By Sean Hartnett
Veteran English keeper David James has chosen Coca-Cola Championship division club Bristol City over Scottish giants Celtic. It is alarming to a supporter of “the Hoops” that James turned down the opportunity to play in European competition and the chance to compete for the SPL title.
Celtic recently had a horrendous showing against Portuguese club S.C. Braga, not looking anywhere near worthy of being a Champions League club as they were thrashed 3-0. The Bhoys looked lifeless and unimaginative throughout the match and barring a phenomenal comeback, Celtic look to be competing in the Europa League.
For James, who is soon to turn 40, Celtic offered him the last genuine opportunity to be part of a team competing for major titles on a regular basis. You would think an aging player who spent two seasons battling relegation at Portsmouth would jump at the chance to add some more winner’s medals to his collection.
Portsmouth’s shock FA Cup run last season surprisingly coincided with their lightning-quick relegation as financial problems clouded the club’s future throughout the season. Pompey put in a proud and gutsy display during the final, which was typical of the fight shown by then manager Avram Grant who stayed at his post despite not being paid a wage. James and Portsmouth were unlucky not to have achieved more that day as all the luck seemed to go Chelsea’s way.
As he joins Bristol City, James might have seen his last opportunities to win a major title go out the window with the FA Cup loss and England’s World Cup disaster against Germany in the World Cup. England boss Fabio Capello will certainly be looking to younger keeper options like Joe Hart as Euro 2012 nears.
Celtic would have provided James one last chance to hold on to the England No. 1 shirt as there isn’t any guarantee that his presence can lift Bristol City to promotion to the Premiership. There clearly must be something wrong at Parkhead if Celtic cannot attract a target to join them over a mid-table Coca-Cola Championship club.
James pulled out of talks with Hoops manager Neil Lennon and cancelled his flight to Glasgow at the last minute. The keeper cited family reasons; he has recently gotten married and location seems more important than the prestige of playing for Celtic. While that may be an important reason for James, it is a worry for the Parkhead faithful as players have shown a reluctance to sign for their club, unlike previous seasons.
Celtic have clearly fallen from the days when Lennon was captain and played alongside greats like Henrik Larsson. Winger Aiden McGeady wants out and the club is willing to allow wing-back Andreas Hinkel to leave. Popular keeper Artur Boruc even agreed a move to Fiorentina.
They also missed out on signing another veteran in defender Sol Campbell, who chose to move to newly promoted Premier League side Newcastle. Though Newcastle is a much more prestigious club than most other recently promoted teams, again, it is worrying that a aging player like Campbell would choose a relegation battle over the lure of competing for honours at Celtic.
It is clear that the club doesn’t have the pulling power it once did, and like their rival neighbors Rangers, are facing difficulty keeping ahold of their squad and acquiring the sort of talent who once would be desperate to play in the “Old Firm.” Celtic are facing a difficult period in their history and need to change their perception if they want to bring in the quality of player they were once accustomed to.