Football: Dutch philosophy with a Glasgow accent

Phil Gordon discovers that the team talk is crucial to the new Celtic regime
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The Independent Online
The burden of shaping Celtic's new era may be harder on the ears of their players than on their feet as the Parkhead dressing-room transforms itself into a parliament.

While most British managers prefer a strictly one-way system of communication, Celtic's new head coach Wim Jansen is trying to introduce the Dutch philosophy of talking at all costs. According to Alan Stubbs, the debate can keep the club in with a shout of challenging Rangers' championship monopoly.

The evidence of the first half of Tuesday night's Uefa Cup qualifying round first-leg tie in Austria with FC Tirol Innsbruck would not have encouraged that verdict, when Celtic, with five of Jansen's six new players, looked ragged and disorganised as they trailed 2-0 at the interval.

Celtic were considerably tighter in the second half and a late free- kick from Stubbs, scoring for the first time since being made the club's pounds 3.5m record signing a year ago, provided the crucial away goal that could see Jansen's team progress in Europe as well as bolstering confidence for the domestic season ahead.

"The players got in at half-time and got a few things off our chest," said Stubbs, who with his central defensive partner Malky Mackay has been put under most pressure as Jansen skips between a 5-3-2 formation and the more orthodox 4-4-2.

"We were much more solid in the second half. In the first half, we had got caught pushing too far up and that gave us problems when the Austrians broke quickly. But the coach encourages discussion about the team, even if he doesn't like what he hears."

That kind of approach may be anathema here but in Jansen's native Netherlands it underpins their philosophy of Total Football, of which Celtic's new coach was a key figure at its peak, playing in the World Cup finals of 1974 and 1978 and being described by Johan Cruyff as "one of only four men in the world worth talking football to".

Certainly, Jansen is giving Celtic's players - still fragile after last season's traumatic title failure, which cost Tommy Burns his job, and also from the subsequent disappearance of Paolo Di Canio and Jorge Cadete - the chance to test that assertion.

"If we have a problem," Stubbs explained, "Wim wants us to tell him what we are thinking. If it's not right, he'll tell us. But if it's valid, he'll take it on board."

That has been true of Stubbs' and his fellow defenders' battle to hang on to their trusty flat back four. "We switched between three and five at the back in pre-season and it was a bit confusing at times and we told Wim. So when we played Parma in a friendly we went back to four and felt more comfortable.

"Talking things out can lead to arguments if the coach wants one thing and we want another, but if it's for the best of the team it doesn't matter."

Stubbs has had a heavy burden of pressure to bear since coming to Glasgow a year ago. By his own admission his form was rarely living up to his expensive price tag, but rather than running back to England - as plenty of tabloid stories have suggested - he prefers to dig in.

That goal in Innsbruck might be the first step in winning over a few minds but the England B cap craves only acclaim for Celtic's defensive work. "Last season was difficult for me and I was gutted at seeing Tommy Burns go, but to be honest there were times last season when we played too much football.

"Sometimes we concentrated on going forward too much rather than defending and it was the back four who got exposed. That's what got to me. In this game, you really have to defend as a team."

That may be easier now that Di Canio is in Sheffield and Cadete back in his native Lisbon receiving treatment for depression. Neither was a workaholic in the sense that John Collins had been before his move to Monaco.

"Wim has made the players more aware of their defensive duties and that's great for the defenders. We still have to gel yet as a team, and although we lost our opening game to Hibs, it's not the end of the world. We've got plenty to offer as a threat to Rangers."