European Elite

This Champions League draw and all the recent fan comments and feedback got me thinking. Why are we still allowing European football to cater for the elite?

Yes, it is a coin we all chase and desire. Is this really progressive for the entire game though?

Not if it isn’t fully inclusive. What we are potentially looking at is exactly the sort of thing UEFA tried to block years back – a breakaway.

You’ll recall the Atlantic League proposal of nearly twenty years ago? An idea to prevent large European clubs in financially weaker leagues from losing out on big revenue.

Well that got binned off by UEFA in the same breath in which it was being considered. The governing body allegedly recognised what was being said and decided to revamp the existing European club competitions instead.

How has that worked out for all of UEFA’s member associations? Well, all I’m seeing is the evolution of a European Super League, a breakaway if you wish.

The Champions League has a fraudulent name. Better to have stuck to calling it the European Cup because it certainly isn’t about champions as it once was.

In Scotland it has become more and more difficult to qualify. The only hole in our argument is that we as a nation have fallen behind every one else.

Not just in club football. In international football as well.

Topically, like many of you, I’m watching the World Cup. I’ve grown used to not seeing Scotland feature in these tournaments.

I’m watching countries like Australia, Tunisia, Iceland, Iran and Egypt and thinking. Would Scotland be any better than them?

I doubt it. We appear to be behind them.

The only time I hear of Scotland doing reasonably well is usually at youth level. So something is fundamentally flawed in the Scottish system.

We’re clearly doing something wrong with our sport. Things have to be shaken up.

Our clubs in general are well below the required standard to compete in Europe. I know Celtic as a business are doing all they can for the club, but even then there’s a glass ceiling.

I’d love to tackle UEFA on the Champions League matter, but I think we need to tackle our own establishment first and win. We know exactly where the problems lie and SFA do Scottish football no favours.

Our TV revenue is abysmal, our stadia is poor in general and we do little to bring people through the turnstiles. Overall it is a poor product that is hard to sell without using Celtic and the former Rangers 1872 as a marketing tool.

You would have to admit to some degree that Rangers 2012 have brought the spotlight upon the Scottish game once more. However, our game is still ailing badly and whether the Ibrox club are willing to admit it or not, they are living off the ‘glory days’ of the liquidated club.

Meantime, Celtic are on a personal journey, but where does it lead beyond Scotland? If we’re lucky enough to get there, we struggle at the group phases of the Champions League where the disparity is extremely obvious.

Yes, we have lost ground in recent years through management changes, having built up some momentum during the Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan years. Now Brendan Rodgers has been tasked with keeping Celtic’s face in the Europe’s premier competition.

We’ve made the last two group phases of the competition thankfully and to one extent or another made progress from one season to the second no matter how ugly. What about this season coming then?

Well, an additional qualifying round hasn’t helped matters. The obstacles have increased for those at the bottom end of the food chain whilst the rich clubs get rewarded with an easier or direct path.

This elitism in European football is making the conpetition less and less appealing. Is this what UEFA want in order to suit their own agenda?

It does make you wonder where European football is going. Whether you can blame your own club, your football association or UEFA it’s clear Celtic are still off the pace though.

Everything is a bonus and when we do manage some kind of achievement in Europe. No matter how great or small.

I often think of Martin O’Neill’s famous words that in certain company we were “punching above our weight.” He couldn’t have been more correct and today it couldn’t be more apparent especially with the greater gap between Celtic and the top clubs.

Brendan Rodgers is of course on his own mission. He is making his own history, just as his Celtic predecessors have.

The recent acquisition of Odsonne Edouard on a permanent deal was a sign of trust between the financial men at the club and the Northern Irishman. To date, he has not splashed anything serious other than the services of Olivier Ntcham last summer.

Every other player has either been on loan or brought in for a smaller amount going by today’s market. And that’s understandable because as I have been banging on about for the last two years on this blog, Brendan inherited a rather large squad.

Edouard is his first real signing of intent. That we are taking Europe seriously and have to up the stakes in order to make progress.

We know we aren’t going into the Champions League to win it. It is essential to be part of it though and stay in the fight.

The marketing is so important. The income is so important.

Over the next couple of years it is likely we’re going to see the Celtic squad operate as a more compact unit consisting of key players supported by home bred talent. We retain the services of key players on better contracts as evidenced by guys like Tom Rogic and Kieran Tierney.

The wage structure at Celtic is such that we won’t go breaking the bank. We cannot compete with the finances of England, Spain, Italy and the like.

What we can offset against big money is an opportunity to play at a popular and historical club. Trophies and medals, European football, fans that idolise you and a chance for you to further your career with us for many years or a chance to build your career at Celtic and continue elsewhere.

We’ve helped many a player on to better things whilst benefiting from their services and subsequent transfer fee. That’s where we are at and it works well for us.

I’m more than happy with the club’s greenprint for the future. It serves us well.

We need players of a certain calibre no matter how few. These are the guys that influence games, the rest of your squad and your results.

In order for Celtic to move forward they must continue to buy and sell for profit. They must also harvest youth consistently.

Until circumstances change in Scotland we’re on our own. Until the UEFA run a fairer competition we’ll have to keep chapping at the door.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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