Celtic first-team coach Gavin Strachan has defended the club’s trip to Dubai, insisting Christopher Jullien’s positive Covid-19 test “could have happened in Scotland”.
The decision to travel to Dubai for a training camp amid a global pandemic has angered many, with Jullien subsequently testing positive for coronavirus and forcing 13 of his team-mates into quarantine. Boss Neil Lennon and his assistant John Kennedy are also self-isolating after being ruled as close contacts of the centre-back.
In the club’s first Scottish Premiership match since the warm-weather training trip, those absent players and staff were made to watch at home on Monday as another late defensive lapse allowed Hibernian striker Kevin Nisbet to fire a late equaliser in a further devastating blow to the Hoops’ faint title hopes.
The 1-1 draw means Celtic can surely wave goodbye to their 10-in-a-row dreams, with runaway leaders Rangers now 21 points in front.
Furious fans have hit out at the decision to let Jullien take the 3,000-mile flight to the UAE despite being ruled out for four months with a serious knee injury, but first-team coach Strachan – who took over Lennon’s dugout duties – insisted it was done with the best of intentions as he reiterated Celtic did not regret flying to the Middle East amid the global pandemic.
“It was to maintain his treatment with the backroom staff. He (Jullien) went over there so we can get him back as fast as we can,” he said.
“Yeah, I can understand the frustration from everybody, because we end up playing with a weaker team tonight, but that could have happened if we were training at home as well.
“There’s a lot of teams up and down the country, and in England as well, who are suffering with this.
“There’s regret that one person has caught the virus but there’s not a regret in terms of the permission we got to go and the protocols that we followed, which we have done the whole season.
“It’s regrettable that we got one positive, which we could have got at any time.”
Captain Scott Brown led the list of notable absentees, with no sign either of first-choice goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas, defenders Kristopher Ajer and Hatem Abd Elhamed, midfield men Mohamed Elyounoussi, Ryan Christie and Olivier Ntcham, and strikers Odsonne Edouard, Leigh Griffiths and Albian Ajeti.
Yet the champions were still able to field a team containing eight established first-teamers and it appeared they had got out of jail as David Turnbull swept home a stunning set-piece with eight minutes left.
But Celtic’s Achillies heel was exposed yet again 60 seconds into stoppage time as they allowed Nisbet to ram home after failing to clear a Hibs free-kick.
“It’s a tough one to take,” said Strachan, who confirmed none of the 13 absentees will be back for Saturday’s clash with Livingston. “The players put a lot into the game. I thought we’d won it with a moment of magic but it’s a frustrating time to concede and the manner of the goal is a tough one to take.
“When you factor in the disruption we’ve had over the last couple of days, I thought the performance was very good.
“In any circumstances, it’s a privilege leading a Celtic team and something anyone with a coaching career would be very proud of. I’m just gutted we couldn’t get the three points.
“Where does it leave the title race? It leaves it as more difficult. It does, but there’s still a lot of football to be played. We’ve just got to pick up as many points as we can and hope that other factors maybe change in our favour.”
Walker slams ‘arrogant’ Celtic
Andy Walker slammed Celtic for being arrogant over their decision to go to Dubai, while being highly critical of the governance in place that allowed the trip to happen.
“We have seen some dismal governance,” Walker said. “First of all from the joint response group. This is a body that agreed to sign off on Celtic’s trip to Dubai at a time when they are approaching the Scottish government to plead poverty on behalf of Scottish football. I am guessing that this trip that Celtic went on cost hundreds of thousands of pounds. They chartered their own plane and stayed in five-star accommodation. It is extraordinary.
“We are also seeing some dismal governance from this club. They have been unbelievably arrogant to abuse their status as elite sportsmen. That term was only brought in for international competition, not for a jolly to Dubai, and I don’t know of any other top club who are thinking of going to sunnier climes.
“What the Celtic fans deserve is a bit of contrition from someone, anyone with a backbone at this club. Preferably Dermot Desmond, because he is the one that makes the big changes, he is the one who can knock some heads together here.
“You have got to remember Celtic fans are paying their season tickets to see the big stars, they did not see them tonight (against Hibs). That’s not their fault, they are being short-changed and that is completely unacceptable.”