Tag Archives: Barcelona

Hooper – The Best Since Larsson?

Perhaps Gary Hooper was right to feel that he would only have a chance of being called up to the England international squad if he made his move to the English Premiership, regardless of which team he ended up with in that prestigious league.

My view is that he is unlikely to achieve that ambition with Norwich; it is more likely that he will need to work another move after this one. As Chris Sutton recently pointed out, Hooper’s excellent scoring record at Celtic was partly due to the way the team plays and the number of scoring opportunities presented to him.

To join a team that may be more regularly geared towards not conceding too many goals, rather than a team that is expected to win every game, could result in Hooper scoring considerably less for Norwich than he has done at Celtic. The upshot is that he may appear to be not quite good enough for the international squad. Time will tell.

In the meantime, Neil Lennon recently commented that Gary Hooper was the best striker at Celtic since Henrik Larsson. High praise indeed! Whilst Hooper has certainly been an excellent striker for Celtic over the past three seasons, and probably the most consistent we have had for a number of years, I am sure Lennon did not intend to suggest that Hooper was on a par with Larsson.

Perhaps if Celtic’s transfer market policy hadn’t been such as it is, Hooper may not have come to the club with the intention of working his move to the Premiership within a couple of years; and perhaps if he had stuck around at Celtic for a few more years he may have developed even further towards the level of performance Larsson achieved with ease.

After all, the Henrik Larsson who arrived at Celtic Park was nowhere near as brilliant as the Henrik Larsson who left seven years later to join Barcelona. But given Celtic’s current approach to the transfer market, and the Premiership expectations it sets in the minds of the very good players we pick up and develop to sell, it may well be that we never actually see a striker of Larsson’s calibre again.

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What is this thing called ‘anti-football’?

People rightly consider that Celtic use an anti-football system, but Chelsea have done the same and they are now champions of Europe.”  – Xavi, Barcelona.

 

Whilst it isn’t new, the term ‘anti-football’ has been thrown around quite a bit recently.

Particularly when describing the style of play of so-called inferior teams who have somehow managed to achieve results beyond the expectations of neutral observers and at the expense of superior opposition in European competitions.

The term is normally used to criticise the style of football that apparently less well equipped teams – such as Celtic – often feel compelled to adopt to get any kind of result against stronger and more skilful teams – such as Barcelona.

Some people believe that it destroys the beautiful game. It is destructive, negative and ugly. Indeed, if you think along the same lines as Bernd Schuster you would question whether teams like Celtic should be allowed to play in the same competition as teams like Barcelona.

Yet to others, it is simply about strong and rugged defending. It is about resolutely deploying tactics to prevent significantly more powerful teams from playing their normal passing game. Aesthetically pleasing, it is not; functional, it most definitely is. But does that mean that it is not a perfectly decent style of football?

There are games in which this style of defending ought to be praised, in my opinion. There are games in which it is breath-taking to watch the level of determination, concentration and attention to detail required. Defending skilfully for ninety minutes because you need to is equally as admirable as attacking for ninety minutes because you can.

To me the term ‘anti-football’ should not refer to teams that are forced to defend for most of the game because it is the only advantage they can gain against far superior teams. Why criticise a team for working to its strengths? It seems to me that the term is used more as an excuse when the stronger team fails to defeat the weaker team, than as an accurate description of the latter’s style of play – ‘yeah, we didn’t win; but they were playing anti-football’.

There are countless better examples of what the term ‘anti-football’ should be used to describe, including teams that deliberately set out to cheat their opponents, and players who are happy to dive around all night and feign injury to get opponents booked or sent off. That is anti-football.

Supporters throwing missiles onto the field of play is anti-football. Players shouting racist abuse at each other and fans revelling in sectarian hatred is anti-football. Journalists perpetuating institutional myths and peddling economic falsehoods in the name of the greater good of the game is anti-football.

And so too is the strategy of billionaire owners who use their ridiculous wealth (or otherwise) to build fantasy teams that very quickly and unashamedly destroy the very idea of competitive sport.

The irony here is that it is usually the players and supporters of these fantasy teams who like to criticise the rugged tactics of the rest of the ordinary teams that are simply trying hard to win, against all the odds.

(I can’t wait until the next instalment of Celtic’s anti-football system in Europe, if that’s what some individuals really want to call it.)

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Clubs With A Purpose

‘More than a club’, is how Barcelona Football Club famously describes itself.

Many of us quite rightly feel that this description also fits Celtic Football Club in equal measure.

As far as Celtic is concerned, it is a description that captures the idea that playing competitive football was never intended to be the true essence of the club, but simply the medium through which an impoverished community of people could come together for help and support.

Granted, the specific mix of social circumstances through which the club came into existence has long since passed. So much so, that if the club had been formed today, its identity would have been entirely different. It may well have declared its support of similar charitable objectives, but it would not have been a living embodiment of a unique history.

To think about Celtic the way we do is to recognise that celebrating 125 years of history is about celebrating a culture that has always looked after its own. And crucially, fully embracing the ethical principles behind this idea comes with an expectation of openness to those outside the immediately defined space of concern, even towards those who may have chosen, for whatever reason, to look in with an air of hostility.

It implies an inclusiveness that cuts across religious and ethnic divides. It was never about looking after one group of people only. It was never about drawing racial boundaries to match politically engineered sociological ones. It was simply about creating hope.

It also happened to evolve into a fantastic footballing story in its own right. The neat alignment of form with purpose helped create an enthralling story around the world as generations of supporters shifted around and kept it alive.

Unfortunately there have also been times when the story has been dragged in directions that were never intended by the club’s founders, nor endorsed by successive custodians of its purpose. Some of the distortions came about as confused expressions of other enduring social problems and cultural conflicts; some of them were twisted further through deliberate media meddling.

Despite that, today is a point of celebration. It is a celebration of 125 years of unbroken history. Not Kit-Kat style history – and because of that, today is also about hope. It is the hope that the next 125 years of unwritten history preserves the club’s traditional values as it adapts to cope with the commercial pressures of a highly demanding industry.

Regardless how the industry evolves, the heart would be ripped out of world football if market forces ever signalled the end of clubs with a purpose. Thankfully, Celtic’s purpose remains strong and its story is far from over. It continues tomorrow night against Barcelona. Another world famous club that is fiercely proud of its purpose. And of course, its unique history.

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Barcaphobia

Excitement and fear are closely connected human emotions.

There are times when outward expressions of excitement are manifestations of underlying feelings of fear.

When it comes to performance psychology, this complex emotional twinset can actually be useful. Given the right balance, excitement and fear can produce a brilliant competitive edge that may otherwise be absent in routine contexts.

The Celtic players who posted photos of Camp Nou on their twitter accounts after their training session tonight were obviously excited about the prospect of playing Barcelona in the Champions League.

It is the greatest club competition in the world, after all. Barcelona is one of the best teams in the world. Camp Nou is one of the best football stadia in the world. Who wouldn’t be excited by the prospect?

The very players who were quick to share their excitement were probably also experiencing an underlying feeling of fear. Fear that they will be stepping onto a stage to compete against a much stronger team, against players who are technically superior.

There is nothing wrong with this judgement. It is a realistic assessment of the circumstances. But it also contains the seeds of Celtic’s advantage tomorrow night. Drawing on the right mix of fear and excitement can help produce a truly outstanding and energised performance.

The trick is to guard against being beaten by the occasion, by the subconscious comparisons already revealing themselves in the excited tweets in the empty stadium, the night before the game.

Celtic’s performances in Europe have been technically impressive thus far.

Tomorrow night will also be a test of emotional balance.

For the supporters too.

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