Celtic: Seismic month as issues come to head for Scottish Premiership club

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
'The board don’t want me to fail. We all know what needs to be done'

When Celtic chief executive Dominic McKay did his Q&A session with assorted fan podcasters and bloggers, he repeatedly mentioned that the club was now embarking on a "journey" on his watch.

The point of the journey, he said, was to modernise and become "world class" in every department.

It'll be interesting to see when McKay offers himself up for interview again. The certainty is that the reception he gets next time - if there is a next time - won't be anywhere near as welcoming as the one he got before a ball had been kicked and when Ange Postecoglou had just been unveiled.

Celtic's loss to a more driven, more clinical and fitter Hearts on Saturday has ratcheted up the pressure on everybody at the club. You could write endlessly on their myriad issues right now, but here's a snapshot.

Out of the Champions League at the first pop; no win in three in the new season; no away win in any competition since February; already three points behind Rangers in the league; a painful lack of on-field leaders; confusion about who is actually running the club; a crisis in goal; a weak defence; continuing talk of first-team players wanting out; a clearly frustrated manager; desperately slow recruitment; no head of recruitment; no sporting director; no new assistants to help the new manager; and a major disaffection among the support.

Telling the fans that they're on a journey to world class is one thing; actually doing something - anything - to show that those words have any meaning is quite another. It's early days for the new regime, but it's been a talking shop so far.

Meanwhile, Dermot Desmond, the majority shareholder and real power at the club, maintains his vow of silence in public. Desmond could offer some thoughts on Celtic's plan, if there is one. He could explain their vision of themselves and what they want to be. The fans, no doubt, would love to hear it. They're waiting and waiting.

One month, eight games & window closing

This will be a seismic month for Celtic, one way or another. They play eight games in three (or four) competitions and, at the end of it, the transfer window closes.

They're either going to be in the Europa League or the Europa Conference League or out of Europe altogether. They're either going to be in or out of the League Cup depending on how their tie against Hearts goes on 15 August. They're either going to be in decent shape at the top of the league, or in monstrous trouble, based on what happens at Ibrox on 29 August.

And they're either going to have stellar first-team recruits that excite the supporters or they're going to be limping along much as they are now.

Will they have a new goalkeeper, new full-backs, at least one more centre-back, a midfield leader of proper substance, another couple of strikers?

And will they be any good? Who is identifying players for Celtic these days? Ange and whose Army? From Vasilis Barkas to Shane Duffy to Albian Ajeti to Patryk Klimala to Diego Laxalt, their signings over the last year or so have been costly and poor.

Better players - infinitely better players at that - were available on their doorstep but they bypassed the domestic options and went for expensive flops from outside Scotland. Their decision-making has been wretched.

If ever a club needed a razor-sharp scouting and recruitment department it is Celtic. Good players are badly needed but the requirement for new people to help identify those players is just as pressing. There seems to be so many gaps at Celtic.

Will Odsonne Edouard still be a Celtic player by the end of the month and, if not, how much can they get for a striker who's scored three goals in his last 14 games.

Edouard doesn't look like part of the solution to Celtic's problems right now. Worryingly for Celtic, he is not coming across as the answer to any other club's problems either. His worth is falling by the week.

There are obvious issues around Edouard and, perhaps, Ryan Christie, too. Christie was dropped to the bench at Tynecastle. If they both want to leave then can you really blame them? They've won everything they'll have wanted to win at Celtic. Then they've won it again and again. They're now seeing the club in a haze behind the scenes. They might want something different in their career - why would they want to stay?

'Postecoglou must be wondering what's happening'

In all of this you feel for Postecoglou, of course, but also for his new captain, Callum McGregor. He's the main guy now that Scott Brown is away.

Brown's leadership, on and off the field, tied that team together for years. The force of his personality carried the place forwards. McGregor in trying to learn the new role has to galvanise a disparate group of players low on experience, confidence, quality and, in some cases, interest level. He's a terrific player and deserves better than the tumult he's having to operate in.

Not many players are cutting it. Celtic's spine has fractured. No authority at the back, no Brownesque character to anchor the midfield along with McGregor, no guys in form up front.

Edouard has stopped scoring. Ajeti has one goal in 23 games. Leigh Griffiths has scored twice in 2021. The pressure on Kyogo Furuhashi, and any other attacking players who are signed in his wake, is massive.

This is a club that has won one of its last eight games and yet in terms of trying to build new foundations a shovel has barely been put in the ground.

The doomsday scenario is that that come the end of the month Celtic are out of the Europa League, out of the Europa Conference League, out of the League Cup and are six points or more behind Rangers, a club that only dropped 12 points in the whole of last season.

If that's fatalism then it's warranted given what's happening at Celtic Park. Neil Lennon left in February but they are as mired in mediocrity now as they were then. Many months have brought no progress. They've faced two tests this season and they've failed them both.

Between all of last season and the early days of this, Celtic have won just 50% of their matches - their lowest percentage since 1994-95 (40%), when the club finished fourth behind Rangers, Motherwell and Hibs.

In the 25 years from 1995-96 (65%) to 2019-20 (78%), Celtic won an average of 68% of their games. The board shouldn't need any more evidence of how far they've fallen, but if required, there it is.

August will bring games at a breakneck speed. What state will Celtic will be when they come out the other side of it?

Behind that deadpan demeanour, Postecoglou must be wondering what is happening. He knew he was second choice. He hadn't banked on his new club being second class.

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