We Are Where We Are!
On Thursday night,MARGARET MCMGILL suggested that a post by SETTING FREE THE BEARS from 23/07/2018 was one of the most pertinent he had ever seen about Celtic,how we view ourselves,and where we really are. I remember reading it at the time,and sagely wondering why I hadn’t said that!
It also had me reaching for the razor blades,so be warned-here it is in all its provocative glory. I mailed SFTB about it,and like the modest and amenable chap that he is,he reluctantly agreed.
I sometimes wonder at the mineshafter’s evaluation of Celtic FC in Europe.
Especially in this post-Bosman, big league & TV dominated era, where a new elite has emerged exclusively from within the Big 5 Leagues and, even there from around 20 potential contenders for prizes. Spain have 5 clubs with potential to get to Q-F and beyond in the CL (Real, Atletico, Barcelona Sevilla and Valencia) plus a couple who could do well at Europa level. England too can provide 4 or 5 qualifiers who may achieve this (City, United, Liverpool. Spurs and either Chelsea/Arsenal though both are on the slide). Bundesliga have their big 2 in Bayern & Dortmund but Schalke and others might do relatively well in the EL though they would be surprise winners). France has PSG & Monaco with Marseilles and Lyon as potentials for bridging that gap. Italy have Juve, Napoli and Roma plus the 2 Milans but, increasingly, only Juve have pretensions to win CL.
Outside of these big 5 Leagues, we only have outlier teams like Basel, Olympiakos, Shaktar Donetsk, Porto, Benfica, Galatasaray and a couple of Russians vying to be the one team that breaks through to CL Q-F stage.
We, as the big team in a peripheral league, fulfill the same function as similar comparator clubs (Anderlecht, Ajax, Sparta Prague, RB Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb, Copenhagen, BATE, Maribor, Ludogerets, Cluj, Legia and Qarabag etc;) competing to fill 3 or 4 of the available pot 4 spaces which aren’t usurped by EL level teams from 2nd tier leagues.
Scotland is a 3rd tier or, excluding Celtic, a 4th tier league in Europe, if we realistically judge on 21st century results.
Where do we find a comparator club, amongst that group I cited that consistently outperforms Celtic on the European stage?
Where do we find the gall to describe AEK as a pub team?
It cannot be based on any neutral or professional evaluation of merits- just check the oddschecker site which has AEK at the most common odds of 500/1 to win it with Celtic most often priced at 1000/1 (our range of odds is from 250 to 1500 whereas AEK vary from 500 to 2500 if any of you are tempted by such a mug bet). The point is that the neutral and the professional do not share our fans’ evaluation of how good Celtic are or could or should be.
We were elite class from 1966 to 74 only. We then had over a quarter of a century losing to Zwickau, Innsbruck , Timisoara, Partizan, Neuchatel, and Zurich. In this millenium we have had the Seville run and 3 last 16 CL places (the last being in 2013 when we lost 5:0 on agg. to Juve). During that 18 year period, where we have retrenched to being in touching distance of being a 2nd tier team, we still contrived to lose matches to Rosenborg, Anderlecht, Artmedia, Copenhagen, Aalborg, Hapoel, Braga, Utrecht, Sion, Karagandy, Legia, Maribor, RB Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb, Malmo, Molde, another Hapoel, Astana, and Anderlecht again.
You can attempt to explain away this level of performance away by asserting the untestable hypothesis that we are just scared or lack positive psychology but the sorry realistic truth is that, in sport, the results don’t lie. This is our level – these are our achievements. There is no hiding place from them.
In presenting this to you I am looking at my club soberly and wishing it was different, but I do not take my frustration out against this reality by asserting that, if we spent a couple of million here or there, during this retrenchment period, we would have altered our stars by any significant amount.
I search in vain for an example of a club where I could say- Celtic should do that!
We cannot import mass Brazilians like Porto and Shaktar have done. We cannot even get some of the benefits that Ajax and Anderlecht have enjoyed during this period of having a golden generation of players who got their country to the final stages of the World Cup.
We have enjoyed the cream of players from a semi-skimmed country in Scotland and have had to persuade others to join us who look on Scotland and Celtic as a stepping stone.
Eveytime I post this form of rejoinder to those with high hopes but limited strategies for achieving them, I am accused of saying that “nothing can be done”.
That is far from my view. In fact I am saying that we have done relatively well to have achieved what we have and that many of our true comparator clubs (in the real world where we know that AEK is not a pub team) look upon Celtic as an example of a club who have been growing and consolidating quite well.
However, I fear that even our admirers have got it wrong. The challenge is getting harder, as I predicted it would several years back. Those elite rich clubs from the elite leagues want to maintain their position and are not happy with the existing level of monopoly and success they enjoy. They fear the freak result and want to guard against it by excluding the chance of other clubs from reaching their level. They may not bother too much with plucky old Celtic as they see us as cannon fodder anyway but there is genuine fear that Russian clubs, Portuguese clubs, some Dutch ones and maybe a cash rich Austrian or Swiss team could deprive one of the Big 5 league teams of their “rightful” position.
We are operating in a glass ceiling and distorted sporting environment. Without access to a more competitive league with more routine cash rewards, we face a future very similar, if not worse, than our recent past. Good players will be asset stripped as financial reality demands and their own wishes (KT excepted possibly) make inevitable. We, in common with all other peripheral leagues then try to replace with other projects (they are ALL projects) and go again. The much vaunted Ajax model has shown us how difficult this is to repeat. Even the Porto route, which is hard for us to replicate anyway, is struggling as the big 5 league clubs have now got less lazy about their scouting and will plunder S. America directly.
So I expect my message to be dismissed, yet again, as a message of doom or a recipe for making do and mend.
I regard it as an unflinching look at the realities around us. Yes, we can do better- we always can, but I cannot be persuaded that we can significantly change our position in this pecking order without a change in our competitive environment.
You can only stop being SPFL flat -track bullies and European cannon fodder when you play regularly in a setting that provides you with regular hard competition, forges your competitive play towards the elite standards, and gives you the financial rewards for success which allow you to better resist your advantaged “competitors” from the big leagues.
Otherwise, it will be groundhog day of “blame the suits” every transfer window from here on in. We sound like the Dixie Remembrance Society that believes that, if only Robert E. Lee had not gone doo-lally at Gettysburg, the South would have won, and then go on to aver if we just recreate the spirit of Stonewall Jackson, with his Presbyterian virtues, we can still win the last war.