Former Parkhead keeper believes success must come before style as he counters assistant John Collins’ claim that club has to follow the attacking principles of the Jock Stein era
THE notion of playing “the Celtic way” can be as much of a troublesome burden as a noble aspiration.
John Collins, the club’s assistant manager, caused a stir in the aftermath of their back-to-back Europa League defeats against Molde last month by claiming Celtic had been superior to their Norwegian opponents in both matches.
In defence of the tactical approach he and manager Ronny Deila have adopted in Europe, which has seen 37 goals conceded in 24 matches so far, Collins also insisted they had a duty to remain true to the progressive, attack-minded principles laid down by Jock Stein’s Lisbon Lions.
But one of Collins’ former team-mates at Celtic, who just happened to be Stein’s last-ever signing for the club, insists style can never take precedence over substance at the club.
Pat Bonner won nine major honours in a Celtic career which encompassed a record 641 appearances for a goalkeeper. He believes the ethos that he encountered during his 15 years of service remains as simple now as it was then.
“I came over here at 18 years old and had to learn how to win,” says Bonner. “We were brought up on winning. That’s what Celtic Football Club was about. If we played a reserve game and didn’t win, it was a case of ‘woah!’. So you have to win games.
“Celtic Football Club is about results as well as development and all the other things that go with it.
“I’ve always said that you have got to try to get young players through a system. I would like to see more given the opportunity.
“But you have to get results. Under Neil Lennon and Martin O’Neill, that was the case. Under Billy McNeill and all the managers I played under, we had to try to get results also.”
Bonner’s close friend, the late Tommy Burns, was among those who fell short as Celtic manager despite delivering some of the most attractive football produced by the club in modern times.
“That has happened to a few others along the way as well,” added Bonner. “So you have to win games as Celtic manager. You need to have two eyes on it. You have be looking into the future, but also trying to win games and every competition you go into. That has always been the way at Celtic.”
Now a respected media pundit, Bonner ruffled Deila’s feathers last month with his assessment of the Norwegian’s job prospects if he fails to lead Celtic into the knockout phase of the Europa League this season.
Deila responded by asking if Bonner had ever “won four titles in a row” with Celtic, a reference to the current run of domestic title success being enjoyed by the club.
“He hasn’t either, has he?,” said Bonner yesterday, in a gentle reminder that Deila has so far added just one title to the three won consecutively by his predecessor Neil Lennon.
Speaking at Hampden, where he was presenting the Scottish Football Museum with a rare framed 10-inch disc recording of a tribute song to legendary Celtic and Scotland goalkeeper John Thomson, Bonner was relaxed about Deila’s reaction.
“That is fine,” he added. “I have no problem with that whatsoever. People can say what they really want, I just get on with saying what I see on the pitch.
“I don’t look at these things at criticism, I look at it as a critique, as a professional doing a job, as an ex-player who is looking at the game. That is what you are asked to do. Ronny would be doing exactly the same, John Collins was doing it on TV before and will do the same again when he leaves the job.
“That is the beauty of having the media to work in, you are still involved in the game. That is why I do it, because I want to go and watch games, I want to look at players, I want to get involved in it. I haven’t got a job in coaching at this moment in time so I want to stay attached to the game. I have got a great relationship with every single Celtic fan that I’ve met. I was over in Donegal recently doing a grave ceremony for Celtic, which I loved doing.
“It is part of the history of the club. Doing this today at Hampden is a beautiful thing to be asked to do and I am very privileged and honoured to do it. So I have got a great relationship with everybody around Celtic Football Club and the media in general terms.
“I think the fans, and everyone else, were a bit shocked by the two games against Molde. I wasn’t at the second game, but I was in Molde for the first one. They were two games we expected Celtic to win, or play well in at least.
“Some people say they had lots of possession. Of course they had. But Molde set themselves up perfectly to play against Celtic and exploited it. Celtic had 73 per cent possession in the first 15 minutes and were 2-0 down. It is about winning games.
“The only criticism I have is what I see on the pitch. It’s not against any manager, it’s what I see on the pitch.”
Despite Celtic’s recent failings at European level, Bonner believes they can get the win they need at home to Dutch league leaders Ajax on Thursday night to retain hope of reaching the last 32 of the Europa League.
“Celtic have a real chance against Ajax,” he said. “Ajax are quite a brittle team as well, even though they are top of their league. They play expansive football and they open up. In many ways, they play a similar game to Celtic.
“I don’t see them playing another way because it is in their DNA. They also have to win their last two games in the group, so that will make their mind up. I’ve never really seen Ajax come to defend.
“At times, because they are young and inexperienced, their nerve goes a little bit. That can happen with young teams and I think it was evident out in Amsterdam when Celtic drew 2-2. Celtic are capable of winning this game because, apart from Saturday against Kilmarnock, their strength this season has been going forward and scoring goals.”