ANYONE with any kind of football brain can see that the big lack in the current Celtic jigsaw is a natural play-maker … a Lubo, McStay, Connelly, Murdoch or Auld-style midfield general with the joint ability to “see” things – and more crucially, to make them happen. Someone to play with the head up and conduct the Celtic orchestra. With the sharp end of the CL fast approaching, the lack of such a fulcrum could very well be the rock on which our thrilling charge into the last 16 will perish. Converting stalwart defending into fast, hit-on-the-break attack is all very well and will take you so far – potentially all the way, admittedly … especially when supplemented by deadly set-piece expertise; but how much more satisfying to take a game by the scruff of the neck and direct proceedings through shrewd, constructive, visionary midfield control?
Currently, we have a glut of combative ball-winners in the engine-room, all of whom have their considerable attributes and who, “do what they do do well”, so to speak, while contributing whatever they can to creative attack. Other than the sporadic promptings of Scott Brown and Kris Commons, though, we have precious little in the way of genuine instinctive creativity – hence our over-reliance, at CL level anyway, on the dead-ball skills of Charlie Mulgrew, in particular.
Ki had the potential to be our coveted “No 10” – but for one reason or another he only ever flitted in and out of the team, without really imposing himself – and he’s gone now. So, what can Neil Lennon do to address this glaring “Achilles Heel” in his squad’s DNA?
It is highly unlikely that he’s going to miraculously pull a budget Andrea Pirlo rabbit out of the January window hat – Moravciks and Larssons don’t come a-begging very often, more’s the pity. So, unless he reckons we can survive at that rarified level without the kind of flair I’m talking about, he’s going to have to come up with something from within available resources.
Which brings me to my point, where I start banging an old drum of mine again – at the risk of predictable ridicule and scorn; but I reckon I’m thick-skinned enough to take it, so here we go.
Week in, week out we have a sleeping giant languishing on the bench, only ever seeming to get the nod either when things get to the desperate stage, or through the need to replace a first-pick, either through injury, the attempted avoidance thereof, a strategic change of tactics mid-match, anti-second-yellow expediency, or simply to give someone a parting ovation, or a wee bit of an early rest.
Paddy McCourt is a deep well of untapped genius. Unorthodox, inconsistent and not too easy-on-the-eye, perhaps – but much the same was true of the legendary John “Yogi” Hughes, who, nevertheless, like our Paddy Bhoy, was, quite simply, devastating at his pulverizing best. Paddy is, by a distance, the most inventive, inspirational and exciting player on the Parkhead books at this point in history. He is also the crispest, most accurate, most devastating passer of the ball in the squad. Into the bargain, he now looks as fit as the proverbial butcher’s dog!
That is not to denigrate the likes of James Forrest, Gary Hooper, Giorgios Samaras, or anybody else, for that matter. It is simply a statement of the fact (IMHO) that McCourt is blessed with elusive genius, a gift that cannot be taught or rigidly controlled – but which it is a sin against the game not to saddle up and unleash.
I would urge Lenny, sooner rather than later, to make Paddy an automatic first pick – one of those subject to the threat of the hook himself, rather than the perennial “supersub”; to start to build the team around him; to declare faith in his genius and charge him with the responsibility of making the green machine tick, in conjunction with whatever combination of midfield enforcement is available as back-up at any given time. In short, to empower him to produce the electrifying football of which we all know he is capable.
He may not always come up with the goods – but if he is made to feel cherished, rather than tolerated, trusted instead of a last resort, the slumbering genius of Paddy McCourt just might awaken to provide the spark of inspiration that will carry this young team of ours much further than any of us ever dared imagine.