Celtic ? Why not ?
The name of Celtic Football Club is known all over the world. There are lots of big names in football who have added to the long list of people with only good things of which to speak of Celtic. As fans we understand exactly why Messi said “It is the best atmosphere in Europe and we all want to experience that again.” Or why Xavi said “When you step out at Celtic Park, the atmosphere they create for their team is incredible. It doesn’t matter how many big games you’ve played in, walking out into that atmosphere is always intense.” Or even native Scot, Archie MacPherson’s thoughts that “Celtic enjoys a greater community spirit than any other club in the world.” The list of famous football people who have complimented our Club is extraordinary, especially so when you consider it is so long since we were a top team at the height of our success…Messi, Ronaldo, Xavi, Seedorf, Mourinho, Ferguson, Kahn, Maldini, Platini, Eto, Pique, Frank De Boer, Puyol, Ranieri. Just look at some of the names in there. World Players of the Year, Champion’s League Winners, World Class players and managers. Guys who have been all over the world with football and have seen the lot. And they all hold a special thought for the Famous Glasgow Celtic.
So, you might be asking yourself ‘Where is this leading?’ Well, since the lockdown we’ve been reading about ex-players and legends, what they mean to us, how career paths and decisions are defined, how reputations are viewed decades after careers have ended and it got me thinking about other Clubs’ legends who’ve come to us. Players who have been held in the highest regard not just at Club level but across fitba. Players who – not always but sometimes – are at the tail end of their career but still able to play a bit and perhaps hopefully raise the level of the team while they’re here topping up an already bulging pension pot!
I’m not sure how this trend started as it’s far removed from the business model so vigorously pursued by Peter and the Board but we went for it, and sometimes in a huge way – think Gravesen, Roy and Robbie Keane, Ljungberg, Juninho, Wright – big, big names! World Cup winner, Champion’s League Winners, Premiership Winners, FA Cup, Cup Winner’s Cup. It’s an impressive list but did any of these players actually do what was expected of them at Parkhead? Or were they there to sell jerseys and tickets? Both Robbie and Roy were exceptional and exciting signings. They came to us for different reasons but both were welcomed with open arms and high expectations. Roy Keane had literally seen it, done it and had the t-shirt – but still wanted a piece of the Parkhead action “I wouldn’t have called it a dream but I’d always liked Celtic. And the Irish connection would have been on the back of my mind. I felt a bit of loyalty to them. This decision was a purely selfish one. I just wanted to play for Glasgow Celtic. Celtic is a special club.” His time was a mix of good and bad. He won at Ibrox and picked up a League Cup medal but had a string of niggling injuries which interrupted his Celtic career. Robbie at age 29, on the other hand, had the kind of goals to game ratio that justified the huge transfer fees which had been spent on him before coming to us. A total of 16 goals in 19 games had the wee man pistol-firing his way through Scottish fitba in an all too short – for me – love affair! On an estimated £65k a week, like Craig Bellamy a few years previously, he was just too expensive to make it permanent. He returned to Spurs who sent him on loan to West Ham before he ended up in the USA for another 5 years with LA Galaxy! It’s clear though Celtic means something to him “Just walking out on to Celtic Park and putting on that green and white jersey, well, from start to finish the experience for me was great. I enjoyed every minute of it.” So did we, Robbie, so did we!!
Ian Wright is another huge name in British fitba. It is rumoured his contract at Arsenal allowed him to match the top earner at the Club! So no matter who they signed Wrighty was always scoring big and earning big! This is a man who was late to the professional game but worth every penny Arsenal ever spent on him. A natural goalscorer who consistently scored for fun in an Arsenal career which netted over 320 goals in 620 games. But his short term at Celtic was a real disappointment by comparison. He was a man at the wrong end of his career and offered us very little at a time when Henrik was out long-term with a broken leg. His time with us offered no glimpse of the player he had been in his prime and there was a perceived lack of effort which was not appreciated by the fans. His spell with us should have allowed the Celtic support a look at a fine player in his twilight but unfortunately his ambivalence was all too apparent and Celtic supporters will not stand for that!
Sometimes the stars collide and along comes an opportunity too good to pass up. So if someone offered you a youthful 29 year old Brazilian who’d been part of the previous World Cup winning squad to play for your team you’d be crazy to knock them back. So of course, when we got the opportunity to sign Juninho Paulista, to be fair a footballing nomad, we took it. As is the case with the other players in this article Juninho was a top quality player but his meagre 1 goal from 14 appearances is not what we’d expected from such a talented individual. His preferred position as attacking midfielder was occupied by Stan Petrov and in Martin O’Neill’s teams few players of Juninho’s stature were considered for such important roles. “It was a shame it didn’t work for me there, because Celtic is such a great club.” His one season was enough for him and it was enough for us too, and he continued on his travels, returning home to Brazil.
I was largely unaware of Thomas Gravesen, I knew the name, I knew he played for Everton but as an unfashionable Premiership team I took little interest. And of course he signed for Real Madrid which was big news at the time although the fee was small at only £2.5m. A change of manager at Real put him on the transfer list and he ended up at Celtic for a fee of about £2m. There was an excitement about us signing a player from Real Madrid. Of course you’d expect that but what we didn’t expect was the headless chicken that is Gravesen! This guy had no positional sense AT ALL. Man, this guy could run all day, actually did run all day, he covered every blade of grass chasing balls into areas he should never have been for balls that were never his, unbelievable that you sign a high profile player from Real who has no structure to his game. He was at Parkhead for 2 seasons but again, as is the pattern in this article, played fewer games than you’d hope or expect. Gravesen was another big name who faltered on the Celtic Park stage. “I chose to join a fantastic club in Celtic and I don’t regret that at all.” He was not a bad player, actually he was a very good player, but without discipline in his game he was worthless to our style under Wee Gordon. He left with our best wishes but we’d had no tangible contribution from him.
The final big name player is of course Freddie Ljungberg. I loved Freddie with Arsenal. He was an excellent striker making blind runs into space, onto wee balls in from Pires or Denis, superb! He captained the Swedish National side. He was a Calvin Klein boxers model feck’s sake, he had the lot! He played for Arsenal for 9 seasons then wandered the footballing world looking for football happiness that never came. From Arsenal to West Ham then America for a few years. Celtic took him on trial (!) for a week and then gave him a contract. What another great signing by Celtic…Freddie Ljungberg, Premiership Winner with Arsenal, TWICE! FA Cup Winner with Arsenal, THREE TIMES! What’s not to like? Well, everything really. Illness delayed his debut and Beram Kayal’s return from a knee injury further limited his chances. Freddie donned the Hoops just more than a handful of times and of course, in this recurring theme, produced little of the stuff we’d hoped to see.
In trying to get a handle on how to approach this subject I was tempted to look at each players’ individual contribution to each campaign they competed in, or look at individual performances that typified their style of play but the article would have been a statistical nightmare so I decided to concentrate on the success or otherwise of the policy of signing them. It was the bigger picture I wanted to write about.
It’s an impressive list of players. All had previously made a significant contribution to their clubs or their national team or both. We are fortunate to be able attract players of this stature but I don’t want to see them if they can’t contribute. We have long criticized the policy of signing ‘project’ players. But this type of signing must be considered a worse policy. It would be better to remember Roy Keane as the snarling enforcer for Man U or the Republic, or Freddie making a late run onto a Pires cross across the face of the goal, or Gravesen running about like a madman leaving spaces and holes for anybody other than us!
Although if Virgil is looking for a pension top up……
By Mc Caff. Hail Hail Everybody, please Stay Safe and Stay Healthy.