Former Celtic striker Frank McAvennie claims that the Celtic board have sold their players and supporters short by not staging tomorrow night’s crucial Champions League third qualifying round, second leg against Legia Warsaw at Parkhead.
Overturning the 4-1 defeat in Poland six days ago would have been a difficult enough task in Glasgow but McAvennie argues that the decision to take the Commonwealth Games cash (the opening ceremony was held there on 23 July) and relocate to Murrayfield while their own pitch was being relaid, has been a mistake.
It has not, however, been the only mistake he believes has been made by the powerbrokers at Parkhead.
McAvennie is also concerned that manager Ronny Deila, plucked from Stromsgodset in Norway, may be a weak manager chosen because he will do the board’s bidding. “I hope he is not the puppet some people say he is but I fear he might be,” he said. “What manager comes into a club and is told who his right-hand man will be?
“It doesn’t work that way. I played with John Collins and we get on well, but he is a strong character. If Ronny isn’t strong, John will take over.
“I just don’t know if he [Deila] will still be about. No one had ever heard of this guy but maybe [chief executive] Peter Lawwell didn’t expect to go through and he has got someone to point the blame at. Roy Keane knocked the job back because of the budget but also because he wouldn’t be allowed to bring his own team in.
“Roy would have attracted more players on a reduced budget than Ronny will.
“He will be shopping in the bargain basement because he doesn’t know anything else. Lenny tried to get a few players and never got them.
“You can’t keep selling top players and not replacing them. Eventually you will come a cropper. Hopefully, I am wrong but they could get beat again on Wednesday.”
The atmosphere generated at European nights in Glasgow’s east end has lifted Celtic players and inspired great performances for generations, but McAvennie fears that passion will not be transmitted to the pitch at the home of rugby while Parkhead recovers from its involvement at the Games.
“They got the money for it, I guess,” he said. “Mind you, John Barrowman was the best performance I have seen at Celtic Park for a long time!
“I don’t know why they did it and I can’t understand why it’s not ready by now. There was nothing else [after the opening ceremony] at Parkhead. I hear the grass is being grown in
Holland – maybe it will make them play better!
“You will [still] get the support and people will go because of the novelty of Murrayfield but that’s not what you need. You need the hard core. You need the Green Brigade in their corner to create that Celtic Park atmosphere.
“Legia are not a great side and it would be a big help. They could still get through – they did it last year – but who knows?”
Few Celtic fans would have been able to pick out Deila in an ID parade before he was unveiled as Neil Lennon’s successor 60 days ago and McAvennie is concerned that the 38-year-old may not be up to the task at Parkhead.
He certainly believes that Deila sent out all the wrong messages when he started loan signing Jo Inge Berget, a striker who had been given just 72 minutes of first-team action for relegated Cardiff City since January and who had completed his short-term deal the day before Celtic travelled. “I don’t know what it said to [Anthony] Stokes and [Leigh] Griffiths with Berget coming in, having not kicked a ball for Cardiff,” he said.
“You have to ask: how far are Celtic going to go down? The standard has dropped since I played.
“I just hope Ronny and John can pull it out the bag because it’s such a massive part of their season if they don’t get through this.
“If they don’t get through then [Virgil] van Dijk and [Fraser] Forster are not going to be there.
“It is going to be hard going. I went to the home game against Partick Thistle at the New Year, mainly because it was free booze, but, to be honest, it was terrible. There was hardly anyone there. I keep reading these figures about 46,000 being there and, while that might have included season tickets, there certainly weren’t 46,000 in the ground.
“If they don’t win on Wednesday they are going to have to come out and let people in for a tenner or something. Otherwise, it is going to be terrible this season. No one will want to come.
“There is no point in having money in the bank if players are playing in a half-empty stadium. Last season they closed the top tier. You must be joking: just charge folk less, get them in and create an atmosphere.”
lFrank McAvennie was speaking to publicise Bauer Media’s new deal to provide live radio broadcasts of all SPFL Premiership matches this season.