The Dubai effect that Celtic haven't found this season

By David Walton

February 23, 2021

We know how this story is meant to go – we head to Dubai and the Celtic players drink the magic potion that leads to celebrations in May.

Or at least that’s how the tale usually goes. Stretching back to the Brendan Rodgers’ days, Celtic have managed a strong second wind by heading off to the Middle East.

Taking the example of the last two seasons alone – the trip’s been key to securing the title. Back in the 2018/19 season, we went into the mid-season break having lost to Rangers at Ibrox. A two-week spell in Dubai led to a run of 11 league wins in 12 games. Last year, Celtic won nine out of 10 matches after Dubai to storm to another title.

Celtic tried to justify the trip to UAE this season as being essential on sporting grounds. Neil Lennon and the players consistently spoke about how important a trip it was [Scottish Sun]. That it helps them find their form and all the rest of it.

So much focus when they returned was put on how unethical the trip was during a pandemic. Talking points and arguments were raised with the Scottish Government, with plenty of off-field incidents taking the headlines [BBC].

But now it’s time to revisit Dubai and question whether the trip has made any impact ON the pitch this season. The difference in both performance levels and results hasn’t improved to the level we would’ve hoped this year.

Celtic have had no upturn in form post-Dubai

You can forgive the first two slip-ups after the trip. Home draws to Hibernian and Livingston saw Celtic play shadow sides due to Chris Jullien’s positive Covid test and the close contact rule.

But even after that period, our form hasn’t been great. A draw against Livingston at the Tony Macaroni Arena was our first match with our full squad post-Dubai. It wasn’t a great performance and defensive lapses again came back to haunt us.

Since then, we’ve lost to St Mirren at Parkhead and then Ross County in Dingwall. Two outrageous results for any Celtic manager at any period of the season. Yes, we had a five-match winning run in between those games. Yes, we had a victory over Hamilton sandwiched by the Livi draw and St Mirren defeat. But six wins in nine does not justify the trip this year.

And we’ve yet to even dip into the performance levels. Only one display – the 4-0 win at Rugby Park vs Kilmarnock – can be considered a very good outing. We created plenty of chances and could’ve scored double on another day.

Ross County was our latest blip since Dubai / (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

Outside of that, our performances have been extremely poor. One decent display at St Mirren in another 4-0 success flattered us. But we’ve been lucky in matches against the likes of Motherwell, Aberdeen, and St Johnstone. And that’s only in recent weeks.

The club’s only justification for Dubai was that it improves performance levels on the pitch. That’s been proven to be true in the past, but even that hasn’t happened this year. The performances haven’t gotten better and we’re still struggling at both ends of the pitch.

The club backed itself into a corner to perform by going away. Unfortunately but not unpredictably, they’ve failed to produce.

In other news, Celtic fans were finally given something to smile about today.