Gordon Strachan Opinions

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Celtic’s Season So Far 

Strachan on Brendan Rodgers ‘broken narrative’ comments 

First of all, that is something that I would never have said as a manager; it’s too cerebral for me (laughs)! I think 90% of the Scottish public would have questioned those comments, but Brendan has made them because that is the way that he defuses any clash or tension with people outside of Celtic Football Club.  

Brendan knows about the world he is living in as Celtic manager. In Scotland, when one of Celtic or Rangers is doing well, the manager of the club that is not doing so well has to be able to take the baton of criticism and deal with that. That is the reality of Scottish football. If Celtic win the league at the end of the season, then no one will remember this period.  

The only thing that matters if your Celtic or Rangers is winning the league.  

Finding reasons for Celtic not firing on all cylinders 

Are Celtic playing as well as they have done over the last few years? I don’t think they are. I think there are a few reasons why the team’s performances haven’t been as good as the standard set during Ange’s tenure at the club.  

The back four has not been the strongest. Last season, I don’t think that one of those players who played against St. Mirren would have been named in the team and there are a few players like Greg Taylor and Cameron Carter-Vickers who have been injured.  

When players like Scales, Ralston and Whelsh have come into the team, they have done a smashing job for Celtic. They’ve been fine. The issue that Celtic are having this season is defending set plays, which any team would have if they don’t have enough height and strength across the team and they give away chances, which is a problem for them this season.  

I also think that Celtic are missing players further up the field. Maeda, Abada and Jota, they would be scoring thirty goals between them if they were available. Jota isn’t there anymore and Liel Abada has had some problems away from the pitch. They were all goal scorers that can play in the wide areas and what Celtic have at the moment is wide men that score the occasional goal. That is a lot of goals to replace in the team.  

I think that is why the club aren’t firing on all cylinders at the moment.  

Following on from Ange, like following the Rolling Stones on stage at a concert 

Following in the footsteps of Ange Postecoglou isn’t an easy task for any manager. It’s like headlining a concert with The Rolling Stones as your support act. All the best trying to follow that, and that’s what it’s like at Celtic at the moment.  

Brendan knew what he was getting into when he came back to Celtic, and he wanted that challenge. Is the league a little bit more difficult compared to when he last there? I would argue that it might be. The one thing that I’ve seen over the last few years in the SPL is that teams like St. Mirren, Hearts, Hibs, they are becoming more physical and are making it more difficult for the likes of Celtic. There has been an emphasis on height and strength over the last couple of years and I think that’s shown by the limited number of home-grown players that are coming through in Scotland at the moment.  

The media will ask Brendan why his team aren’t performing as well as we know they can, and he’ll give honest answers that are then written as excuses, so management can be a bit of a word game sometimes. I think Brendan can play the media game well – I wouldn’t like to take him on at Scrabble (laughs).  

Rangers have the momentum in the title race at the moment 

Rangers have the momentum at the moment, but it makes thing very interesting in the league. Brendan’s being asked more questions about his team than Philippe Clement is at and that is always a tell-tale sign as to where the momentum in Scotland is. Trust me.  

Brendan’s first priority is keeping Celtic top of the league, he can handle the scrutiny of managing Celtic 

Brendan’s first priority is keeping Celtic at the top of the league. That’s his job. I was speaking to a young manager recently and explained that management is easy to deal with when everything is going right, and you’re only really tested when things aren’t going right.  

People look at everything. Body language, tactical choices and personnel, the way you talk to the players and the media. When a manager loses key players, you have to embrace that challenge and find different solutions.  

Top managers get paid for living with and handling stress. They don’t get paid to go on the training field, or by watching good players and picking a team. They get paid for the type of moment that Celtic currently find themselves in where it is stressful. Scrutinised. The further you go up the managerial ladder, the more stressful the job becomes and the more money you make.  

Brendan can handle the stress levels. It’s much better to be a manager of a club like Celtic than being the manager of a rotten club! Brendan knows that. When it has come down to the crunch this season, Celtic beat Rangers earlier in the season. Those points look very valuable at this moment in time.  

Hard for Brendan to put his own stamp on Celtic so far 

I’ve spoken about this before but taking over from a successful manager is always really difficult. How do you put your own spin on the job without plagiarising or just copying the man that was in the seat before you arrived?  

It’s a horrible prospect for managers to deal with. Did people think that Brendan was going to come to Celtic, grow a beard, put on some weight and start talking with an Australian accent? That was never going to work.  

It can be hard to make tactical changes to winning teams – Gio Van Bronckhorst had that problem at Rangers after Steven Gerrard left. Brendan would have known that going into the job. Brendan is only half way through the season into his second spell at the club. He is just getting started.  

It’s been difficult for him to find that balance. If you try and change too much, the players get a bit spooked. I think we’ve seen glimpses from his Celtic side – they’ve played some nice stuff in parts – but the issue is that the Celtic fans have been in a position where they have completely dominated teams for two years. That is what the fans are missing at the moment. It’s not easy for Brendan or the fans.  

Missing players 

I think that losing Cameron-Carter-Vickers has been a big loss for Celtic this season.  

Greg Taylor gives Celtic something that they currently don’t have. I must admit, I really do admire Taylor because for the last two-and-a-half seasons, people have been saying that Celtic need to upgrade their left back. He has seen off the competition. I love his attitude. Not once have we ever heard him complain about his situation (at the club).  

I love him as a person. It’s not easy to hear that you’re not good enough every week or that you’re going to be replaced, so he deserves credit for plodding on and silencing the doubters.  

The problem is with Cameron Carter-Vickers and other key players out injured, people expect them to come back and to play like they were before they got injured, which is unrealistic. It takes time for players to find their rhythm and best form again after a spell on the side-lines.  

Injuries test football clubs. Brendan is being tested. The group of players is being tested because squad players are facing a different kind of pressure where they need to produce week-in, week-out.  

McGregor worry 

I think that Celtic can handle the absences of every single player apart from one man: Callum McGregor. He is irreplaceable. If he got injured, I would be worried. If I was a Celtic fan, I wouldn’t worry about what Brendan is saying to the media, I’d be worried about keeping McGregor fit for the remainder of the season.  

If I was the Celtic manager, I would take home Callum McGregor home every night after training and sit him down next to me. I’d keep him fed, watered, and wrapped in cotton wool. I’d tuck him into bed at night because he is such an important figure for Celtic Football Club.  

Celtic forwards Kyogo and Idah finding a rhythm  

I think Brendan opted for Idah up front with Kyogo in behind against St. Mirren because of the physicality that he can bring to the team. When Celtic are firing on all cylinders, playing lovely fluid football, St. Mirren can’t live with them. They aren’t playing like that at the moment, so I wonder if he started Idah to give them a bit of protection when defending set plays, because he can make a big difference in terms of heigh in a small Celtic team.  

Maybe he thought he needed to be a bit more pragmatic (against St. Mirren). I thought he looked good yesterday; he had some nice turns and a nice flow about him. Brendan picked the right team because he got the right result against St. Mirren.  

Daizen Maeda said that he thought Celtic would win the league and believed that the club’s squad of players was stronger than rivals Rangers. Were you surprised to see him make those comments? If you were managing Maeda, what would your reaction to those comments have been?  

As a manager, if you’re leading the pack at this stage of the season by a few points, the message to the players would typically be “relax”. If Maeda had made those comments with Celtic eight points clear at the top of the league, then club management and staff would have probably thought, “Really?” That would create a bit of extra pressure for the rest of the season. 

By making these comments this early, I actually think he would have boosted the confidence in the Celtic camp. Rangers have clawed the back gap on Celtic and can go top this week, but his comments tell me that the Celtic players aren’t panicking and have the belief that they can win the title this season.  

I think it’s great that the players have so much faith in each other. It’s great that the players think they can retain the title, that’s wonderful. That’s a positive message coming from the dressing room.  

For Brendan, with the pressure that he is under, it will be nice for him to hear that his players believe that they are the best team in Scotland.  

Maeda isn’t a player that craves the spotlight. I imagine that he would have made those comments in a matter-of-fact way. Celtic are a better team with Maeda in it and I think because of the type of personality he is and because of his standing in the dressing room, as a manager, I wouldn’t have a problem with him making these comments now.


On The Scottish Cup 

Do you expect Brendan to continue his spectacular record in the competition by winning it with Celtic this season?  

His record in the Scottish Cup is fantastic. It can be hard to juggle your league form and cup form consecutively, I know that from my own experience. So many things can happen in cup ties; goal keepers can have one-in-a-million games, freaky goals can go in, so to keep this record up is an achievement in itself, regardless of the gap Brendan has had managing in the competition.  

There are clubs left in the competition who are physically better than Celtic. There are teams in there that are powerful. When St. Johnstone won the cup double a couple of seasons ago, they did on set plays. That was a phenomenal achievement, and it highlights how important set plays are. Set plays are still a huge part of the game.  

We will have to see how they can progress in the competition. 


On Rangers 

Your former Coventry player and current Rangers boss Philippe Clement has the chance to top the table for the first time this season. Given where Rangers were when he joined the club, have you been surprised by how quickly he has made an impact at the club and in the SPL?   

I haven’t been in contact with Philippe for a long time, with my history at Celtic, I can’t. I was close to him when he played under me at Coventry – I even babysat his kids one evening.  

His determination as a player to overcome adversity was phenomenal. He had a nasty injury when he was playing for me at Coventry.  

If you look at his managerial career, his record has been terrific wherever he has been. You always follow your old players, and it’s great, but when he arrived on my doorstep at Rangers, I was thinking to myself, ‘nice to see you, Philippe (laughs). We’ve got a problem here because I managed Celtic, and my son is on the coaching staff’. 

I hope he can enjoy the scenery and the sights of Scotland. Maybe one day we could meet up and have a cup of tea or something like that, but that would have to be as far as it ever goes.  

Clement has a presence like Klopp or Ange 

He’s been an impressive figure in management. People are drawn to him in a similar way people are drawn to people like Klopp and Ange. He has a presence, and that helps players buy into your ideas.  

He says all the rights things. In interviews it doesn’t look like he wants to be bullied and he stands up for himself when he needs to do, which is good. I think players like to see their managers giving as good as they got in the media. I like that about him too. He’ll tell you how his team played, you don’t tell him.  

Neil Warnock at Aberdeen 

One thing that Neil Warnock has is charisma. He knows the game inside-out. People will say he needs to learn the game up in Scotland, but he’ll probably tell you that football is football regardless of where it is played.  

I think that Neil Warnock will probably be surprised by the ferocity and the physical side of the game in Scotland. He adds to the game up here, that’s for sure. He’ll come up with some great lines for the press and for the fans.  

He’s done a lot in his managerial career, but he still wants to come up here and take on the challenge of managing Aberdeen. It doesn’t matter what age you are as a manager, like Roy Hodgson at Palace, Ange isn’t a youngster, for example, but you have to have the drive to do it and to want to succeed.  

I can tell sometimes when I see these managers on telly as to whether they have got the ambition and drive to perform the role at the highest possible level. You can tell the ones that have lost that fire, drive, and should be playing golf with me in La Manga. As long you’ve got that fire and drive, you’ll be OK. Players can tell when a manager loses that and that becomes a major problem. Some football managers can become caricatures of their former selves if they’ve been managing for too long.  

Neil Warnock will add to the story of the Scottish Premier League this year, that is for sure.  

Lawrence Shankland is the best striker in Scotland 

Shankland is the best striker in Scotland. He reminds me a little bit of Dion Dublin in terms of his intelligence as a footballer. He is someone that has got better as he has got older because he is retaining information and he now understands his role perfectly.  

He’s got stronger as he’s got older. Physically, he can be hard for certain defenders to handle. He knows what his body can do, and his understanding of the game is better. His finishing is sublime. Left foot, right foot, headers. He can do it all.  

Shankland is one of these guys, who never panics in front of goal. A lot of strikers panic in one-on-one situations, their heartrate increases, Shankland is the total opposite. It wouldn’t surprise me if his heartrate decreases because he is that cool in front of the goal and he understands his job as a striker perfectly.  

At this moment he is the best striker in Scotland in terms of all-round ability.  

Shankland’s national team problem 

The only problem that Shankland has is that Steve Clarke is playing this wonderful system with three at the back and wing backs and a box midfield of McGregor, Gilmour and McGinn and McTominay playing ahead of them with a brief of getting into the opposition box and scoring goals.  

Scotland haven’t had that many strikers over the years, but that hasn’t mattered with Clarke because McGinn and McTominay have been producing. What those players need is a foil up there and someone to play off them and I’m convinced that Shankland can do that job in the team. Lyndon Dykes and Che Adams have all had a wee shot at it and done well at stages. If Shankland was picked I don’t think the team would be weaker.  

I think that Shankland can be the focal point of this team. I think he is good enough to play in Clarke’s system, despite it being different to Hearts. I think that he is at the stage of his career where he is in such good form, he could play in any system.  


On Manchester United 

Strachan identifies two key differences in resurgent Manchester United 

Have Manchester United turned a corner? I think there are a couple of things that have made a big difference to Erik ten Hag over the last few weeks: the return of Casemiro and Manchester United becoming very effective from set plays and playing a more direct brand of football.  

Casemiro makes a massive difference to Manchester United. I know people have said that he hasn’t been at his best this season; he’s slow, but he’s one of those players that when you’re a manager standing in the dugout watching the match, you think to yourself ‘thank goodness he’s here’. Casemiro is a big player for United.  

I think everyone was probably expecting Erik ten Hag’s to produce a similar playing style to his Ajax team, but the Premier League is a different kettle of fish. It’s been harder for his players to play in a fluid style that is similar to what we’ve seen from the likes of Tottenham this season. If you shut your eyes for ten minutes and opened them up, Manchester United would still be in the same place (on the pitch).  

Against Villa, the delivery for McTominay that Dalot whipped in was like a David Beckham cross. The first goal came from Harry Maguire winning a header at a corner and Hojlund picking up the second ball. It’s a back-to-basics kind of style and height and power has won them the game.  

Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay’s United’s resurgence  

I think if you asked Erik ten Hag at the beginning of the season would you include Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay in your best eleven, he would have said no. They are hardworking professionals who don’t have the glitz of some of the summer signings or some of ten Hag’s former Ajax players. They don’t do anything that is particularly flashy or skilful, but they do win games of football.  

As the season has gone on, ten Hag has realised that he needs players like Maguire and McTominay in his team. Sometimes you need some height and strength in your team to win games of football, unless you’re on fire of course. The best Barcelona teams didn’t need that physicality to win games. They knew they could simply outscore their opponent playing magical football. Man City can do the same to a certain extent.  

Harry Maguire has been the butt of so many jokes and all of the problems at Manchester United over the last couple of years. The way that he has handled that is a great example for any professional footballer. He didn’t get involved with the nonsense and behaved impeccably when there were all the stories about him. People were feeling sorry for you, and that is the last place you ever want to be as a footballer. He rolled up his sleeves and got on with it. It’s great to see him come through this period. I’m delighted for him, I really am.  

United have still got a big job on their hands to qualify for the Champions League 

Manchester United have still got a big job on their hands to qualify for the Champions League. They have momentum at the moment but they’re competing against some very good teams for a place in the Champions League.  

If you were to compare them to Liverpool, Arsenal, City or Spurs, then I think they are still some way behind them because those teams have the ability to conjure up some magic in games. Manchester United don’t have that magic in the team at the moment and they will need to find that from somewhere if they want to finish in the top four.  

Rasmus Hojlund 

It’s amazing how much confidence can transform a footballers form, particularly strikers. When you’re lacking in confidence, it can feel like you’re running in concrete boots and then suddenly you score a goal and you’re back.  

It couldn’t have been easy for the young man to join Manchester United at such a young age and be expected to carry the goalscoring burden. All eyes have been on him since he joined the club. United’s wingers are fairly static under Erik ten Hag, they stay out wide and that can leave Hojlund isolated. Then you start looking for the ball, so you’re moving further away from the part of their pitch where you can be at your most dangerous. If you don’t have players around you, that creates problems for strikers and that was definitely an issue for him earlier in the season. 

He has been adapting to a new team in a new league under a new manager. It can take time for a player to find their rhythm and I think that is happening for him at United. 


On Tottenham 

What’s the ambition for Tottenham now key players are back at Spurs? 

Nothing will change at Tottenham in terms of the playing style, despite Ange being able to welcome back several key players over the last few weeks. From the first minute of the game to the last minute of the game, Ange will play with exactly the same style and approach.  

The good thing about them is the style. Ange may have better players to pick from now than he did last month, but the style will remain. The funny thing is that Spurs scored in the ninety-sixth minute on Saturday and won the game, the previous match, they conceded in the ninety-fourth minute and dropped points at Everton.  

People will always question a managers tactics. After that Everton result, I’m sure some people would have been furious that he didn’t sit back and defend or closed the game off by playing a more pragmatic style.  

You have to admire his commitment to his playing style and football philosophy. His approach is “this is how we’re playing, whatever happens, happens.” That takes an enormous amount of mental strength to do that as a manager and we love him for it.  

I expect the club to keep moving forward for the second period of the season. Ange will have Bissouma back, who immediately improves the quality of the Tottenham midfield. Maddison is coming back to his best. It is all looking good for Ange and Tottenham.  

Player improvement under Ange 

One thing that has been overlooked, and I think this is because Tottenham are having such a spectacular season under Ange, is the role that he has played improving players that were already at the club. Ben Davies has come on leaps and bounds and looks like he has been inspired by working under Ange.  

Ange has brought a “Wonderful mayhem” to the Premier League 

The Premier League is the most watched football league in the world, but Ange has added to the spectacle. He has put even more attention on the league through the football that his Tottenham side are playing, which can only be a good thing.  

It’s a style that can be best described as wonderful mayhem. It’s so fantastic to watch when good players buy into it. There is never a dull moment in Tottenham’s games.  

I think that is part of the reason why Celtic fans are a little bit down this season, because Brendan and Ange are totally different characters. Brendan is a bit more pragmatic and values control from his team. Ange is the kind of manager that lives for the day, never mind what might happen. His teams embody that spirit.  

Can Tottenham mount a title challenge?  

I think it will be hard for Tottenham to challenge for the title this season. What I would say is that I really believe that the four or five best clubs in the world right now are three from the Premier League in Manchester City, Liverpool and Arsenal. Then you could possibly put Real Madrid or Bayern Munich in there and then it’s probably Tottenham.  

That’s what Ange has done at Tottenham. He has put Tottenham into the conversation concerning Europe’s leading clubs and he has brought a respectability back to the football club in terms of the playing style.  

Do I think Tottenham will win the title? I don’t think they will. I think this could be too much for this Tottenham side this season and I can’t see Manchester City, Liverpool or Arsenal losing too many more games between now and the end of the season. It will be hard for Tottenham to bridge that gap.  

For the neutrals, I’m sure that they would love Ange’s team to win the title. We’re seeing some really nice football in the Premier League this season; Arsenal are starting to look back to their best. Liverpool have been excellent, and Manchester City do what they do. That’s the beauty of the Premier League at the moment.  

Ange could manage Liverpool 

I think that Ange has the ability to manage any club in the world. When you move between leagues, he doesn’t change things. He is wedded to the same principles that won him titles in Japan and in Scotland and has kept that same philosophy as a manager at Tottenham.  

Despite his progressive style of football, his instructions to his players are very simple. Often, when managers join a new club, they are joined by a huge team of support staff, but with Ange, he often goes into the club and works with what is already there. He just tells people what they need to do for him.  

I think Ange could join any club. I’m not touting him for the Liverpool job because I think he is really enjoying his time at Tottenham.


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