Sunday, 10 August 2014

A Mess of their own making

Celtic’s reprieve from UEFA following Legia Warsaw’s playing of a suspended player was an unexpected windfall for the Club. While most of us were delighted to be given a second chance we scarcely deserved on footballing merit, the Polish club were understandably furious. In an open letter to Celtic on their official website they stated…

Warsaw, 10 August 2014.

Celtic FC is a legend in European football - the club with an incredible tradition, which since 1888 co-creates the story of the most beautiful game in the world. At the basis of this legend are not only amazing sporting achievements, but also the determination and commitment to values ​​such as honesty and honor. Subsequent generations of wonderful, dedicated fans of "The Bhoys" support your club all over the world. It all makes Celtic FC is in many respects a model for us to follow. Legia Warsaw is also a club with strong character and a heart to fight. Our history is not as long and rich in successes, but we can proudly look both into the past and in the future. Almost 100 years of our complicated history, inextricably connected with the difficult history of Poland and Warsaw, in fact proves one thing - never surrender and there is no more important value to us than the value of honor.

Double victory over Celtic FC to qualify for this year's Champions League, was fought hard but honestly with the ball,  was a great holiday for us. It helped  us to fulfill the dreams of our next generation of fans already - that after 19 years of Legia Warsaw might again play in the Champions League. We consider it deeply unjust and contrary to the spirit of fair play to these dreams were shattered in the last 4 minutes of the meeting between Celtic and Legia.  That is how long Bartosz Bereszyński  spent on the pitch-  our player who served the penalty imposed on him, and did not play in the first three qualifiers for the Champions League this season.

Celtic FC wrote one of the most beautiful pages in the history of European football, when in 1967 unexpectedly defeated in the final of the Champions Cup mighty Inter Milan headed by Helenio Herrera. Imagine gentlemen,  that Jock Stein and Billy McNeill were deprived of the chance to create their greatest triumph in their  career by an employee club completing the application form wrong when acting in good faith? Are any of the true legends of Celtic FC  likely to have accepted promotion when they had definitely lost the clash on the pitch? I am convinced that pride would not allow them to do so, this legendary Celtic pride. Could they look into the eyes of the fans, without ridicule?  I appeal to men, that you have established to the best traditions of honor and integrity that the 126 years were characterized by your great club. Do not destroy the beautiful club heritage that you have been left to care for by previous generations, "The Bhoys". I challenge you, would you in the spirit of the game and fair play, and on the basis of Art. 34 paragraph 5 of the UEFA Disciplinary Regulations, with  Legia Warsaw take a common position on the UEFA disciplinary bodies. Meet in Warsaw or in Glasgow and let's settle this matter honorably.  Willie Maley, the legendary manager of Celtic FC, ​​once said that your players "are evaluated only on their character." Justice depends on you whether this noble creed of your icons will be replaced by the opportunistic exploitation of legal loopholes. Many fans of Celtic FC wears on flags, T-shirts, in the hearts and tattoos motto: "Keep the Faith". It will be accompanied by me in anticipation of the Lords answer.’’

The above statement reads like an attempted guilt trip and truth be told Legia were conspicuously silent when it transpired their fans had attacked Celtic supporters in Warsaw. The issue is clearly one of governance and UEFA for once acted promptly and fairly. No one doubts that Legia Warsaw were the better side over both ties but the rules should be applied without fear or favour. Celtic have received rough justice from UEFA in the past particularly when they refused to deal with the cheats of Rapid Vienna in 1984 and the thugs of Atletico in 1974. The responsibility for this mistake lies clearly with the Polish side and Celtic have done nothing other than adhere to the rules. If the boot was on the other foot one wonders how Legia would respond to Celtic’s pleas? I doubt they’d pick up the phone.
This unexpected lifeline gives Celtic another chance at participation in the greatest club tournament on the planet and standing in our way are Slovenian Champions NK Maribor. In reaching the final qualification round NK Maribor have defeated Croatia side FC Zrinjski (2-0, 0-0) and Israeli side Maccabi Tel Aviv (1-0, 2-2) so it’s clear that they are no mugs and Celtic will need a vast improvement in their form to progress.

Back in the 1980s Maribor competed in the Yugoslav league and were relegated after a bribery scandal in which they had set aside funds to pay off opposition players and match officials. They foolishly kept a detailed record of the payments in a ‘black book’ and this fell into the hands of the authorities. These days Maribor play to less than 5000 fans in domestic games but their standard of play is good. They have dominated Slovenian football since the break-up of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, with 12 titles and 8 cups.  Maribor’s form in European competition in recent years is fairly good. Led by Brazilian forward Marcos Tavares they have performed well against the likes of Rangers (2-1, 1-1), Hibs (3-0, 3-2) Wigan (2-1, 1-3) Spurs (1-1, 1-3) and Seville (2-2, 1-2) so Celtic need to lift their game and take nothing for granted. This will be a very difficult tie and if Celtic perform as they did in the two games with Legia Warsaw then they’ll be very unlikely to progress. Maribor will see the tie as easier than playing Legia given the ease of their wins over Celtic but they will hopefully find a very different Celtic heading for Slovenia. Celtic will hopefully have added to their squad and be fitter, sharper and less tactically naive than they were in Poland. They will surely also benefit from returning to Celtic Park which inspires the team to greater things? The Hoops may have had an unexpected shot at reaching the Champions league for the third consecutive season and they must grab it with both hands.

As for Legia, I do sympathise but in the harsh world of professional sport you can’t make such stupid errors and expect no punishment. It was, at the end of the day, a mess of their own making.





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