A can of worms has been opened up after John Collins’ comments on Friday ahead of Celtic’s 2-0 win over Partick Thistle at the weekend.
The former Scotland international – now assistant manager under Ronny Deila at Celtic – claimed that Premiership players were ‘not clever enough’ or ‘quick enough thinkers to punish’ the Scottish champions after he discussed Celtic’s conceding of goals in Europe last season.
However, his comments have went down like a lead balloon up in the North East with Dons manager Derek McInnes labelling Collins ‘disrespectful’ and ‘having a lot to say for an assistant manager’.
On Friday when I read Collins’ comments I was more critical of the timing of his comments rather than what the former Celtic and Monaco midfielder had to say in all honesty. On the back of a tough outing away to Qarabag, Celtic travelled to Firhill on Sunday, but there was a thought in the back of my head believed that Collins had given the Jags players their team talk and that they would make him eat his words.
That thought failed to materialise into an actual ending as Celtic blew Thistle away, despite the scoreline Celtic were totally dominant, with keeper Craig Gordon only having to make one save all game. The Scotland international could have sat down with Kingsley and had a cup of tea and a wee pie from one of Thistles’ stalls it was that easy an afternoon for him.
So what did Collins actually say?
He said: “We conceded too many goals in Europe last year. If you become open and detached against good players and teams you get punished.
“It’s something that doesn’t happen in Scotland. No disrespect to teams here but they’re not clever enough players or quick enough thinkers to punish us.”
Surely Collins is comparing players in the Premiership to those they have faced in European competition? Going by that logic then Collins is correct in what he said.
Celtic faced better players in Europe last season – whether it was in the Champions League qualifiers against Legia Warsaw and NK Maribor. Name another side who blew Celtic away as Legia did? Maribor was a lot more competitive with the Slovenian side running out 2-1 winners on aggregate – but once again they would make light work of any side in the Premiership and more emphatically.
The Europa League saw Celtic face Red Bull Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb and Astra Giurgiu. Two wins, two draws and two defeats saw Celtic reach the last 32 of the competition where they were beaten 4-3 on aggregate by Inter Milan – with the sucker punch coming two minutes from time in Milan.
So looking at the opposition last season in Europe and looking at the domestic opponents – was Collins wrong in what he said?
Of course Celtic signed three players from Dundee United – two in the January window [GMS & Stuart Armstrong] and Nadir Ciftci this summer – but does that mean Collins’ comments were invalid/wrong then?
All three players were on the pitch last season against Celtic just once. The 6-1 defeat to the Scottish champions in August at Celtic Park. Armstrong lasted 40 minutes, GMS 75 minutes and Ciftci played the full 90 minutes but didn’t get on the scoresheet.
Thereafter all three would never play together at the same time against Celtic again.
December’s game saw United win 2-1 at Tannadice with Ciftci and Armstrong on the scoresheet with Griffiths getting the consolation for Celtic. GMS wasn’t even on the bench.
Armstrong and GMS would then make the move to Celtic on 2nd February. Again United didn’t need to sell either player to Celtic and knowingly weaken their side ahead of what turned out to be FOUR games in quick succession against Ronny Deila’s side.
Did Celtic purposely weaken United by signing GMS and Armstrong? Of course not. The fault for weakening United lies squarely at United’s board room and not Celtic.
Ciftci played in three out of the four subsequent ties against Celtic – with GMS and Armstrong playing once in the 3-0 league win over United [GMS getting one of the goals].
There is this claim that Celtic have signed Premiership players to weaken the opposition so they don’t face any competition. Really?
Well lets take the United trio out of the equation first of all.
The last time that Celtic actually bought a player from Premiership opposition was FIVE YEARS AGO and that was then-Hibernian striker Anthony Stokes for £1 million [Tony Watt was signed from Airdrie in 2011].
The same year Celtic bought Paul Slane from Motherwell [a bad injury and off the field issues contributed to Slane making just one substitutes appearance in three years at Celtic]and re-signed Charlie Mulgrew after he left Aberdeen at the end of his contract [Mulgrew was developed at Celtic and left to join Wolves then Aberdeen before Lennon re-signed him].
June 2009 saw Celtic sign Lukasz Zaluska from Dundee United on a free following his contract expiring with the Tannadice side. 2007-08 season saw Scott McDonald sign from Motherwell and Barry Robson sign from Dundee United.
So in those eight years Celtic have signed just FIVE players from Premiership opposition – not taking into account the three United players signed in January and this summer. Eight signings from Scottish clubs in eight years though is certainly not weakening the opposition to gain an advantage now is it?
Or are they still looking back to season 2006-07? When Celtic signed a total of five players who were at Scottish clubs?
Steven Pressley [signed on a free after he left Hearts], Mark Brown [signed from Inverness Caley Thistle], Paul Hartley [signed from Hearts], Scott Brown [signed from Hibernian]and Chris Killen [signed on a free after he left Hibernian].
Surely if Celtic were facing quality opposition week in week out they would have snapped up more players than what they actually did? Or was it simply down to Collins making comparisons between current Premiership players and those they have faced on the continent?
Rather than Partick Thistle proving Collins wrong, they just added to the ammunition backing up his comments and now Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has hit back at him for ‘showing a lack of respect’ for Scottish football.
The Aberdeen boss said: “It’s very disparaging and disrespectful to say what he’s said. He’s got a lot to say for an assistant manager, to be honest.
“It’s a poor comment to make, whether it was taken out of context or whether he thinks that or not. It’s really disrespectful to the league and disappointing.
“He’s entitled to his opinion if he thinks that. But, you know, if it was that easy they would be winning the treble every year. They don’t because there is still a level of competition there that can test them.
“What he’s said is a real slap in the face to the rest of the league. It’s not what you want to hear.”
A couple of issues with what McInnes actually said in reply to Collins.
1 – Isn’t saying ‘He’s got a lot to say for an assistant manager’ very disparaging and disrespectful? Not only to Collins himself but also assistant managers in the game as a whole?
2 – If you ask many fans and pundits alike – Celtic were dealt a blow in their Scottish Cup semi final against Inverness Caley Thistle when Josh Meekings handled the ball in the box – a certain penalty and majority of the time a red card – that would have changed the game [as much as the Gordon sending off did for Caley Thistle]and could well have seen Celtic progress into the Cup Final to face Falkirk – favourites to win that final and that much coveted treble.
In fact Collins has been where McInnes has been – a manager that is. He has succeeded as McInnes has done and has failed also. He won the League Cup with Hibernian in his first season as manager of the Easter Road side, before the players turned on him over the fitness and training regime that he was implementing on them [Same training/fitness regime that is now being used at Celtic]. While McInnes won the League Cup also in his first full season as manager.
Collins went on to manage Belgian side Charleroi helping to secure the club’s First Division status before departing.
He subsequently took up the role of director of football at Livingston in February 2012 and quit a year later after Collins disagreed with the decision to sack Gareth Evans as head coach.
For McInnes to belittle Collins as some mere assistant manager does the role and the player a disservice and is far more disrespectful than what Collins said – remember Collins did not target any one person or any one club.
Taking Collins’ managerial history out of the equation – his career saw over 500 appearances at level for Hibernian, Celtic, AS Monaco, Everton and Fulham. And won 58 caps for Scotland and appeared in Euro 1998 and the 1998 World Cup – scoring a goal in the opening match of that World Cup, with a penalty kick against Brazil.
Take a look at McInnes’ playing days – around 500 games at club level for Morton [majority], Rangers, Stockport County, Toulouse, West Brom, Dundee United, Millwall and St.Johnstone.
Going on playing careers alone – who would you want to take advice or listen too? That is no slight on the clubs that McInnes played for nor what he achieved in the game – but Collins did play at a higher level after all and the media have for years used such professionals when they have retired – to comment on issues within our game and to commentate on matches also.
Collins’ media career included appearances on Sky Sports’ coverage of the UEFA Champions League and Sportscene’s coverage of Scotland games. He also worked for CBC Sports during their coverage of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Surely a former professional, former manager and now assistant manager with such credentials has every right to have his opinion heard? If the Scottish media can give former Hearts and Killie assistant Billy Brown a column and regular say on matters within Scottish football then surely a Scottish legend like Collins has the right to have his say also?
Focusing on McInnes for a minute and what he has said in the press – at the end of July after beating Croatian side Rijeka in the Europa League qualifiers, he was quoted as saying: “We always knew if we scored what they would require would be too much and at half-time we were pleased with what the players had given us.
“No-one will test our discipline domestically like that and their movement and swiftness of their play was excellent.
“They really tested us, but we handled it excellently and created enough chances. Our supporters were excellent and understood the significance of the game, but no match is ever over when you play a team of that quality.
“I’ve talked a lot about quality and tactics, but McGinn’s goal was quality and to score five goals through five different scorers against that team speaks volumes.”
Hold on a second!
Did I read that correctly?
‘No one will test our discipline domestically like that’.
Surely that isn’t a slight on Scottish opposition? Is he talking about his players keeping the head under pressure or sticking to the task at hand against quality opposition? Surely there are domestic opponents who tested Aberdeen’s discipline on the field?
After all they lost nine times in the league – four of those to Celtic – they were beaten by Dundee United 2-1 in the semi finals of the League cup semi final and were beaten 2-1 by Dundee in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup.
Surely their superior discipline would have got them through such games? No? Must be me then.
Former Motherwell and Rangers manager Stuart McCall [currently part of Gordon Strachan’s Scotland setup]has backed Collins following his comments.
He said: “If you look at it in a sensible manner, there is merit in what John’s saying because Celtic will come up against a higher calibre of striker in the Champions League. And the further they progress, the better the opposition will be.
“But their defenders will get a test in training and in bounce games and there are good strikers playing in Scotland, too. When most teams go to Parkhead, they usually play with just the one up front and Virgil van Dijk strolls about.
“It’s maybe a bit different away from home when clubs look to test them a bit more at tighter grounds like Ross County and Motherwell.”
If you look at it in a sensible manner…. says it all really doesn’t it?
While Collins may have given the opposition plenty of ammunition for their team talks when they come up to face Celtic throughout this season, were his comments wrong?
McInnes didn’t once state Collins was wrong though – just that he was very disparaging and disrespectful.
Look at that in a sensible manner and ask yourself why he didn’t state that Collins was wrong?
Collins also received the backing of his manager, Ronny Deila, who rubbished the thought that Collins was disrespectful.
The Norwegian commented: “Everybody agrees that you meet opponents some times in Europe that is better than what you meet in Scotland. We play Champions League so that’s a very obvious thing. Then you get tested harder than you do in the domestic league.
“That’s not only in Scotland but in Norway or Sweden or wherever. It’s much tougher to play there than in domestic league. So that’s something I support but it’s nothing to be disrespectful to other teams.
“I’m used to it. it’s a circus, I say that all the time, so you have to play the circus. For me it’s no problem.
“John Collins knows what football is and what quality is and what’s best for Scottish football. He can talk about that. If there’s one thing John Collins is, it’s respectful. He’s a respectful man so I support him and this is not a big thing.”
Is this the start of the title race? Well McInnes certainly had a lot to say for himself last season and look how that turned out.
It reminds me of…..