In Greek, the name “Tony” means “thriving” (look it up if you don’t believe me). Sadly for Celtic fans everywhere, their Tony is anything but.
As I write this – the day after Robbie Keane’s debut 1-0 defeat to Kilmarnock – Tony Mowbray’s record at Celtic stands as:
P 34 W 16 D 8 L 10
Compare this with Paul Le Guen’s half-season at Rangers:
P 31 W 16 D 8 L 7
Or happier times for this bluenose – the John Barnes era back at Parkhead, better than both:
P 29 W 19 D 2 L 8
Clearly something is not right in the East End.
It’s been a curious January for Celtic fans. Let’s remember, on the last day of last season Celtic were still in with a serious shout of a fourth title in a row. Scott McDonald, Gary Caldwell, and Stephen McManus had a big hand in Gordon Strachan’s success (beating AC Milan while they were European Champions – all three played that game, two of them scored). Barry Robson was without a doubt the guy who drove Celtic to recover a 7-point deficit in the back half of the 2008 season, and he was Celtic’s best player in the recent Old Firm game (the game in which Scott McDonald scored Celtic’s goal). But now, all have been shipped off down south when probably only Caldwell was looking to leave (70 grand a week… he couldn’t have been serious?).
Replacing them are a host of foreigners, frankly only two of whom I’ve heard of and only one I know much of anything about (lifelong Liverpool fan Robbie Keane). The rest may well be good players but they are unproven in the Scottish league.
So what is Mowbray thinking?
Are we seeing a Paul Le Guen scenario play out – someone coming in with a mandate for revolution, and he is just dealing with short-term dressing room unrest? It doesn’t seem that way – apart from Caldwell, and the curious Scott Brown saga, there haven’t been too many reports of unhappiness – and certainly things were looking rosy when the hoops were on a high earlier in the season.
Is Mowbray building for the future, and sacrificing short-term success for that? I would expect that’s a big part of the reason why they brought Mowbray in, to shake things up as Strachan’s successful team was getting stale. However several of the new signings are only on loan, and I’d be surprised if Celtic want to spend what it would take to get Keane permanently, both in wages and transfer fees. (Frankly, they shouldn’t need him to win the Scottish league, especially with Rangers in the state they’re in.) Also sacrificing short-term success is always dangerous for an Old Firm manager – you’re never more than three games from a crisis; one season without a trophy is bad enough but two is unthinkable; and Hibs are mounting a strong challenge with splitting the Old Firm being talked about as a possibility (dream on Hibees, it ain’t gonna happen).
Does he think that the new players are genuinely a marked improvement over the ones that were there? It’s hard to argue that Keane shouldn’t be an improvement over McDonald, but my belief is that most players coming into the Old Firm take months to settle, and maybe half of them end up not making the grade. Just look at Le Guen’s signings – Libor Sionko did well before and after Rangers, but not during; Karl Svensson was an up-and-coming centre back with rave reviews from a Swedish buddy of mine who was a dismal, dismal failure in Scotland. The argument isn’t limited to foreigners – look at Derek Riordan’s time at Celtic; Ian Murray never hacked it at Ibrox; Steven Whittaker took time to get going (some would say he’s still warming up). It’s a big step up, and Mowbray is taking a big, big risk in changing so much at once.
I don’t like making predictions about Scottish football, so I won’t; but I’m happier than I deserve to be as a Rangers fan right now. Lee McCulloch and Kirk Broadfoot may not be pretty (I have to watch them, so I know just how pretty they’re not) but when you’re playing a must-win game away to Kilmarnock on a chilly Tuesday evening in February, I’d rather have them in my team than Marc-Antoine Fortune or Diomansy Kamara or Jos Hooiveld. (Though I’d take Robbie Keane any day of the week.)
My view on Mowbray… he’s playing the long game. And while he will never admit it, he’s always viewed the league this season as a bonus. Coupled with a growing belief that Strachan’s players couldn’t cut it any more, I think he’s getting his team in place for next season so he can hit the ground running in July.
Photo Credit: Times Online