By Joe Behan
When Glasgow Celtics’ Martin O’Neill is able to get into the transfer market this early, Rangers had better look out. The Blues will want to start sending some scouts on duty and do some window shopping for some additional players at Ibrox. O’Neill is already making his moves and it is in central defense where he is spending and perhaps selling.
There is talk of Michael Duberry joining the Bhoys, while a current defender, Belgian international Joos Valg’ren, may be sold. Another name we may not forget associated with Parkhead is 18-year-old N’diwa Lord Kangana Congo. He is from Sweden and did well on his trial at Celtic. So it’s Duberry and Lord Kangana in the shopping window for Glasgow Celtic. Expect to hear about who Rangers buy in the near future.
The Gers will no doubt take note of who Celtic is buying. For now it seems the Hoops are tightening up central defense and looking to develop some flair in attack.
The interest in Duberry is good as long as Valg’ren remains. Its makes sense for O’Neill to take interest in players who, for whatever reason, just cannot make first-team football. Duberry fits the bill as one of those players who seems to be out of favor, just like Chris Sutton and John Hartson. This kind of buying was similar to that of Brian Clough for Nothingham Forest when O’Neill played for them. Forest won the European Cup with these kind of buys. The question, of course, is, can Celtic win the Champions League? To do so there has to be a mentality that winning the Scottish Premier League is the priority. Celtic must dominate the league for the next several years, win the SPL Championship, and thus qualify for Champions League on a regular basis.
Forest didn’t dominate domestic football except for a few years when they won the European Cup. Teams like Forest pop up now and then. But there is no substitute for game-in, game-out consistency. There has to be a starting point and we may be looking at Celtic on the brink of at least qualifying for the C.L. on a consistent basis.
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The Hoops are 90 minutes away from defending their Scottish Premier League title in their second year with O’Neill at the helm. This Saturday, Celtic, at home, can beat Livingston to lift the League trophy. Livingston eventually fell off the pace in the final third of the season but will want to win this one to redeem themselves.
Celtic will want to regain the trophy at home in front of their fans, something they have been doing all season. The win on Saturday gives Celtic a Champions League head start. The Hoops will be one of the first clubs to know they are CL material. The goal for Celtic in the CL will be to go one step further, and that’s the final group stage. Celtic gained a lot of respect last year on the continent and the club is expected to be even stronger next time out.
It has to be a disadvantage for a team when it qualifies for the CL from a weaker league. Many a critic believes that there are only two teams in the SPL — indeed, that the league is a two-horse race. However, given that Celtic and Martin O’Neill qualify for CL for the next five years, then the argument of a weaker league is not as strong simply because of the CL experience.
For Glasgow Celtic’s future and for its legacy, CL is where they must go. The Hoops, under the guidance of the visionary O’Neill, will push to reach the CL quarterfinals. The Irish manager is leagues ahead of his closest rival, Rangers. Do not forget that O’Neill is quite a young manager himself. He will not throw away too easily what he has built and he is far from the finished product. Of course, Rangers will simply not go away and neither will the SPL. Scottish football nonetheless has no excuse when it comes to producing a CL quarterfinalist when one considers Panathinaikos. So to avoid all the scenarios, simply do what the Greeks do, whether it be SPL’s Glasgow Celtic, Glasgow Rangers or Aberdeen, for that matter.
Sacchi, Serie A
is ‘old fashioned’
The Champions League has become the scale for measuring leagues. La Liga and the EPL more than hold their own in the CL and both leagues are considered two of the strongest in the modern game. Two of the biggest influences in these leagues are the financial resources and the emphasis on attacking with flair and speed. It’s also a plus when there are a number of teams competing for CL spots and the domestic title. The game has evolved rapidly in the last few years.
Celtic and the SPL face genuine challenges in the CL, whereas Serie A representation has lost face. Roma were the last of the Italians this year in the CL going out at the mercy of a strong Liverpool. Lazio have showed up on occasion, but gone are Juventus, Inter Milan and, moreso, AC Milan. The Serie A has seemed to have fallen behind in the elite European game and it has not gone unnoticed with one of the great minds in the Italian game.
Former national coach Arrigo Sacchi has brought attention to the fact that Serie A teams have failed to reach the last eight of the CL for the second successive season. The demise of the Italian clubs in the CL has set off a regroup from the legendary soccer figures in Italy. Sacchi has claimed that Italian clubs are not keeping up with the modern game and indeed the evolution of the European Cup — a trophy Sacchi won twice with AC Milan in 1989 and ’90. Sacchi said that Serie A is “old fashioned.” Now the technical director of Parma, Sacchi admitted, “In Italy we are a long way from the mentality, the method, the style of play and the training that is done in Europe and the world.” It is a very serious matter for Sacchi, who claims “superficiality” in the game is causing a lack of evolution. He believes Serie A coaches, including himself, are “stale.”
Sacchi has seen Serie A slide for the last 10 to 15 years. Even with success in Europe in the ’80s he believes that his AC Milan played a different game on the continent. That Serie A was not good preparation for big European games.
Sacchi also remarked that even with big spending and some of the best players in the world, Italian clubs have not in the last several years made their mark in the CL. The departure of the brilliant Zinedine Zidane from Juventus to La Liga is testament to the downfall of Serie A. For Sacchi it’s about being unable to have a “fresh” approach to the game. Cutting to the chase, Sacchi claimed, “We haven’t the desire to move away from our culture, which we have behind us and inside us for many, many years. That is the real reason for these defeats.”