Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 27 December 2014

Celtic aren’t trying a leg, says McAvennie

Frank McAvennie yesterday accused Celtic's currently under-achieving players of taking the wrong kind of strike action.

“They've downed tools,” rapped former Parkhead idol and prolific goal ace McAvennie in the wake of Wednesday's latest disappointment under Tony Mowbray —League Cup quarter-final defeat by Hearts.

“You can see some players aren't trying a leg for Tony Mowbray,” he continued.

“The manager has made statements to the effect some of them are playing for their futures and he plans to bring new players in.

“The ones whose futures are in doubt know he wants rid of them and they aren't doing it for him.

“If that was me, I'd be giving 100 per cent to prove him wrong. You owe that to yourself and the fans who pay good money to watch.

“I had more than my fair share of bust-ups with managers but I always believed disputes should be forgotten for 90 minutes.

“That doesn't seem to be the way now, not just at Celtic.”

McAvennie was even more stinging in his condemnation of standards north of the border from Newcastle, where he now lives, running a golf company and 'looking after players'.

“Not an agent,” he stressed. “I'm not devious enough.”

He revealed: “I bought a Celtic season ticket last season and used it four times. I thought, I'm not going to drive up from Newcastle to watch that.”

It seemed an incongruous admission, considering McAvennie was in Belfast to promote satellite TV company ESPN's coverage of Scottish and Premiership football.

But the ex-Celt, 50 next month, can see salvation.

Not in the refloated idea of an arranged marriage between the Old Firm and England's top flight.

“That won't happen in my lifetime,” he affirmed.

“But I do see Celtic and Rangers becoming part of the proposed Atlantic league, linking up with the best of Holland, Belgium and Portugal.

“That's the way to go, I believe. Really big clubs in those countries, like Ajax, Anderlecht and Benfica are still producing top class players but the revenues coming in aren't on the same scale as the FA Premiership.

“If they can get that league up and running and attractively packaged for TV companies, their earning power would increase and standards would improve with more money to attract and keep better players.

“It would be hugely entertaining for the fans and potentially worrying for the Premiership as it would take some of the focus away from them.”

McAvennie also made the bold contention: “Celtic and Rangers leaving the SPL would be good for the Scottish domestic game in the long term.

“I'm fearful for Celtic and Rangers if the status quo remains as the financial situation is not going to improve for them, or the other Scottish clubs.

“The Old Firm would certainly better themselves in a more competitive league and Scotland would be left with a better top division where everyone would have a chance of winning.

“I played for St Mirren and, believe me, it wasn't funny hearing the manager try to gee us up at the start of the season by saying: 'C'mon boys, let's go for third.'

“Maybe we'd see more good, young Scottish players coming through and getting their chance instead of clubs bringing in third-rate foreigners to try and compete with Celtic and Rangers.”

McAvennie went on to sing the praises of a Celtic shining light for him amid the gloom of this season.

Northern Ireland's Pat McCourt has stood out for the goal king of old to the extent he raves: “I'd hate to play against McCourt. The way he drops his shoulder and goes past players reminds me of another certain player from this province.

“I'm not comparing Pat directly to George Best because he's still a raw talent, but if he was foreign, his skills would be much more appreciated.

“They love him at Celtic Park. As soon as he gets the ball, the fans immediately get to their feet and I haven't seen that in a long time.”

On crutches after a recent operation on an old knee injury, McAvennie joked he was no stranger to Belfast and an expert on Irish League football, “from my time with Cliftonville”.

That was a single cameo appearance in a 1992 Co Antrim Shield semi-final against Ballymena, scoring to help put the Reds into the decider, before moving on to Hong Kong.

“That's one of my fondest football memories ... being cheered at Windsor Park,” he laughed.

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