The true position of Celtic Football Club was abundantly clear last night. What was on display at Murrayfield was not just devoid of passion and determination, but simple football and basic communication.
Prior to kick off there remained a chance and an opportunity to repair the damage from a week ago in Warsaw. What I saw in Edinburgh turned out to be worse than the first leg.
I’ll set aside the issue that the squad has not been strengthened for now (in fact it’s a likely to get weaker fairly soon). What I will discuss is Ronny Deila, his coaching team and the players he does have at his disposal.
Last week we witnessed a disaster. The bright start made by Celtic eventually slid in presence and quality as the match continued.
A red card and a capitulation could have and probably should have seen Celtic fighting a bigger deficit at Murrayfield last night. As it turns out the deficit was three goals with an way goal in the bag as a boost – not impossible to turn around.
Whilst others went off at the deep end, I gave Deila the benefit of the doubt. The chance to redeem himself with eleven players rather than the ten he was left with for last week’s second half was enough for me to remain optimistic but all involved would have to step it up.
What I watched last night lacked everything you need in European football. In terms of level of performance, it was a shadow of a Celtic side.
With Efe Ambrose suspended, Deila selected Mikael Lustig to partner Virgil van Dijk in central defence. That seemed like the sensible choice given vice captain Charlie Mulgrew’s surprisingly woeful stand-in (or should that be stand-up?) contribution last week, a role he won plaudits for not so long ago.
Emilio Izaguirre was back in the starting line up in his usual left back role. Adam Matthews, who deputised for Izaguirre last week (though why I still don’t know) returned to his more familiar position at right back. With Fraser Forster in goal, this is the defence most of us would have chosen and certainly one I didn’t disagree with.
Then there’s the midfield. Weakened by the injured club captain Scott Brown and lacking the kind of personnel not just to win over fans but to actually win the battle in the middle of the park.
Alongside captain Mulgrew was Stefan Johansen and the young but wilful Callum McGregor. Also in the mix was Nir Biton who if memory serves correctly has barely seen any action this summer.
In front of them was Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes. Commons is a first pick at all times but Stokes’s (unplayed last week) inclusion left me wondering once more why Leigh Griffith’s or even the ‘in form’ Teemu Pukki didn’t get the nod.
Even with this starting lineup I gave the manager the benefit of the doubt. As the match got underway it transpired that the wheels had come off, the teeth had fell out and the game was a bogey.
I’ve seen Celtic teams of the past at least show the determination and effort required to try and overcome a first leg humbling. As an example, Strachan came up short against Artmedia Bratislava away but returned to Celtic Park getting a good win only to come up short in goals scored.
Just last season saw Neil Lennon take virtually the same group of players and overturn a poor away result against Shakhter Karagandy. Lennon did manage to overturn that result, but last seasons unconvincing entry into the Champions League was a warning to the club.
Despite making the group stage last season it was a poor offering and should have been confirmation that this season would yield little more without change. Now that Celtic are out of the Champions League competition shows you that the warning signs were ignored or at the very least, accepted by the board.
You could argue that it wasn’t Celtic Park and therefore didn’t feel like a home game. We weren’t screaming about that when we put minnows KR Reykjavik to bed two weeks earlier though.
What fans are seeing is the club downsizing to the point where they are happy to do just enough to win the league. Given that grim outlook, Europe won’t be a happy hunting ground, as this Champions League “campaign” has shown as well as the one prior to this have demonstrated.
We know that Celtic are not able to compete at the top in terms of transfer fees and wages. I’m not entirely sure where we are competing though.
Lennon said after last weeks game in Warsaw that this result was coming. That the club had to spend but wouldn’t.
As much as it saddened me to hear Lennon say this so soon after leaving, left me feeling unhappy with him. To a degree he is right though, and certainly knows more than I or any other fan.
What now awaits Celtic is a two leg play off match for the Europa League. As much as I hate to say it, this might be a better competition for Ronny Deila if he is to succeed in creating his own team.
If Celtic had somehow overturned the deficit last night the next opponent would surely have wiped the floor with us. The thought of not playing in the Champions League makes my heart sink but at least I won’t have to watch Celtic get slaughtered.
Europa League football isn’t guaranteed, nor am I convinced that Celtic will qualify. If they continue to play as they are at the moment and come up against a basic team like Legia Warsaw then the club can kiss goodbye to any additional income from Europe.
Instead, Ronny Deila will spend a whole season trying to make sure he doesn’t get a hiding from Aberdeen, Dundee United, Motherwell and Inverness. When you consider that Forster, Van Dijk and possibly others might depart, I fear for the direction Celtic are heading in.
It is evident that Deila cannot just wave a wand and make things happen. He’s young, just in the door and getting to know this group of players.
It may well be that these players aren’t good enough. They might not be of sufficient quality to adjust to a new format.
Yet I still feel Deila made some poor choices as many Celtic managers before him have. Also, I can’t imagine John Collins sitting in a TV studio watching as a pundit agreeing with some of those choices either.
Would he not advise against some of Deila’s choices? Would he not moot a similar setup to Lennon’s until they had the right personnel in place?
I was also baffled by the decision to throw on Forrest when the game was already dead and buried. I mean why throw on a guy with injury problems when the match is lost?
It was stupid and put the player at risk. Even Deila himself admitted a few weeks ago that he would not rush Forrest back until he was 100%.
I can’t put my finger on the issue or the decisions. I can only endure what is to come and hope that in the long term Deila’s vision will bear fruit.
It must be said though, Europe is not the theatre to perform new tricks in. In the Champions League there is too much at stake, particularly for Celtic.
I bought into the Deila appointment and avoiding total calamity, I am still prepared to give him a season to make things happen. The question is, what are the board prepared to do to help him get there?