Saturday, 9 February 2013

To see ourselves as others see us

With the Juventus game only a few days away, I thought it might be interesting to look at some of the Italian sporting press and see what they are saying about the tie between Celtic and Juventus. Not being an Italian speaker, I relied on a translation service and my neighbour and fellow Celt, Franco who originally hails from Naples and would love to see Celtic knock the ‘Old Lady’ out of the Champions League.  

When the draw was made in Zurich, Juve Director and former player Pavel Nedved said…

"It could have been much worse but Celtic is a respectable opponent. They were the only ones to beat Barcelona in the group stage and have qualified with great merit. We will find it hard and if we are not up for it on day we could be in for very difficult times. This Juve team has yet to mature, many have never faced a year in the Champions League in the second round and it will take a great experience." However we have a good chance to go through, if we look at Celtic with great concentration especially away from home we can do it. We have to play with their same intensity, then technically maybe we have something more than them. "

The feeling that Juventus are technically and perhaps tactically superior is balanced in Italian papers by the feeling that Celtic Park offers something special which can affect the outcome of games. Gazzeta Della Sport Writer Guissepi Catonio warns Juventus that …

‘’It will definitely be a tough first game, the one that will be played in Scotland in the cauldron of Celtic Park. If the Juventus Stadium is the 12th man for the Bianconeri, Celtic Park is also equivalent to perhaps a 12th and 13th man for pushing Celtic to greater efforts. In recent months, FC Barcelona fell there: one more reason to keep vigilant. Celtic Park is a Bear Pit. Be warned! ‘’

Juve Captain, Andrea Pirlo, is adamant that Juventus can rise to the occasion and stated on the official Juve website that his team will not be cowed by the atmosphere created in Glasgow.

‘I know that  Celtic Park is an arena for gladiators, but we are ready. We have players who have won the World Cup and the Champions League, we are used to this kind of atmosphere. I'm sure the Celtic fans will cheer like crazy, but this will only make us more determined.’

Steffano Benzi writes for the Italian language section of the Eurosport website and he was clear about the  influence Celtic Park and the Celtic fans can have on events on the Park

Camp Nou and Celtic Park: two very different realities perhaps similar in some respects but completely different, antithetical in others. Anyone who has been often to Barcelona’s stadium will  never forget it but not for the same reasons that you remember a game at Celtic Park, any game, even an anonymous Scottish Cup game.  I think it's Juventus, in this respect, who risk more. True, the Celtic is certainly not the strongest team that Juventus could draw and the draw was benign: Perhaps even lucky for Juve. The Bhoys are certainly not the same team which Juventus lost 4-3 to a few years ago when they had  Larsson, Sutton, Mjallby ... They were on a par with the Rangers then and made a  good impression in Europe against anyone, without necessarily having to dream grandiose dreams of winning things. The Scots would celebrate anyway.

Celtic of today, however is a team with a few gems, like Watt, and a strategy of betting everything on physicality and dead-ball situations. Someone has done a technical and tactical analysis of the game already and it’s a distinct advantage to Juventus coach  Antonio Conte. But instead they should do an analysis of the environment: Celtic  Park is something absolutely extraordinary that goes beyond what you can write, read, tell about. And I can guarantee that what you see on television is not even the smallest part of what you may suffer in the flesh in a stadium where you have 60 thousand people, never wanting to offend you but still make you feel like a real enemy in the camp.

Celtic Park, in many ways, is one of the most influential and dangerous stages of the world. It has everything to challenge you, to help you experience the classic bad day, if you enter the field with a weak stomach then you’ll want to get out as soon as possible. The fact that the Celtic managed to beat Barcelona, and I interpret this fact as certainly not random. Celtic cannot beat Barcelona  says common sense. But football says rather that Celtic did beat Barcelona and they did it with merit at the end of a match and played beyond their means. This was interpreted by Barcelona as victory with a little 'luck.’ It is on these aspects that Juventus will have to think and I'm sure Antonio Conte know exactly the difficulty in dealing with a team that will be poorer yes, certainly less experienced than Juventus and probably less able to play the tactical game. But Conte, who knows well the pitfalls of a challenge like this and will the hammer into the heads of his players a unique concept: Do not underestimate this opponent, who, for once, it may not be the team but the stadium which you have to  face.

Forget the folkloric images, avoid the easy stereotype of a Celtic fan coming out of the Scottish pub and entering the stadium finishing a beer then ordering another. Do not let the charming chorus of "You'll never walk alone" that the whole stadium sings before the start of each game fool you. To hear these songs on your TV is not the same as having it weigh on your  shoulders for 90 minutes, start to finish, even if you're winning by three-goal margin. Celtic Park is undoubtedly one more challenge for Juve.  Celtic is, of course, different other clubs.  I think also for the fans of Juventus, if they behave as they should and if they live this adventure in the right way, it will be a great experience. The Juventus Stadium can be a bit like Celtic Park: but we Italians have lost the Celtic culture, their history, their being able to accept any defeat and still celebrate every possible outcome accepting any opponent in a fair manner. But, for heaven's sake, if Juve play the game as it should be played we should win. But Celtic Park and their fans can change history.’’

The recurring theme in the Italian media is that Juve are better than Celtic but that the atmosphere created by Celtic fans can cancel out any technical superiority. Our old sparring partner Lorenzo Amorusso was surprisingly kind to Celtic in the Italian press. The man described by the Italian media as ‘The first Catholic captain in the history of Glasgow Rangers, the Protestant side of the city, the enemy of Celtic.’ Warned Juventus that…

‘Celtic Park is a true hell, 60 thousand people singing and support Celtic from 'beginning to end, win or lose, always close to the team. They are truly the 'twelfth man' in the field and it is not a cliché. The support of those fans eventually multiply the forces of Celtic up to cancel any difference, any technical gap. I repeat, this is a team fighting for every ball, that does not give anything, driven by a deep pride and an extraordinary support. Juventus certainly on paper is stronger and has more individual talent and technical merit. But these differences, as if by magic, will eventually be cancelled out by the overwhelming atmosphere of Celtic Park.’

Lorenzo Amorusso experienced many Old Firm games and of course playing in Scotland allowed him to see O’Neil’s team in European action. He knows the power of the Celtic support and the way it can drive the team on. It’s my feeling that this excellent Juventus team will present Celtic with a formidable challenge. They will be prepared for the atmosphere and tactically aware of how Celtic might play. We will need patience and the ability to understand that this is a two legged tie and Celtic cannot go flying into attack and leave the back door open.  

Our stadium has been defined as a Bear Pit, an Arena for Gladiators and a Hell. It is none of these things. It is our field of dreams where we express our love of our club by offering them our unconditional support and passion. Steffano Benzi hit the nail on the head when he said…

‘’Celtic Park and their fans can change history.’’

If the Celtic support demands 100% of the players then the least we can give them is 100% in return. Win lose or draw, Juventus will leave Celtic Park knowing they have seen and heard the best fans in Europe. We can’t score the goals or make the tackles but we can fill our players with pride in those shirts and passion to match the best. So on Tuesday night, roll up to Celtic Park with Pride! You are the vital component in the Celtic story. You are the twelfth man, the heart and soul of Celtic… and God bless every one of you.


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