Last season, with a new manager at the helm and a nice style of play to get used to, there was always the danger that things would not work out, that these were tests too great, that the wheels would come off the wagon.
What none of us could have expected was the pitiful way in which our board responded to the challenge, and in particular to the second opportunity which was presented to us when the Polish champions, Legia Warsaw, were correctly disqualified from the competition.
It was appalling, and no two ways about it.
In fact, if we’re being honest the last two Champions League qualification campaigns have been equally shocking.
Neil Lennon must have known the gig was up in his final season, when he saw the side weakened three times in a row before major games.
No manager would have stood for that for very long, and it was an insult to expect him to.
I knew he would leave when the board did that. When they made it clear that there would be no continuity, no attempt to build and develop a squad, no sign even that the money he raised from player sales would be reinvested in the team.
Ronny Deila arrived here seeing the Celtic job as a major step up in his career.
But this guy has grown in the job, and the better he does the more he will insist on doing things his way.
He, too, will see the writing on the wall before long, and if it continues to look like this, he too will walk.
Ronny Deila can be forgiven for what happened last season in Europe; not the defeats, but his failure to fight for the sort of players he knew were needed to take the team forward.
He has to show the strength this time, the self-regard to get what he wants and what the team needs, and the board has to learn – and they have to learn fast, because, it seems to me, that they haven’t learned so far -that in the absence of a domestic challenge (and we don’t look likely to get one of those for years) that the only thing that will make fans buy season tickets in large numbers are signs of life in Europe.
The deterioration in the attendances at Celtic Park has been blamed on a lot of things; the recession, the absence of competition, the club’s “political stance” and a general dissatisfaction with their perceived lack of real action on the Rangers-Sevco shenanigans amongst other things.
But at the root at much of it is something the fans believe in implicitly; a distinct lack of imagination and ambition at the club.
I hate writing these articles you know.
This message – that we don’t get everything right – is one few people on our side of the fence want to hear, but they are even more necessary than the Sevco pieces this site puts up, because it’s hypocritical to highlight the failings of that club without acknowledging our own.
It’s also dangerous, because like with politics when you make those at the top immune to criticism you foster arrogance, you let things stagnate and you make it impossible to fix (or even acknowledge) mistakes.
Remember, Sevco didn’t hit the rocks and shatter overnight; it drifted towards those rocks for years before it ran against them.
That is what happens when fans stop asking hard questions, when they cease to take an interest in the direction of their club and place unlimited faith in those running it.
At Celtic we’re better than that. Smarter than that.
Now, it has to be said before I go on that I am not knocking The Strategy; not all of it anyway.
But whereas some people may want to rewrite history on, for example, the Temu Pukki signing, there were those of us who, at the time, expressed serious disquiet about us going for a player without a proven goal scoring record when a proven goal scorer is what we were crying out for.
The same applied to Amido Balde, and these two have cost somewhere in the region of £3 million for no discernible return … which is the consequence of “experimental” signings or “projects” or whatever you want to call them.
Sometimes you just need to bite the bullet, and go for quality.
I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again; the modern transfer market is insane, and the cost of players is sky high. No-one expects us to compete in that market, but it says a lot that this club has spent £6 million or thereabouts on players three times; Sutton, Hartson and Lennon.
They all played in the same team and that team reached a UEFA Cup Final.
The last of them, John Hartson, was signed in 2001.
That’s fourteen years ago now and we have never come even remotely close to matching that signing in terms of cold hard cash since.
So even as costs have gone up in football, across the boards, including what fans have to pay for tickets, and whilst revenues have continued to increase from Champions League income and other areas, we’ve actually gone backwards and stopped even trying.
I am not advocating spending £10 million on a footballer. When Rangers spent that kind of money on Flo it was clearly sheer insanity.
But to haggle over a £4.5 million deal for Alfred Finnbogason was lunacy, and to have left a proven finisher like Aron Jóhannsson at AZ when £3 million would have sealed the deal is just a nonsense.
Those players would have excited the fans.
They would have got the blood pumping.
And in cash terms, for the fees, they would have cost only marginally more than the disastrous Balde and Pukki, who were stupid signings and proved it, when they couldn’t even manage to score goals in the SPL.
So no more experiments. No more “projects.”
Quality, proven goalscorers are what we need from now on.
And the need for it is as pressing as ever before.
The top drawer finisher we were looking for is still not in the Celtic squad. The board did a wonderful job in securing Guidetti on loan; the deal didn’t work out the way we wanted it, but it was the right move at the time.
His leaving his left a hole in the squad which someone needs to fill, and I’ll feel a hell of a lot better when we fill it.
Stefan Scepovic, by the way, does not represent a risk at all. He is a good player and will do a good job in the Celtic shirt and everyone knows how I feel about Leigh Griffiths; he will score goals in Scotland for fun.
It’s Europe I worry about.
Because neither player has thus far proved they are out of that top drawer, although I have a sneaking feeling that Griffiths could score anywhere.
Until he demonstrates that, he’s not the high calibre we are looking for and have been for quite some time now.
We also need at least one more central defender because if something should happen to Van Dijk (like getting sold) or Boyata then we’re desperately short in a crucial area of the team.
That might stand up reasonably well in Scotland, but in Europe we’ll be in big bother.
None of this is exactly new information.
We knew we’d be losing Denayer, so we brought in young Boyata.
But we also knew we’d be losing Guidetti and we all suspect that we stand to lose Big Virgil as well.
Nobody is suggesting that we spend crazy money on signings, but the fans need a reason to believe we’ll settle for more than just being in the Champions League draw this time around, and no-one ought to be fobbed off with John Kennedy rolling out pre-determined lines about Armstrong and Mackay Steven being “this season’s” signings who were brought in early.
That’s not going to cut it at all, I’m afraid.
In the final analysis, no-one is asking us to compete with Man City or Chelsea or sides from the big leagues.
Because it was a team from Poland who knocked us out at the second hurdle last year, and when we were allowed back in it was a team from Slovenia who finished the job.
The year before that, we got the fright of our lives against a team from Kazakhstan.
Let’s not kid ourselves that our failures have been simple matters of economics and our inability to compete with the top sides.
We didn’t compete with sides who we ought to have been miles in front of, and the reasons for that were obvious beforehand.
Let me repeat; Neil Lennon had to navigate three rounds of Champions League football in his final season with a weaker side in every round than he had the round before. That’s just scandalous.
Last season Ronny Deila had to attempt the same with a makeshift team bolstered by loanees.
That’s simply unacceptable. That’s failure at every level.
Last year there was an alibi, however weak, for what transpired.
This year … there will be no excuses.
The Strategy needs to deliver this time.
Lawwell and the rest have to prove that we’re about more than just money in the bank.
Robert Browning’s famous poem about ambition says that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp or what’s a heaven for?
Is the height of ours really only to hear the Champions League music?
We used to be so much more than that.
It’s time for us to be that again.
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