The glass is half full
Leaving Celtic Park a little bemused in the late summer drizzle last night was one of those experiences you have now and then as a Celtic fan. The team had put up a decent performance against an efficient but clearly not brilliant Malmo side although the loss of a last gasp goal took the shine off a gutsy Celtic display. Those opening ten minutes were the stuff of dreams and you have to wonder how things would have finished had Johansen buried that excellent chance and made it 3-0. The good play up to that point was undone in the end by the sort of careless defending which is usually punished at this level although Van Dijk was clearly fouled at the second goal. Yet the support trudging along the Gallowgate felt a curious mixture of disappointment at the last gasp goal by Berget and some pride that the team are progressing at this level. One only has to think back 12 months to the tame and rather worrying capitulation to Legia Warsaw. That second leg match at Murrayfield was as poor as I’ve seen Celtic in recent years.
Old hands of course stated that you simply cannot defend as Celtic did last night in European football and expect to progress and that is true. Whoever is pitched into the back 4 in Sweden had better ensure an error free 90 minutes if Celtic are to progress. But there were a lot of positives to be taken from last night’s performance too. Middle to front Celtic look a mobile and capable side. Biton, Brown and Johansen were at times very effective and James Forrest had one of his better games. Gary MacKay Steven looks comfortable at this level and Griffiths also looked sharp, determined and dangerous. He is starting to look like a Celtic striker and seems to have matured since his arrival at Celtic Park. On the down side, Lustig’s injury was cruel on a player who has been through much already and those lapses at the back seen to haunt a team which has conceded 2 goals to each of their opponents (Malmo, Kilmarnock and Inverness) in the last three games. There was enough in Celtic’s play and Malmo’s lack of real top level class to suggest that this tie is far from over.
There seems to be more optimism online today than was the case last night when one fan commented that Celtic ‘We have champs league fans with Ryman league players.’ Such comments are of course born of frustration but are nonetheless unfair. Celtic’s players put everything they had into last night’s game and actually beat the Swedish Champions. Had that been a group game we would have gone home celebrating 3 deserved points and our jaundiced, negative press would have had to accept it was a deserved win. It is easy to criticise individual players for errors in games but given the relatively poor state of Scottish Football’s revenue streams, Celtic actually punch above their weight in Europe. They single handedly hold up the Scottish coefficient which would sink to the level of Luxembourg without them. There is a difficulty enticing good players to Scotland and those who do come may well do so with one eye on the English Premiership and the riches it holds. Of course fans are entitled to criticise the team if it underperforms but such criticism must always be tempered by the realisation that the club is operating in a very different world to the one where the Lisbon Lions thrived and sent a shiver down the backs of the opposition.
Celtic are simply not operating in the more equal times of the 1960s or 70s any more when the big clubs in Europe were turning over 3 or 4 times Celtic’s annual revenue. Figures for 2013-14 show that Real Madrid had reached an annual turnover in excess of half a billion Euros as did Manchester United. That is 8 or 9 times Celtic’s annual revenue. Of course, few expect us to compete with such financially bloated clubs and that is why for many just reaching the UCL group stages remains the Holy Grail. Qualification can boost Celtic’s annual turnover by as much as 30% as well as giving the club and its wonderful supporters’ exposure to a much wider European and world audience. We are where we are financially and any class players we have will always be coveted by the clubs of the rich leagues who it seems have cash to burn these days. It did not go unnoticed that Bristol City recently offered Crystal Palace £9m for a player. This is a club with an average attendance of around 12,000. That is what Celtic are up against.
In a sense this is the real frustration for Celtic supporters. We know that our world-wide fan base and profile would make us a force to be reckoned with if we could access the sort of TV revenues on offer in leagues like the EPL where Arsenal received £149m last season. Until such an eventuality occurs, and it currently seems a distant dream, Celtic desperately need to qualify for club football’s greatest competition. That is why it is vital that Celtic go to Malmo next week, be brave and give it a real go. For a club like Celtic which aspires to be among the best, the rewards of Champions League football are more than just financial. It offers their wonderful band of supporters the drama, glamour and excitement they crave and deserve. It also shows our fans on television throughout Europe as being among the loudest, most sporting and knowledgeable around.
I wouldn’t blame Ronny Deila if he rested half a dozen first team players at Tannadice this weekend. There will be time enough to deal with the SPFL in the future whereas we now have just one chance, one shot at glory and we must try to take it. As one fan said to me in the Glasgow drizzle last night, ‘We are 90 minutes from the Champions League and we begin the game with a goal of a start.’ There is no greater incentive than that. So go to Sweden Celtic and give it 100%. Whatever happens we’ll be with you all the way just as we have been for last 127 years. It’s been an incredible journey and we hope there are many more high points to come.
Getting a result in Sweden next week would get us a seat at the top table of European club football again and despite our relative lack of financial clout, that is where we belong. As one of life’s optimists, especially when it comes to Celtic, the glass is always half full and not half empty.
I really believe that despite the challenges ahead we can do this. Time will tell.