As many of you will doubtless be aware, and have seen, I have spent the last few weeks focussed almost solely on the political situation as we entered the General Election, so I’ve not been able to devote much time to the football.
In the interim, Celtic has won its fourth title in a row (and congratulations to Ronny Deila and everyone at the club for it) and we can now begin to accurately measure his progress.
He is now a title winning coach with a League Cup on the side, a man who was robbed of a potential treble by an insipid performance from his team and a scandalous refereeing decision.
Progress, yes … good progress. Lots of progress.
But how do we measure it?
I laughed the other day when I heard Hugh Keevins give his verdict on our manager. Not Proven, he said.
Keevins is unintentionally hilarious. He believes comments like that are controversial. They are simply stupid; fundamentally, irrefutably stupid and he doesn’t come across as anything other than a clown.
Yet, in a certain sense he may not be wrong.
Ronny will not really have proved himself until he competes again on the Champions League stage.
We all accept that. It’s the ultimate challenge.
But how do you measure progress in as unforgiving an environement as that?
You cannot have watched the semi-finals this week without being acutely aware that an enormous gulf in class exists between the major clubs and the rest of football.
Damage limitation is probably the best most sides can expect against the colossal powers of the European game like Bayern, like Juventus, like Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Yet that’s not our biggest problem, or the biggest factor counting against us in terms of our ability to advance.
For that, you need look no further than the border and the green and pleasant land of England, which just re-elected David Cameron and whose top league is awash in wealth that enables even the likes of Wigan to spend millions we could not afford.
There are some Celtic minded individuals who are so blinkered in their passion to see us play in that league that they actually advocated voting No in the independence referendum last year, in part because that would have ended our chances of ever taking that stage.
They continue to believe that there is a place in that league, just waiting for us, and that market forces and historical trends will see us assume a position there before long.
In that land of milk and honey, which has sent wages soaring, ticket prices rocketing and has cast a dark cloud over the rest of the European game, with knock-on effects everywhere that remove it further from the fans with every television deal, they say we will realise our ambitions.
Their belief is misplaced. Their hope is nothing but a shadow on the wall.
Giving us the financial wherewithal to compete with Hull City is not what will unlock the enormous potential of our football club.
Let us, for one moment, look at how we might get there.
One possible route is to lobby the UK government, or our new crop of MP’s, to re-examine the financial arrangements by which this league essentially sucks money from the supporters of all the clubs in the game, with the aim of spreading it around more.
That would require redistributive measures to be forced on the EPL or the broadcasters.
I don’t think any of us sees the remotest prospect of success in that endeavour.
Another route is by a legal challenge, to crack open the qualification route.
I have long heard rumours that Celtic do believe they could successfully pursue this matter in the courts if UEFA or English FA regulations tried to stop us, but even if they succeeded, we’d need to start in the lowest tier of the game unless an invite came from within the leagues themselves.
That, too, appears unlikely.
I have long argued that this most likely way into the English game is via the franchise route – buying a lower league English club and transforming them into Celtic – and I don’t believe the FA would have any legal standing in trying to stop us.
Their one regulation – that clubs need to be based in England or Wales – would not stand up for a second in a courtroom and that would give us a ready-made place in the structure.
Yet we would have to leave behind our history and our Scottish roots.
To leave the game in this country would mean liquidating our club.
In short, our way in is not clear or even presently within the rules.
That we could challenge it – and probably successfully – is certainly true too, but any scenario would inflict huge damage on the sport.
That’s assuming all of us wanted to go in the first place, either by direct invite or by one of the hare-brained schemes I just looked at.
I, personally, think it would be an enormous mistake.
The English model is as badly broken as the union itself.
The cash that has flooded the game has changed it beyond recognition and whether it continues to be built on untrammelled greed or the oft-predicted crash comes, that road leads to disaster.
Because those are the possibilities, it is not a league in which I want our club to have a place.
There are other – there are better – options.
One of those options is to use our position at the SFA to push for wide ranging reforms in the European game.
We should be pursuing some form of regionalised league set up.
UEFA knows there is a problem with English football, and the growing financial strength of the EPL.
Their own flagship competitions – the Champions League and the newly formatted Europa League – were supposed to provide clubs from around the continent the chance to grow the game. The relentless flow of money to England is contracting it instead.
Outside of a few super-clubs, the EPL is now European football’s centre of gravity.
No-one wants that to continue.
Gross over-spending on top players is one thing, but almost all the English clubs are now spending vast sums of money on youth recruitment too and if they are able to succeed in securing the best young players in the world with the promise of huge earnings then the game really is going to crash, sooner or later.
Regionalised leagues need not necessarily impact on the two top competitions.
If they were UEFA organised and licensed (and they would be) they could be folded into those easily enough.
The Atlantic League proposals, when I first read them, legislated for the domestic season to be played alongside the regional one, and there would be ways of making it work.
Celtic has to start using its clout within the governing body in Scotland, and its wider reputation as a European side, to start pushing for these reforms or we are going to find ourselves in a far worse position than we are in today, where players already view moving to clubs like Norwich and Southampton as a career step forward.
This isn’t just about money. They want to play against top players every single week, and much as this season has been entertaining and interesting we know the likes of Adam Rooney and Nadir Cfiti aren’t that.
Guys like Van Dijk and Johansen will only stay here so long.
The lure of Celtic will keep them beyond what is normal or to be expected, but developing a squad takes years and we’re clearly never going to get that if things continue on the present course.
So we go into the European tournaments badly outgunned.
How can we examine the progress of Ronny Deila until that actually changes? What is a good result in Europe these days?
Just getting to the Champions League Groups?
Or do we need to go beyond that? Is it even possible in the growing insantiy of a sport drowning in greed?
It hardly seems fair.
There’s one other option, course; to chase the dream. To spend stupid money.
Not even I advocate that.
Like Hugh Keevins’ version of journalism, it’s a mugs game.
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