There is an old cricketing saying which runs…
’’And when that great marker comes to mark against your name, he cares not if you won or lost but how you played the game.’’
So how have Celtic played the game in Europe this year? Last night in Turin Celtic played a team which cost more than 10 times the Celtic starting 11. The Hoops were brave, battling and created chances in an intimidating area where Juve are all but invincible. They lost but were not humbled, not humiliated and they looked a good team in parts. This wasn’t one of the feeble away performances we’ve seen in the days when we couldn’t buy a good result away from home in Europe. Our away form prior to this season was truly appalling. This season Lennon’s emerging young team won in Helsinki, Helsingborgs and Moscow. They also came close to an excellent result in Barcelona. A decent display in Turin was undone by the clinical finishing of Juventus when compared to the wastefulness of our strikers in front of goal. In their defence, Celtic faced a defence as formidable as any in Europe. Italian’s know how to defend. It could be argued that the only poor performance of this campaign was the defeat in Lisbon which had echoes of our old euro form. Our home form remained solid with good performances in all the games. Even the 0-3 scoreline against Juventus at Celtic Park disguised a decent display during which poor finishing and individual errors crucified us. Then there was Barcelona at Celtic Park. Anyone who witnessed that game will remember that magical evening all their lives.
Lennon’s tactical approach is more pragmatic at times and he received undue flak for the possession stats against Barcelona. Stats which were mirrored at the Chelsea v Barcelona tie in London last season. Few UK based pundits moaned when Chelsea picked Barcelona’s pockets to knock them out. Lennon rightly says that he does set out to attack teams but the quality of the opposition in the Champions League often means that they deprive Celtic of possession for long periods and this can lead to spells of pressure for the opposition, even at Celtic Park. Celtic are unused to this in the SPL and adapted well in most games. All in all Europe has been brilliant for Celtic on many levels this season. It raised the club’s profile and enhanced our fans reputation. It earned the club at least £20m in much needed revenue. It showcased our players around Europe and increased the value of a few of them. To be honest it also kept a rather drab domestic season interesting through the long winter months. Imagine this season if we’d failed in the preliminary rounds and had no European games? Europe isn’t just important to Celtic now, it’s vital. It is vital financially, vital to the fans and vital to our reputation. If we are stuck in Scottish football then Champions League football at least every other year is a must.
Lennon must now look to close out the SPL title and win the cup. If this is achieved then we’ll call 2012-13 a memorable season. He must also keep as many of his talented young players at Celtic Park as is possible. Wanyama, Matthews, Forster and Izaguire and especially Hooper are all likely to be tempted by better leagues and more money. If some do go then Lennon must replace them with players of equal quality. That won’t be easy although the scouting network has been first class so far. The team and whole club must look to progress and make some of the memorable nights we’ve enjoyed in Europe this year a regular feature in the seasons ahead.
This young team has made excellent progress and we should continue to support them and the manager with the usual Celtic passion. We will certainly lose players in the summer but new heroes will emerge and earn our appreciation too. It has been a very good year in Europe for Celtic despite the wreckage of the Sevco shambles. Let’s emerge from this turbulent period as a stronger, better club. Let’s re-establish ourselves as regulars in the Champions League and enjoy more great nights as we have this season. We are realists, we know the mega rich clubs will dominate the later stages of the ECL but sometimes, just sometimes, Walfrid’s team can still match the big boys and remind them that Glasgow Celtic should not be treated lightly. Well done to the team, manager and fans this season. We pulled together and showed that the Celtic family is alive and well and ready for the future.