Warsaw The Fuss About?

33As players, fans, the manager and – most especially – the club secretary of Legia Warsaw wake up this morning, with their club still frozen in shock, one thought may console them: it could have been a lot worse.

Legia’s administrative error in bringing on a player who was suspended, thus costing them victory at Murrayfield against Celtic and so leading to their exit from the Champions League qualifiers, is doubtless painful. However, if Bartosz Bereszynski had not played against Celtic, he would still have been suspended for the first of the final qualifying round games, meaning they could feasibly have qualified for the actual Champions League and then had their results changed.

Celtic’s Champions League return and reprieve is as bizarre as it is embarrassing. The club were well beaten by Legia and really don’t deserve to be in with a chance of making the group stages. However the rules are clear, and this really isn’t about Celtic or the Poles.

The Champions League – as we are constantly told – is a multi-million pound tournament. Entry guarantees participants huge sums of money and, as such, there is huge competition to get there. The fact is that UEFA need to have rules that are black-and-white, and not open to interpretation or challenge, for fear that they would end up in court.

The idea that Celtic should decline to take the spot is noble, but utterly wrong, as is this “request” that we should agree to some sort of play-off game. Celtic’s refusal to compete would open them up to UEFA sanctions including suspension from European competition. UEFA cannot have a pick-or-mix set of rules for fear that in future this ambiguity will lead them to legal defeats from aggrieved clubs.

In the case of this issue, the rules are clear. Legia fielded a suspended player and as a result they forfeited that game 3-0. This is exactly what the rules demand and follows the precedent set too. There have been some claims that UEFA have previously only issued fines in these circumstances, but that misunderstands different rules.

The case that has mainly been cited is that of Debrecen. In 2010 the Hungarian side played Bulgarians Litex Lovech in the Europa League. Whilst winning 4-1, Debrecen brought on a player for only a few minutes who was not registered (and thus ineligible) for that game. When the mistake came to light, Debrecen were fined rather than forfeiting the game, on the grounds that it made no material impact on the game’s outcome.

As much as it is technical difference, this is not the case with Celtic and Legia. Wrongly playing an ineligible player (someone who is otherwise free to play if registered) is not the same as playing someone who is suspended and thus excluded from the competition. The relevant rules are below:

Article 21 – Forfeit

• If a match cannot take place or cannot be played in full, the member association or club responsible forfeits the match.

• A match is declared forfeit if a player who has been suspended following a
disciplinary decision participates in the match.

• A match may be declared forfeit if a player who is ineligible under the regulations of the competition concerned participates in the match, as long as the opposing team files a protest.

• The consequences of a match being declared forfeit are as follows: a) the team forfeiting the match is deemed to have lost 3-0 (5-0 in futsal competitions), unless the actual result is less favourable to the member association or club at fault, in which case that result stands.

Bullet point 2 is the relevant section here; Legia played a suspended player, they thus forfeit the game 3-0.

Bullet point 3 is the section that relates to the Debrecen match and in any case requires Celtic to lodge a protest which apparently they did not do. It was the UEFA delegate at the game who noticed the problem and thereafter a UEFA/Legia dispute; Celtic were nothing to do with the decision, even if they ultimately became beneficiaries.

This is worth noting, and reminding people of. Celtic played no part and this, and rightly continue to play no part in it. This decision was for UEFA alone, and is perfectly in keeping with their regulations.

The problem is that because the Debrecen and Legia instances are similar – a player who shouldn’t have played did – it leads to complaints about fairness. It is rather like saying that Criminal A steals something and gets 6 months in prison whilst Criminal B steals something and only gets 3 months, which seems unjust. However closer inspection reveals that Criminal A was a burglar who entered someone’s home whilst Criminal B took something from a shop. Just because two things can be summarised the same way doesn’t mean to say they are the same thing.

Legia are now in the process of appealing the decision but, quite simply, they have no chance of success, if only for the huge knock-on consequences this would have. Reinstating Legia to the Champions League would surely result in the entire Champions League and Europe League draws having to be redone.

This is because Celtic and Legia’s position in the respective draws was not the same; for instance, Legia were not seeded in the Champions League whereas Celtic were. If Legia were to go back in it would mean they had a better draw than would otherwise have been the case, and another side (Bulgarians Ludogorets Razgrad) could demand they get a fairer draw.

So a strange if potentially hugely beneficial series of events for Celtic. But as with Legia, things could always be much worse. Whilst this certainly presents an opportunity, it may not be a positive one. After all, how many sides can say they have been knocked out of the Champions |League qualifiers twice in the same season?

Celtic were woeful in both games against Legia. Repeating those performances against FC Maribor may result in a similar outcome, though presumably without the ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card this time. Celtic need to invest in players, especially with the departure of Fraser Forster freeing up funds. Even if the team is good enough to beat Maribor, they are some distance from being Champions League standard.

Happiness (and some muted embarrassment) is presumably the dominant emotion at Celtic Park today. Celtic now have to make sure that, like Legia, things aren’t about to get a lot worse.

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Comments on Warsaw The Fuss About?

  • 67heaven

    When I first heard of the possibility of Legia having broken the rules, I was gobsmacked ……… when the decision to award the tie to Celtic was taken, I was beyond elated ……… However, I was not surprised by the (ongoing) reaction of the Scottish media ….. It was par for the course …… I will need a sedative when the spivs decide to cash in over at bigotdome…. the smsm will need extreme consoling / counselling ….. Bless them….!!!

  • ewanbhoy

    after every European game is played UEFA administrators check what players played, who got booked, what subs were used and most importantly they check to make sure every player that played was eligible to play, its standard procedure. if they didn’t do this they would never know who should or shouldn’t be playing.
    now you would think the Scottish media would highlight this and make it clear that Celtic were not involved in any of this but then again its no surprise that they are trying to make us look as bad as possible, nothing new there.
    the whole” honourable thing to do” is nonsense.
    in all other sports when teams or individuals get disqualified or penalized the ones who benefit never get questioned or called dishonourable so why are we ?
    golf is a great example, a player wins by 10 shots but at the end he doesn’t mark his score card correctly is disqualified, 1 the player knows the rules and excepts the punishment no matter how sore it is, and 2 the player who benefits quite rightly becomes the winner and in no way is he called dishonourable or anything like that.
    the media is Scotland are the ones who should be embarrassed not Celtic.

  • justshatered

    Part of the fall out from this match revolves around our own Effe Ambrose.
    Did he serve his one match suspension last Wednesday due to his sending off in the first leg or does he still have a ban to serve?

    I hope someone at Celtic is asking this question of UEFA or they could end up in exactly the same position next week.

  • tim berry

    Completely agree with this, Legia broke the rules and the penalty was known beforehand. The disgraceful attempt by Legia to mark Celtic as the bad guys in this should also be looked at by Uefa, if only to prevent this sort of thing happening again.

  • john

    I would have thought that the breach of rules applied to the player being selected whether he came off the bench or not.Is this true?

  • Alberto

    Tim Berry…totally agree. UEFA must act to ensure after serving of UEFA penalty notice that the offending club resist all communications with the innocent party.
    There.

  • james

    UEFA – We care about football

  • Matthew Marr

    John – honest answer is that I am not sure. It would seem to make sense that simply being on the bench would infringe the suspension. However the fact that the argument ‘he only played a few minutes’ has been used suggests otherwise. I had a quick look at some UEFA articles but still not 100% clear.

  • charlie

    james the day we are embarassed about another team breaking the rules against us we should give it up rules are rules and sometimes i think we are the only ones who read the rulebook cmybig

  • charlie

    or the only ones who obey the rulebook

  • charlie

    james i have read your blog for a long time and usually agree with a lot you write but i think you are easily embarassed on this occasion

  • http://www.onfieldsofgreen.com James Forrest

    That would be constructive criticism except … I didn’t write it!

    See author’s name at the top! Mr Matthew Marr wrote this one, but I happen to think he’s right. It’s an embarrassing way to go through. We were well beat on the park, and I suspect that with this board’s policies we could be well beat again by the Slovenians. If we do make it to the Champions League Groups we will be murdered. This team is weaker than the one that was slaughtered on that stage last season, and I think it will be dire this time around.

  • charlie

    james iff we allow the rules to be bent the baisburst imo sorry for mistaking your musings for matts you better keep an edge up on him or he will take over wee smiley face

  • K

    You’re a bit confused re bullet point 3. You say Celtic never lodged a protest. Correct, so under bullet point 3, no forfeit would apply and the original result would stand (0-2). Also, bullet point 3 makes it quite clear that Uefa could have awarded a forfeit against Debrecen, thereby putting then out of the competition. Their opponents (the Bulgarian team) DID file a protest. Debrecen DID play a player who was ineligible to play in the competition. Both conditions clearly met, so the forfeit could have been awarded.
    PS I’m a Celtic fan so I don’t really care. In fact the whole thing pleases me as I know how angry it will make the huns. Ha, ha, ha!

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