldn’t Tavernier be a more important one to rest up for the really big games?

So there’s more to that than meets the eye, obviously, and if you assume – bad word that, but let’s speculate – that he’s not wanted, does that suggest that the stories linking him with a move to Saudi Arabia could be the club or his agent trying to drum up interest from there? That’s reaching, and we’ll try not to do that here. But it’s … not crazy, is it? Because that story, published in The Daily Record, had not one iota of truth to it, as the Saudis have confirmed. So where did it emerge from, and what purpose did it serve? Interesting questions, right?

Clement said Goldson would be back in the team soon. What a coincidence then that he ends up injured – whilst he’s out to protect his fitness no less – and won’t kick a ball for the rest of the season. There he was, spotted on TV on Sunday, sitting with some of the other non-participating players, with a brace on his leg. So yeah, he certainly seems to be injured … but the coincidence is freaky, isn’t it? It jumps out at you.

The irony of ironies, of course, is that if he’s not injured, if that brace is a prop, then the actual injury to Balogun could not possibly have come at a worse time, because Goldson can’t, now, make a “miracle recovery” without all sorts of questions being asked about whether or not they are taking their own fans, and the media, for absolute mugs.

So that’s Goldson. What about Lundstram?

Well, just a month or so ago, Clement sat in front of the media and told them, and the fans, that the club expected him to sign a new deal and that this deal would be announced soon. What happened there? Well, what do we know about that timeframe? We know that they lost four crucial points, and allowed Celtic to go back on top of the league. We know that the Champions League next season comes with major money. Were they counting on that money, in their arrogance, when they were top, and expecting to be able to meet his demands?

Now listen to Clement talk just days ago, when he declared that between what the player wants and the club has offered him, “the water is too deep.” In the same period of time, they’ve also let it be known to the media that they “won’t” be pursuing a permanent deal for Fabio Silva, although that one made me laugh because it was improbable to begin with and only utter fantasists in their support ever believed that it might happen.

Lundstram might be important here, because when Brendan Rodgers came in at the start of this season it was a known fact that several players were considering leaving, and wanted to go. Jota was a bolt-from-the-blue, that offer was so out of left-field for him and the club that there was no way that deal wasn’t going to happen.

But Abada, O’Riley, Kyogo, Maeda and others all signed new deals, and the general expectation was that we were going to lose most if not all of them. Abada left anyway, through no fault of Celtic’s, and a bizarre set of circumstances beyond our control … but Rodgers convinced all the rest of them to stay. Rodgers turned at least some of those guys around, and this isn’t the first time Rodgers has done that. When he came into Celtic initially, several players were eyeing the exit door, including James Forrest who had turned down every offer the club made … and within weeks of Rodgers taking over, he signed a new deal and he’s still here today.

Rodgers can sell players on his vision. Even when a life changing offer came in for Matt O’Riley in January, he and Rodgers had a chat about it and the club turned down the bid. O’Riley has spoken at length about how much he admires Rodgers, and especially compared to Ange, who he didn’t feel met his needs on a personal level. Rodgers can do that to people, he inspires that kind of commitment in almost everyone … with a few exceptions, granted.

Has Clement convinced any senior player who was at Ibrox before he arrived to commit to a new deal? The out of contract guys are almost certainly all going to go, with the exception of Balogun himself who they are said to be wiling to offer an extension to; he’s not going to find another club of comparable size with a comparable salary. He’ll sign it.

Is this guy able to sell his vision to these people?

There are rumours – and they come mainly from the Ibrox fan sites – that Butland has said he wants to leave after just one year. Now he’s publicly denied that, and that’s fine as far as it goes, but it’s really not something you’d want out there anyway if you’re chasing trophies this late in a campaign. What’s certain is that if the club gets an eight-figure offer, he’ll be under enormous pressure to go whether he likes it or not.

He says he’s happy at Ibrox, but that doesn’t mean that he’d necessarily turn down a move elsewhere. He’s had a good season and seems to be one of their better players, but today he’s the subject of social media chatter because of a video of him, from recently, in which he’s bollocking one of their fans. That’s not how you behave if you’re settled, and happy, and loving being the focus of supporter adulation.

And he’s not alone in being caught on Candid Camera.

Even as that footage is reverberating around the internet, another piece of footage – of Borna Barisic – has emerged showing him in a separate altercation with another one of the club’s own supporters. Barisic is one of the contract rebels, and is very likely to leave in the summer on a free.

Speaking of leaving in the summer, and at loggerheads with their supporters, that was the weekend where Fabio Silva actually scored instead of diving for penalties … and his response to doing so was, apparently, to taunt his own fans behind the goal, an action which Andy Halliday scorned on Radio Clyde last night, and which their forums were ablaze over. He’s the subject of weird internet rumours as well, but those can probably – but not completely – be dismissed; having a dig at The Peepul isn’t exactly “staunch” and there are folk inside the club who will certainly have let him know that.

And it goes on, and gets murkier and stranger.

Clement himself is an unusual guy, as my first article of the day points out.

When you compare his comments in the October interview with the way he behaves in front of the cameras, his casual arrogance, his penchant for victimhood, his passive-aggressive conversational style where he has a habit of saying stuff like “ … but I’m not a referee”, his bizarre take on how the league table works, his insistence only a few weeks back that he doesn’t view the number of points his team has with how he judges their progress, and then his mad reversal of that on Sunday where he was suddenly basing it on how they’ve “closed the gap” you start to get a sense of how this guy could easily lose a dressing room due to his incredibly strange mindset.

His interpersonal relationships are obviously warped; a guy who thinks you can’t be charitable when playing games even with your own “small children” isn’t the type you go to with your personal problems or life’s little anxieties. He made a really weird comment earlier in the season, of course, about how too many of their wives and girlfriends were having babies … it would be understandable if some of his players didn’t like him very much.

One of the players about whom this can be at least suspected is Todd Cantwell.

He, also – and this ties into the broader point about a club lacking cohesion and focus – gives highly unusual rambling interviews in which he talks the most absurd rubbish … and like many of us have said, he’s not alone; he and his team-mates seems to lack all message discipline and thus they feel free to talk down opponents, insult journalists and big up how great they are, when they should be doing their talking on the pitch.

That comes from the top of the house, of course, and a manager who is prone to those things himself, and that’s a sign of a club lacking a structured approach all on its own.

Cantwell will give this guy trouble because they are too different, they are clashing personalities, and there will only be one winner, of course, that’s presuming that Clement is at the club long enough to move Cantwell on if he decides to try.

Today, Cantwell added to the general picture of mayhem over there, with a cryptic social media post, on Instagram, which reads simply; “A bird can’t fly in a cage …” which you could interpret in many ways, very few of them good for the club itself. It does tie in beautifully with reports about friction between him and Clement though.

We know – important to remember the distinction – because it’s in some of the interviews from them both, that Cantwell isn’t happy with the positions he’s been played in or the manager’s tendency to take him off early in games. So it’s not exactly a happy family at Ibrox … but then Clement doesn’t need a happy family, as his comments have revealed.

So, there is a picture here, and on the surface of it, it’s pretty grim.

It appears to show the entire club starting to come apart, with indiscipline and bickering and anger flowing through it like a river of shit. If you wanted to, you could conclude that they are in the midst of a deep, serious, possibly deadly crisis. But that’s the trouble, that’s why I started with Able Archer. You could conclude that … if you wanted to.

Maybe that’s why I’m still questioning what I’m looking at, maybe that’s why I’m being cautious, because this could just be a freakish number of coincidences, without an underlying pattern even existing, far less leading to the conclusion that they’re in freefall.

But it’s compelling, and it doesn’t matter how much I look at it and try to pick it apart. The idea that they are in the midst of an unreported crisis does seem to stand up. It’s obvious that there are problems, real problems, big problems at Ibrox, and that the guy in the dugout is at least partly responsible for a lot of them.

The media is reporting these incidents today, but nobody wants to join the dots and make the full picture clear.

Beyond that, if there is a crisis behind the scenes at Ibrox, there are people in the media who already know this, and have already heard at least something about it all, and they’ll probably know a lot of stuff that’s not even in the public domain yet.

We know now that they were aware, for many months, of issues at Ibrox when Van Bronckhorst was there, and they knew that The Mooch had lost the support of key figures at the club long before they sent him homeward to think again. So don’t think that because nobody’s written it that it isn’t going on; we know enough about how the Scottish sports media works to be able to say that these guys wouldn’t report trouble at Ibrox until bricks from crumbling walls were literally hitting them on the back of the head.

And in a close title race? Nobody wants to be remembered as the journalist who gets blamed for influencing that.

Supposing, then, that we’re seeing something that’s actually there, and I’m pretty sure we are.

Will it all make a difference?

Well, you have a lot of guys there who won’t be at the club next season, and some of those guys are guys that Clement will be relying on to get them through the rest of this one. Where’s their incentive to run through walls, if that’s what he requires?

Take their defender, Ben Davies, for example; he’s so far down the pecking order – and he knows it – that he’s got to be feeling profound insecurity, in the same way that Lagerbielke would be if we found that we suddenly had to draft him, and they’re stuck with him on Saturday unless Balogun is thrown in whatever his fitness status or, and it would be hilarious, if Goldson made a miraculous recovery, which would blow Clement’s credibility to Hell.

You have other players who are potentially unhappy for various reasons, and on top of that you have guys like Tavernier, serial failures, and Dessers who, in addition to the pressure of the games, has the additional weight of knowing the fans don’t rate him and that maybe the manager isn’t terribly impressed by him either.

It all looks bad.

But that does not mean that they will fall apart on the day, whether we’re seeing patterns which aren’t there or not.

It doesn’t mean that we just need to show up and win.

We will need to be at the top of our game, and at our very, very best … but there you just have to trust the manager and the players to do their part.

So, am I imagining it?

Do all these pieces really add up to something?

I think that they do, and if I’m right, if their club is in this kind of state, then can you even imagine what our winning would do to them?

Can you imagine what havoc a title win would spark?

We might be just days from finding out.

From seeing meltdown.

That’s a thought to cheer you up, isn’t it?

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  • Jim M says:

    Only takes 1 bad apple to rot the barrel.

    Their obviously under more pressure than we are regarding saturday , the team has to remain focused and driven as you know what happens when you corner a rat !

  • JimBhoy says:

    Only when the media are told by the influencers at rangers will they turn on the Belgian waffler like the rest before him. Pitchforks and torches on the blogs and booing, nasty scenes and finger pointing in the crowds.

    A lot of politics in play at Ibrox. I feel the manager has been given free range and even backed to be the fekin nutter he is. To say and do as he wishes and a by-product of this is an arrogant style with the millionaire players who all hold the aces.

    The manager may be clinging onto the fact that this is not his team and he may get time to build for next season. All not going well with that he may be out before Santa comes. Rinse repeat.

    I said in a previous blog you may see more rangers players injured, tends to be a sign of lack of contentment, harmony and respect for the manager and club. I think this is were Goldson is and maybe some of the other longer term injured.

    I don’t think the Saudi’s would want Goldson or tavs. They will most likely end their career in div 1 or lower championship.

    Sounds like Lundstram going he would not be a big miss to Scottish football.

    rangers have a big build next season, I hope they do that without CL money and as usual spend what they do not have.

  • Woodyiom says:

    “But that does not mean that they will fall apart on the day….It doesn’t mean that we just need to show up and win. We will need to be at the top of our game, and at our very, very best … ”

    That’s the key phrases from your post James.

    In spite of everything else that may or may not be going on at Ibrox they are capable of coming to our place and winning. Granted they aren’t favourites to do so and us winning is far more likely but football is a very low scoring game – any team can win 1-0 and that goal can come from a fluke, a massive deflection, a howler by a defender/goalkeeper, a dreadful penalty award (remember the ref is Gollum and he LOVES giving pens and red cards) etc etc. And if that happens we’ll need to go to Kilmarnock and win which we haven’t done this season yet.

    Whilst I’m quietly confident we’ll get the result we want on Saturday I’m not gonna let any potential cracks in the Ibrox set-up lull me into thinking they will be cause of their downfall. IF we win then the cracks will blow apart but until such time I (and I suspect Brendan Rodgers) will be working on the assumption that this upcoming Rangers game will our hardest game of the season.

  • Sinead says:

    Great article. Loved it.

  • Jon Wildman says:

    Typically excellent interpretative and informative piece James, unfortunately I couldn’t get the fact that the Russian radar operative was called Stan Petrov out of my head. Our hero on many occasions, is there no end to the man’s talents.

  • Jim says:

    We get Bein Sports as part of my NYC cable package so I became an AS Monaco fan over the years so Clement was not as unfamiliar to me as he may have been to many other Celtic fans. When I heard he was hired I actually said to my wife “the Rangers have hired a man who’s ego is bigger than Ronaldo’s and Zlatan’s combined”. We knew nothing of him when he came to Monaco and He did seem to know the x’s and o’s of football but also had a complete disconnect from obvious realities. He would say his team dominated the pitch but were “unlucky” when it was clear to anyone with eyes that they had not, even after he was fired he essentially said he had the best record in League 1 of any team but PSG which is demonstorably not true. He never took any responsability for any loss it was always the ref or the players etc.- pretty much exactly like is occurring now.

    I’m certainly not surprised to hear the Souness was involved in his hiring because they are two peas in a pod – arrogant, condescending, completely convinced of their own superiority, unwilling to take any acknowledgement of their flaws, etc.

    Even his career arc there resembled the Rangers just on a longer timeframe. He took Monaco from 8th to 2nd on the new manager bump (which is almost universal yet the media is stunned by it everytime) but petered out in the Champions League qualifiers. The following year he failed in the Conference League and had completely divided the fan base and locker room with his gibberish press conferences and lackluster football. After a streak of 7 losses in 8 games and no Euro football he was gone. I said to everyone at the NYCSC he’d be gone by this time next year and I pretty much stand by it.

    His career ar

  • John says:

    An interesting read which highlights many of the things that are happening on the Southside of the City. I have long thought that Castle Greyskull is an extremely unhappy place for many of it’s players & employees. This combined with it’s many present day financial troubles could once again rock the foundations of ‘The big hoose’ & may result in the incarnation of Sevco 2.0. Life just keeps getting better.

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