Monday, August 24, 2009

Ditching Gary Caldwell

Time and other events putting things in perspective have diminished a lot of the initial rancor that was going to go into this piece on Saturday, when for the third time in as many games, Gary Caldwell did something blazingly stupid and directly cost his team a goal. It was not decisive, as when he got sent off against Norway, directly leading to the only goal the Norwegians would need and by reducing Scotland to 10 men with nearly an hour to play, probably indirectly to the 3 others, or the ridiculous own goal against Arsenal that will probably be directly responsible for bouncing Celtic from the Champions' League, but that doesn't make it any less stupid. In fact, that Caldwell would make such a blind-stupid mistake against a bottom-half SPL team like St. Johnstone may say more about his limitations as a footballer than getting embarassed by one of the top teams in the Premiership.

A while ago, Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders wrote an article called Guts and Stomps that was somewhat disruptive of the conventional wisdom in American football, the main contention being that close wins over good teams are not as good an indicator of overall team quality as the ability to beat the crap out of inferior competition. There's been no linkage of this to fitba as played elsewhere in the world, but one would suspect it transfers, as the basic idea -- that when two good teams play, the difference in quality is not always so large as to override luck and randomness -- is even more pronounced in a sport with much less scoring and fewer ways to score.

Provided this is true, we can extend this to players: a good player will beat the pants off and generally humiliate inferior competition, and a less good player will make stupid mistakes against them. It is hard to deny that Celtic have a better team than St. Johnstone, especially as evinced by the scoreline on Saturday, and their ability to be competitive in Europe. Nevertheless, there goes Gary Caldwell giving away the first goal in what should have been a shutout, as well as making Celtic fans yell, in unison around the world, from pubs in Scotland to American apartments to oil rigs off Namibia, "THAT FUCKING CLOWNSHOES!"

The problem is not heading the ball out of your own area rather than controlling it and clearing it with your feet. The problem is
a) doing it wrong, and directly at an opposing player
b) doing so as merely the latest in a long string of costly defensive mistakes.

This picture is from Kerrydale Street, probably the best Celtic forum out there. The problem is that it is from the '07-'08 campaign, and is a minimum of 18 months old. Gary Caldwell signed for Celtic in 2006 and faced criticism from the start for making dumb mistakes, so it is entirely likely that this is even older. People have been calling Caldwell out as a clownshoes virtually from the time he entered the team; under Strachan, this may have been understandable, as he was still an adequate footballer 90% of the time, and Strachan had (and I say this as a longtime defender of both hm and Belichick) a Belichick-in-Cleveland approach to transparency and understandable squad management, but this is the Mowbray era now, and as long as Tony is going to be explaining why he leaves certain in-form players out of the squad, he is somewhat obligated to explain to the Celtic support why in the hell he is leaving Gary Caldwell in.

Whenever anyone calls professional athletes out on the internet, there's inevitably going to be some jambo coming to their defense with some variation on "yeah, well, why don't you put the boots on and start for Celtic and see how easy it is". That's not the point. I'm a sub-rec-league quality left-back, not an alleged international central defender. But Gary Caldwell doesn't need to be worse than me for Mowbray to sit him down; all he needs is to not be better than Darren O'Dea, and I'm not sure that isn't the case. O'Dea is not a perfect defender, but he does not have the history of idiotic mistakes that Caldwell has. If he's merely adequate 100% of the time rather than the 90%-adequate/10%-shambolic split we have going right now next to Glen Loovens, that is a uniform upgrade. We can work on "good" in January; right now, getting the defense to "adequate" is significant progress....and a part of that is putting Clownshoes Caldwell on the bench, where his penchant for unforced errors can't hurt the team any more.

Note: if Caldwell a) does not do anything ridiculous against Arsenal Wednesday and b) scores or knocks in a penalty that contributes to Celtic advancing, I will gladly print this post out (on normal paper, not hot glass) and literally eat my words. With or without barbecue sauce is still undecided. Same result to follow if O'Dea starts and does something Caldwellian to cost Celtic the game.

No comments: