Celtic, Champions League, Media, Scottish Football

Let’s Not Bother With The Champions League

Tony Watt and Celtic, refusing to know their place…

Good Afternoon.

Fair play to the Evening Shark-Jump for starting off the week with a genuine piece of unadulterated gibberish. And – unusually – The Clumpany is NOT exaggerating here. This nonsense of this opinion piece is so far over the horizon that it has probably gone right around the world and kicked its author up the arse.

Chris Jack: Scottish clubs don’t deserve a Champions League invite – so let’s find another party to go to instead

What a headline! And how amusing to see the suggestion that “clubs don’t deserve an invite” from a paper which so fervently articulates a survival myth about a ‘same club’ which was effectively invited to join SFL3 in 2012 despite its appalling track record of creditor-stiffing and rule-breaking! Can you imagine how loudly the ESJ and others would have howled had Sevco not been invited to join Scottish senior football?!

You can get a measure of quite how laughable the piece is by the fact that even the more measured and thoughtful Scottish football bloggers (and that doesn’t include me…), are queuing up to deride it. Folk who tend simply to shrug their shoulders at the ‘expected’ dross from the MSM.

Here is the piece in question:

“IT is always nice to be asked to the party and it is even better when you are seated next to the guests of honour. But if the day ever arrives when the invitations stop then Scottish clubs really could have no complaints.

When it comes to European football, we just don’t bring anything to the table these days. Not at the highest level, at least.

Celtic got a golden ticket to the Champions League doo this season and celebrated so much that Roy Keane ‘thought they’d actually won the thing’. Making the group stages is one thing, but belonging there is quite another.

And right now, Celtic, like so many other clubs in the competition, just don’t. The Champions League may not be just for the champions, but it is a select few that drive it, both on and off the park.

It is Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern Munich, the clubs that are on a different level and, as events in the Nou Camp last week proved, play a different game to the one that we see week in week out in the Premiership.

The top brass from Scotland and the other unfashionable leagues across the continent – the likes of Holland, Belgium and Scandinavia – are joining forces to take the fight to the big boys in an attempt to preserve their pathway to Europe’s premier club competition.

They decry the elite clubs for only chasing the cash but then focus on the financial benefits they could reap if they were allowed their foot in the door. In Celtic’s case, it is around £25million this season, just in case you hadn’t heard.

No matter how many hands are shaken and conversations are held in the corridors of power about preserving the ‘Champions Route’, results like those that Brendan Rodgers’ side suffered last week add weight to the case for a prosecution that will happy send us down.

On the same night, Bayern eased to a 5-0 win over FC Rostov and on Wednesday Dortmund won 6-0 against Legia Warsaw. Last term, Real Madrid took eight off Malmo.

Every season you hear fans say that they don’t tune in until the latter stages when it is Goliath versus Goliath. The Davids, the likes of Club Brugge or Dinamo Zagreb, can’t compete in the fight, and neither can Scottish sides anymore.

Clubs the size of Celtic and Rangers shouldn’t be Euro tourists that welcome the star names and just marvel at them. They are institutions in their own right, but can’t, and shouldn’t be expected to, compete at that level anymore unfortunately.

There seemed to be a shrug of the shoulders and an acceptance in some quarters in the aftermath of Celtic’s collapse in Catalonia. Yes, Barca are very good, but Celtic were very poor.

For a club with a proud European history, it was an embarrassing performance on a night that showed the gulf between the best Scotland has to offer and the level that our clubs once aspired to reach. Those days are long gone, and we may never get them back.

So why should we still try? If the Europa League, or whatever form the secondary tier of Euro action will take in the future, is our level, then why don’t we just settle for that and know our place?

The biggest clubs in the world don’t need us and will, nine times out of ten, give our teams a doing without breaking sweat. It isn’t competition and it isn’t entertaining.

So if they want to breakaway and play each other every week and make billions from television deals, just let them get on with it. They are happy and we can be content with our lot.

Celtic are a Champions League club but a Europa League team. One day, the same will be said again about Rangers.

Yes, it is not in the nature of football and it is not the game we all grew up with and love. But the Corinthian spirit is long gone. It is sad, but it is reality.

One day, the Champions League invitations will stop. Maybe it will be for the best, though. Let’s make other friends and go to a different party instead.”

Oh dear. Oh dear me. Leaving aside the highly pertinent facts that it is only three years since Celtic were last in the group stages of the Champions League where they managed to beat Ajax, and four since making the last 16 having taken points off Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow, let me explain why I think this piece is so appalling.

Celtic worked damn hard on and off the pitch to make the Champion’s League group stages this season in some of the most emotionally-draining games you could possibly imagine. They built a sustainable business strategy, bought pretty wisely and recruited a high-profile manager to try and achieve it. They blew away their Israeli opponents in the first leg of the nerve-shredding Playoff Round tie. Israeli opponents who recently beat Inter Milan in the San Siro.

Scoring five against anyone in the playoff round is a great achievement. So great in fact that it carried Celtic through the tie despite a nervous and lacklustre performance in the second leg. Celtic subsequently lost their opening group stage game against a Barcelona team who are almost on a different planet just now. A Barcelona team who have and will do the same to many other teams this season. Celtic have five more games to play in the group and the time to judge their ‘worthiness’ for this season’s competition is at the end of them. Stern – but possibly more surmountable – tests lie ahead against Manchester City and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

However, no one at Celtic or amongst the fan base views participation as pointless. There are results to try and get, and while Celtic may struggle to get out out of the group this year, they can certainly hope for a third-place finish and Europa League football after Christmas. And in the meantime, the club, players and fans will be having a whopping great party in the Champions’ League while Celtic’s bank manager beams at the relentless sound of “kerchings” as the proceeds flood into the club’s coffers.

What’s not to like?

So the Evening Shark-Jump can shove its sweeping negativity about Celtic and Scottish football where the sun don’t shine. Inside Dave King’s war chest might be a good place to try.

Until such time as the Champions’ League is closed off to Scottish clubs, it remains a competition to which they should and will aspire. They aren’t going to win it, but it sure as hell is a brilliant thing to be part of. There is NO permanent embarrassment in losing heavily to the likes of Barcelona, and it is not the case that the bigger sides “will, nine times out of ten, give our teams a doing without breaking sweat.”

The logical end-point of the ESJ’s argument is that teams who have been heavily-beaten or who have no chance of winning should not be allowed to participate in a competition. This would mean reducing the Scottish Premiership to a tiny handful of clubs, and the permanent expulsion of Brazil from the FIFA World Cup on account of their 7-1 thrashing by Germany in 2014.

I am sure branches of The Clumpany in UEFA’s other smaller nations would make exactly the same points as me about their clubs’ participation in the Champions League. I would like to see Chris Jack stand before their assembled representatives and say – to their faces – “If the Europa League, or whatever form the secondary tier of Euro action will take in the future, is your level, then why don’t you just settle for that and know your place?”

They would – rightly –  laugh him out of town. Because the day clubs stop striving to be better and compete with the best, and the moment that they decide to surrender to Europe’s current elite is the day that you no longer have a sport worthy of the name. Chris may be right that “One day, the Champions League invitations will stop.” But it most certainly wouldn’t be for the best, and it should be resisted with all our might. Why should we “make other friends and go to a different party instead” when there is a bigger and better party to attend, and no shortage of friends equally keen to go?

Scotland should certainly try and work with other smaller nations in UEFA. However, we should do so to try and preserve a place at the top table and enhance our prospects rather than meekly surrendering to a cowardly, cap-doffing vision of ‘knowing your place’.


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