Wednesday, April 23, 2014
Scottish Premier League News April 2014
by Lisa Dillon
Inevitably, Celtic cantered their way to a third successive SPFL tile win, with the ribbons on the trophy before March was out. A midweek win at Firhill formally secured what has been expected all season, although despite the expected nature of the success, Neil Lennon remains adamant that there are still ambitions to fulfil at Parkhead.
The dilemma for the club, who have at least another season in the top flight without Rangers, is whether to spend or not this summer. Lennon, majority shareholder Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell have met to define the outline of the club's five-year plan. The budgets and strategies they come up with could take them to eight championships in a row - but it is European success that Lennon has his eye on.
"Basically the board work that way, a five-year strategy," said Lennon. "We're getting round to that again. We have frank and open discussions and it's always pretty healthy. Dermot's satisfied with the way things are going and has his finger on the pulse of the club. "I think we're on the same lines. Don't get me wrong, it's not about my elevation - it's about me elevating Celtic. They're the same. It's not about Dermot's elevation, Peter's reputation or anything like that, it's about the security and the future of the club. They have all the information in front of them and that's the way they lead the club."
For Lennon, the aims are more immediate. Having had a fairly paltry return in the cup competitions to date, he craves a treble and a return to the last 16 of the Champions League next term, and would even go so far to suggest that Celtic could burst into the quarter-finals at some stage.
"I've done the last 16 now, the next step is 'can we go last 16, can we go last eight?'," Lennon said. "And certainly the treble is a viable incentive for [the players] as well. So there's a substantial amount to go for. You always have to present challenges for yourself. My worry is, at the back of my mind, if we just have domestic football next year -will I improve myself? That's just my concern, not the club's." With the likes of Stefan Johansen and Leigh Griffiths adjusting well to their new surroundings, the squad is undoubtedly further advanced in its rebuilding than 12 months previously, with Van Dijk the template for new signings who can be persuaded to join in June.
"I would take this squad into the qualifiers but as we progress I would like to add to it," Lennon said. "We want, if we can, to get business done before the World Cup because some of the players we're after, if they have a good World Cup their price will elevate."
To consider how seemingly outlandish goals can suddenly become a reality, Lennon needs look no further than his countryman Brendan Rodgers. Long before he was chasing the Premier League title at Liverpool, Lennon visited him at Reading, and the two men have kept in touch since an early season friendly meeting between the two clubs in Dublin this season.
"I must say I'm surprised by how well they have done because I always felt Chelsea and Man City would be dominating, but Brendan's done brilliantly," Lennon said. "Not just the fact they are winning games but the style of football too. "When I went to see him he had a file, a really thick file, and it was his methodology on the game. Early on in the season we were in contact, largely through text message. But I think at this stage of the season he doesn't need too many distractions."
The on-going stresses and tribulations that continue to engulf Rangers off the park may dissuade many from joining the club. But manager Ally McCoist has insisted that he considers himself 'the luckiest guy alive' to be in charge of his boyhood team, although he did qualify that statement by admitting that he would like to have assumed control in less turbulent times.
Asked if he was feeling the strain of being Ibrox manager in the period since administration, he replied: "It's the dream job without doubt, perhaps not at the right time but, that said, I am the luckiest guy alive. "To play for the club you supported and then be assistant to Walter Smith and then get the job - I still believe I am the luckiest man alive in managing the club you supported since you were a wee boy.
"At best it has been a turbulent two and a half years since even prior to the club going into administration.The problems were there and you could see it coming. The signs were not good around the place and the staff and players could sniff it out."
Having led the Ibrox side to their second successive title as they edge their way back to the top flight in Scottish football, McCoist believes that Celtic, perhaps not publicly, are keen to have a strong Rangers snapping at their heels.
"Celtic thoroughly deserved their league title this year and won it very comfortably,' he said. "They have some very good players but they also lost some, Joe Ledley to Palace, Gary Hooper to Norwich and Victor Wanyama, who was a terrific player for them.
"So I think from Neil Lennon's point of view he will want to keep hold of the squad he's got and to build because, and this is only my opinion, it's maybe not as difficult for Celtic - but it's certainly very difficult without real competition in the league.
"History will tell you Rangers and Celtic have always given each other strong competition so Neil has to maintain the standards he has set while also looking to improve." McCoist admitted he was in the dark as much as anyone when it came to forward planning and budgets.
Rangers will play in a Championship next season including the likes of Hearts and possibly Dundee, Dunfermline and Falkirk.
He admitted he will be under intense pressure to take Rangers back into the top flight to challenge a Celtic side whose bank balance will have been swelled by continued involvement in the Champions League.
"We are planning already," said the Ibrox boss. "We have a couple of plans because we don't know if will we get any money to spend. In an ideal world we would like to plan long term. That would be the perfect scenario where we can bring players in. That would hopefully get us through the league next year and stay with us to challenge in the top flight the year after. That is the ideal scenario and I would love the opportunity to do that but as yet we don't know if we can.
"If we got told the budget is X amount and you can only plan for next season then we will just have to adapt to it.
"It's difficult. We have a list of free transfers all over Europe but if you get money to spend there is another market you can look at. The problem we have at the moment is we don't know if we can shop and where we can shop."
The Scottish national team have found that the improvements they have enjoyed since Gordon Strachan took charge last year have been reflected in the FIFA rankings. The Scots have moved into 22nd place - making them the world's most improved country. The jump means the Scots have risen an astonishing 47 places since Strachan was appointed in January last year.
Strachan's Scots continued their excellent recent run of form with a 1-0 win in Poland last month.
That was enough for Scotland to be the biggest risers in the world in April's ranking where they have jumped up 15 places to 22nd. When the former Celtic manager took over last year, Scotland were languishing in 69th place and even dropped as low as 78th spot four months later.