Keeping Tonight In Perspective

GW404H338Tonight in Malmo Celtic will play a single football match.

That is all. We’ll take the field against the champions of Sweden and we will play 90 minutes.

Tomorrow morning, whatever the result of that game, there will be a gushing of hyperbole. We’ll be told that it either makes our season or sends it speeding off the rails.

Neither of those things will be true. We’ll have a minimum of six more games to play in Europe come what may, and we’ll still be contesting a domestic treble.

One result will not change any of that.

Our supporters, and our club, will not starve for entertainment or for money as a consequence.

If we make the Champions League the pot will be somewhat bigger and the entertainment greater, … but the fundamentals will remain the same.

I believe this is going to be an enjoyable evening, but I will be heart sick if our team does not make it through.

My frustration will revolve around two things; first, a profound believe that we’ve got a club now which “settles for”, rather than aims for greatness and second, that I understand full well that to a certain extent this is how it has to be.

It is not the fault of Celtic that our horizons are limited.

We live within the boundaries of what is possible in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

Realists point out the futility of our club chasing dreams of getting to the quarter finals, semi finals, or even the final of the biggest football competition on Earth, when it’s the same handful of teams, all with resources vastly in excess of our own, who reach those stages every single year.

I can’t argue with them.

Not competing with those clubs isn’t a failure of ambition and that we choose not even to try is simply accepting reality.

We live in a world where television dominates the global game like never before, and this curse on the sport that we love has skewed everything horribly and perhaps even permanently.

Those who are waiting on the Premiership bubble bursting, radically realigning the game again, have been talking about that for the last ten or so years.

Those who cling to the belief that we’re one day going to engineer an invite to the EPL are kidding themselves as they’ve always been.

There are only two ways we’re ever going to play in that league; the “franchise route” of buying a small club in England, assuming their identity and traveling up the leagues or by some kind of legal challenge, although God knows what the basis for it would be.

I would support neither.

Celtic is about more than just what happens on the pitch and enough of our soul has been squandered in recent years by those in the boardroom who run us like a “bottom line” business, no matter what that means.

The notion that our club, which was founded for starving people, should ever pay £20 million for a single footballer, or give one a weekly salary three or four times the average annual median wage … it’s offensive to every notion I have of what Celtic is supposed to be.

For all that, Celtic would be a giant in the EPL … not a mid-table battler, not a relegation struggler but a genuine contender.

With our fan-base – and a truly global one, unlike the West of Scotland pretenders to greatness we share a city with – and our historical roots we would be an irresistible draw, one that would make us a serious player from our very first match in the league.

Most of the time it’s enough for me to know that.

Most of the time it’s enough to remember that Celtic is more than just a football club, that we are a true cultural and social phenomenon, so much so that even with the limitations of our league we still retain a magnetic pull like few other sides.

One ridiculous article over the weekend asked if our club is in permanent, irreversible decline.

The notion is ludicrous.

Celtic may reach a level beyond which it can no longer progress within the current football landscape, but when you measure the club by a different criteria than money – the loathsome “equaliser” that has a dozen English sides with not a fraction of our history far less our cultural roots as “bigger” than we are – you see how ridiculous the concept is.

Our club will remain special, it will still be significant, and it will continue to carry our dreams and our hopes and our hearts.

We will continue to be relevent for as long as we exist, and this will be true whatever the result in Malmo tonight, and I write this as someone who fully expects us to win and proceed to the next phase of the competition.

For all of that any defeat will continue to rile me, for many reasons.

Foremost amongst them will be the risk averse way we approach our business.

No-one expects us to try and compete with the big boys – as I’ve said above, that is a simple matter of accepting the reality of where we are and where we play. What we can expect, however, is that the club shows some signs of life, that they fix clear deficiencies in the side and cease with the strategy of betting small and for huge odds.

This is the strategy that sends us into tonight’s game with an off-form left back and the possibility of having to play Efe Ambrose out of position on the right. It is the strategy that sends us to Malmo still lacking a truly special midfield talent who can open up defences with a killer pass and, above all else, still without the proven finisher at this level we’ve been crying out for.

There are a lot of reasons why we don’t have those things, but as long as amongst those reasons is that we lack the ambition, the imagination and the will to go out and sign them up I’ll continue to be frustrated and angry and hold our board partly accountable for any failure.

There is simply no reasonable excuse for some of these deficiencies.

Some of them have been standing out, clear as you like, for the last couple of years and our strategy for fixing them has been haphazard at best when it hasn’t been outright scandalous.

Take the £2.4 million we paid for Scepovic.

I would suggest that was not a failure of scouting, as some have stated.

We weren’t buying anything like the finished article there and we knew that at the time.

If that guy had been the thirty goal a season player we needed we’d never have got near him because his value would have been three times that at least and that would have stopped us from even pursuing the matter.

Instead we bought “potential”, because that’s cheap and relatively risk free.

And in some ways, that kind of money does represent a hit we can afford to take – and I’m not writing him off, by the way; he’s been at Celtic less than a year – but that’s £2 million worth of footballer who doesn’t even make it into the squad most weeks.

The slot he was supposed to fill remains empty.

Signing Ciftci was not part of the solution, as he’s a different type of player entirely and that we even attempted to fill this round hole with his square peg, before giving Leigh Griffiths a go, says it all.

It isn’t simply the money we’ve lost in transfer fees on punts like Pukki and Balde either.

Failures like these are often the difference between the Champions League Groups and settling for football in the lesser competition, and the financial consequences that entails.

There are some who’ll say spending money guarantees you nothing.

I have three words for them; Manchester City and Chelsea.

The latter won a Champions League, and they didn’t do it by developing their youth talent. The former quite literally spent their way out of virtual irrelevance to grab an EPL crown, and have ambitions to go even further.

Spending big bucks doesn’t guarantee you success of course, but if you want to be taken seriously in the game you act it. Buying quality stacks the odds in your favour – sometimes overwhelmingly.

For everyone who says it doesn’t buy you success, there are a dozen clubs who’ve done it.

Look at Rangers and their trophy haul in the crazy years.

And how did we finally put a stop to it?

We spent big money too.

Don’t let anyone kid you that it “guarantees nothing.”

The very people who hide behind that excuse are most often the ones who’re constantly telling us that EPL wealth means we can’t compete.

They know theirs is a bogus line of argument, but to accept that means challenging the orthodoxy of their own club, and they’d do anything rather than confront the possibility that we might just have it wrong.

There are others who will point to the liquidation of Rangers and refuse to countenance that kind of risk.

Their argument is the weakest of all.

No-one is suggested insanity on that scale and they know full well we’re not.

In truth, we know that every transfer buy is a punt, a shot in the dark, but there are better ways to do business than blindly rolling dice and hoping to hit the jackpot.

For all that, I do think we’ll do it, that we’ll make it through tonight and be in the draw.

Because we have got some of the fundamentals right.

We have got ourselves an excellent head coach and he’s been able to mould quite a decent team out of the scant resources he’s been given.

That’s why I can say, with total confidence, that we’re a better side than Malmo in every department and that their home record notwithstanding there’s nothing here that concerns me.

But I’ll repeat what I said at the start, disappointment or elation aside this one result will not make our break our season.

It will not radically alter the structure or the underlying nature of what Celtic is.

This is 90 minutes of football, and that is all.

Afterwards, win or lose, Celtic will go on as before.

I’m not suggesting it isn’t an important night.

It is. It most certainly is.

But just this once, I’m going to keep it in perspective.

If we go out, it’ll be one of those things; a result of stupid mistakes on the pitch, against a team we should have beaten, and partly a consequence of missed opportunities and the road not taken off it.

Yet it will also be a measure of where we are in comparison to other teams.

Whether we like it or not, this is it for us at the moment, banging our head glumly against the glass ceiling of playing in Scotland, unable to rise as far as we’d like or as far as we could if that ceiling were not there.

Celtic belongs on the Champions League stage.

That’s why it’s so important that we get there.

Our stature demands it.

Our name justifies it.

Our history has earned it.

That we have to struggle like this to get there is infuriating.

Tomorrow I’m going to elaborate on that point, and write about the meritocracy.

For today, and tonight, enjoy the game friends.

2-0 to the Celtic.

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Comments on Keeping Tonight In Perspective

  • Gerry O\’Donnell

    James, you know that I particularly admire your cogent, literate, thoughtful output. Occasionally though you tweak a chord with me, and I feel obliged to take issue.
    Spending for example. Spending, per se, is not the panacea, but wise investment can be the catalyst that takes a good side to becoming a great side. Jock Stein spent frugally. When he did get the cheque book out however, it was to add the finishing touch to what was already there. Joe McBride for example, and then Willie Wallace. Or
    Harry Hood and Tid Callaghan to fill gaps that age had created.
    However if we are being brutally honest, we may indeed fail tonight! To a team who have enjoyed the CL riches more recently than we have. They have also spent significantly less on their squad, than we have on ours.
    Regardless. I agree that we are more than a \” one night from glory / disaster club. Our roots, stature, history,and whole r\’aison d\’etre go far deeper than a mere 90 minutes. Hail Hail.

  • Peter

    James

    Great stuff, you have calmed me down no-end

    Not often I get nervous, but this early morning I was a wreck,

    I too believe we should be in CL groups most years, we have proved ourselves many times.

    Also agree we are where we are, and should be better prepared by addressing the obvious deficiencies you identify in your article,

    But whatever the result I would rather be where we are, than in the lower eschelons of the Scottish leagues.

    Keep up the great work

  • Pat

    Personally, the outcome of tonight’s match and subsequent transfer developments will be season defining for me. If we get knocked out, it will be the third time in a row that this team had failed to beat teams smaller than ourselves over two legs. Cup shocks can happen but usually over 90 minutes. For us to fail to get to the CL Group stages at the third attempt when the odds are stacked in our favour seedings why signals to me that there is something fundamentally wrong at the club. If defeat is then followed up with the loss of our best player to a second rate English team (compared to the EPL giants) then it signals that the people running our club have settled for our place amongst football’s also-rans. As someone weaned on the Lisbon Lions that is too much to stomach.

  • dynafc67

    I have stuck by Ronny from day one, but sadly I believe he is tactically out his depth,,,3 goals conceded from similar corners,,we created one half chance in the first half,and had a goal wrongly chopped off,,other than that we created nothing…passing is far to slow,,absolutely gutted ,but this simply is not good enough….hope Ronny proves me wrong but the football we play is boring

  • Althetim

    Here’s some perspective:

    Over the 180 mins against Malmo, we won the first 10 by 2-0 and got pumped 4-1 over the next 170.

    Celtic are nowhere near being even a CL cannon fodder team. Malmo were clearly better than us and they’ll struggle to take a point in the group stage.

    I’m not blaming him, but Stefan Johansen is the most over rated player at Celtic.

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