Greetings everyone. Here is this week’s Sporting Takeaway, my impartial look at the aftermath from the weekend’s sporting
THE BIGGEST FEAR FOR BENDAN RODGERS IS BEING LABELLED BY HISTORY AS THE MAN WHO BLEW TEN-IN-A ROW
No pressure, no diamonds. But Brendan Rodgers is suddenly discovering the pitfalls of life at the Celtic coalface. And there is a serious danger of it all coming apart at the seam.
Sunday’s 2-1 defeat to Kilmarnock was the canary in the mine, confirmation of the truth that dare not speak its name. The champions are a team stuck in reverse – and Rodgers has to find a forward gear. Fast.
It wasn’t so much the result that stung as the manner of defeat. Losing after taking the lead to a team that combined would be valued less than Olivier Ntcham’s right foot.
But the overall sense is of something inside so wrong at the bedrock of Rodgers’ team. Harsh perhaps but nevertheless hard to argue against. The ties that once seemed to bind Celtic – and, in case anyone needs reminding, also delivered unprecedented back-to-back Trebles – no longer appear to be so unyielding.
Celtic are now mired in their worst start to a league season in 20 years. Although, before memories get short, we were saying the same thing about Rangers only a few short weeks ago.
Celtic, however, look a shadow of the side that has kept a chokehold on the Scottish game since Rodgers’ arrival two seasons ago.
The messy, but lucrative, departure of Moussa Dembele on transfer deadline day to Lyon appears to have left his French compatriots Ntcham and Odsonne Eduouard nursing a dose of Les Bleus.
And the Gallic-speaking Dedryck Boyata looks like he is already counting down the days to the January window.
But it’s the lethargy among the players Rodgers, pictured, is entitled to rely on most that should be the biggest cause for alarm. Scott Sinclair, for example, has become an enigma, a far cry from the player voted 18 months ago by his peers as the best in Scotland. Tom Rogic, the manager’s magic man, has produced a disappearing trick worthy of Houdini. Scott Brown is struggling to conjure up the drive that has been so critical to Celtic’s success. And Jack Hendry is clearly not up to snuff at the back. The departure of Stuart Armstrong has left a crucial void.
And then there is Rodgers’ own curious public demeanour, warning Celtic fans to brace themselves for a season of uncertainty and mediocrity. Coming after his ill-judged remarks about stagnation and ‘terminado”, it’s a far cry from the rallying call fans are entitled to expect from a manager normally so sure-footed.
Already the feelgood factor of a one-sided win over Rangers is melting away amid the onset of a potential winter of discontent. The real pressure facing Rodgers is not about trying to kick on to the promised land of ten-in-a-row, it’s about not being labelled by history as the manager who blew it.
Twisting the knife further is the ongoing Ibrox renaissance under Steven Gerrard and Hearts outpacing all of them (for the moment) at the top of the SPFL.
And let’s not take anything away from an excellent Kilmarnock side who are now undefeated into their last four games against Celtic. Bet on them taking equally big scalps in the weeks and months ahead.
At the same time, expect green shoots of recovery from Rodgers’ men, starting with tomorrow’s Betfred clash at McDiarmid Park against a St Johnstone side still licking their wounds from the 5-1 weekend mauling inflicted by Rangers.
These are still early days, with nothing set in stone for Rodgers or anyone else.
THE RELUCTANT STAR WHO SHONE AT THE HEART OF JOCK STEIN’S CELTIC
Jim Brogan was the quiet enforcer at the heart of Celtic’s hallowed nine-in-a-row side.
Solid, dependable and the type of man any player would want in the trench warfare of Scottish football. A player’s player.
When I wrote Dixie Deans’ biography, he singled out two players as “the hardiest buggers in the game”.
One was Colin Jackson of Rangers and the other was his Celtic team-mate.
Brogan, who died on Monday from dementia, was at Celtic for 12 years and served as a vital cog in Jock Stein’s Parkhead machinery.
He racked up 14 honours at Celtic and also won four Scottish caps.
Which may seem a meagre amount but in those days there was serious competition for international places.
Brogan never sought the limelight but Jock Stein knew his worth and so did the Parkhead faithful.
He was truly one of the Bhoys.
CLARKE SHOULD NOT EXPECT THE SFA TO BE QUICK ON THE UPTAKE
When it comes to Scottish football, the wheels of justice don’t so much turn as creak embarrassingly slowly. It’s an absolute nonsense that Kilmarnock manager Steve Clarke must wait until October 25 for his SFA disciplinary hearing
Clarke is in the dock after claiming that his club’s bid to overturn the red card shown to Gary Dicker was “pre-judged” because match referee Willie Collum was due to take charge of the Old Firm clash the following week. Clarke has revitalised a moribund Kilmarnock side since arriving back in his homeland after years at the cutting edge of English football with the likes of Chelsea and West Brom.
Sunday’s 2-1 win over Celtic is further proof that he’s determined not to be a victim of second-season syndrome at Rugby Park.
But he must scratch his head in disbelief at the archaic practices of the people who run our game. A six-week wait to discover his fate over a comment that probably struck the truth nerve with the SFA? Provided they spell his name correctly. Utterly amateurish.
Clarke isn’t someone given to eye-bulging, finger-jabbing outbursts. His post-match press comments are measured and delivered without rancour. He talks about improved communication between referees, managers and players to avoid the kind of controversies that have dominated headlines in recent weeks.
Just the kind of sensible approach that is lacking from the game’s hierarchy.
TIGER WOODS WILL FOREVER BE TAINTED BY HIS SPITTING IMAGE IMAGE
America is crying out for a Ryder Cup superhero. And now they think they’ve found him in a resurgent Tiger Woods. The comic-book conqueror with Kryptonite in his bag.
The personification of truth, justice and The American Way. Read all about it in the Daily Planet. Except, of course, that’s where the Tiger myth crumbles.
It would be churlish in the extreme not to acknowledge Woods’ comeback triumph in the Tour Champjonship at East Lake. A moment of celebration that ended a five-year victory drought.
It was also a personal triumph for a man who has fought back from the demons in his private life and doggedly overcome the chronic back issues that threatened to end his career. Tiger’s tale ticks all the right boxes.
No one could possibly dispute the golfing prowess that has guaranteed him legendary status. At his peak, he simply defied the laws of the sport to tame some of the world’s toughest courses. The 14 majors and 80 career wins against his name are testament to his remarkable abilities.
But the feeling persists that Woods remains outside the hallowed circle reserved for the likes of Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson.
And the reason is simple; he lacks their class.
Forget the sex scandals. He’s not the first sportsman to get caught with his boxers at his ankles while arrogantly admitting he thought he was bullet-proof.
Or being caught driving under the influence, which he blamed on prescribed medication. No, the moment Tiger’s reputation crashed and burned came when he spat on the green in the 2011 Dubai Desert Classic and left onlookers¬ – and millions more watching on TV – literally gobsmacked. It’s a spitting image that will always be a shameful reminder of his petulant personality.
But that won’t matter a jot to the golfing fraternity because the fact remains that Tiger is still box-office gold. Look at the hoopla and the whooplas that accompanied him down the final fairway on Sunday night. And there is little doubt of the formidable standing he retains among his fellow pros ¬- and the giant shadow his reputation casts.
His timely renaissance is the last thing Europe captain Thomas Bjorn needs as Europe bid to wrest the Ryder Cup back from American hands and regain the dominance they’ve largely held for the last 30 years. Let the games begin and let’s hope the Europeans can produce their own man of steel.