Another summer, another Champions League exit. Celtic are fast becoming a club who can no longer compete in Europe’s premier club competition.
Since the competition introduced the group phase in 1992, Celtic have reached the group stage on ten occasions. All of them in this century.
Martin O’Neill (3), Gordon Strachan (3), Neil Lennon (2) and Brendan Rodgers (2) have all taken us there. Each manager has had varied results, but as time goes by we seem to be losing more and more ground.
The task of getting into Europe is harder and the qualifying period is like a tournament all of it’s own. Even though we are aware well in advance of the path we must take, it never seems to get any easier.
Our previous season is barely finished and we’re back at it again. “Champions League you’re having a laugh” indeed.
Champions are eliminating one another before the tournament proper and just so we can play against teams who finished second, third and fourth in their respective leagues with a handful of actual “champions” involved. It is beyond farcical.
Our most recent exit has been met with outrage from our fans. And who can blame them?
Brendan Rodgers, who left in February in an unforgivable manner, had a disastrous time last summer. This was a huge catalyst in his exit earlier this year.
We exited the Champions League in the playoff stage at the hands of AEK Athens amidst a terrible transfer window and want away players. This year, we didn’t even make the playoffs and now have a Europa League playoff to contend with as a last resort to secure European football until Christmas.
I don’t blame this squarely on transfer failings. We bought three defenders, a bunch of youngsters and even had a couple of signings from the January transfer window awaiting a chance.
Yes, we have positions yet to be filled, but our ranks are not depleted. What we’ve failed to do is impose ourselves as a home side in a crucial match and that comes down to the manager.
Over the past month Neil Lennon had built up a bit of belief and respect. It put many of the support, myself included, in a positive frame of mind for ever doubting his appointment as full time manager in the first place.
The 1-1 draw in Romania was good, especially having initially fallen behind. The return leg was anything but a formality so what the hell went wrong?
A bizarre lineup was the first error. A deployment akin to the Brendan Rodgers mistake at Ibrox in December 2018 was utter madness by Neil Lennon.
Callum McGregor, one of our best midfielders, dropped in at left back/wing back. I meam what was he thinking?
We had £10m worth of defensive signings sitting on the bench. Neither of which were rolled out for this one.
Instead we opted to play some half-arsed set up in a crucial tie. Total madness.
Boli Bolingoli may still be finding his feet, but dropping him to play one of our best midfielders out of position is unforgivable. We bought these guys for the very reason that they needed to play, not as backup.
You can’t blame the board for this one. They spent the money and Neil Lennon hasn’t used the players he wanted.
So because of this monumental bloomer by a manager we had reservations about, though were beginning to warm tlll, we’re now all questioning his ability once again. I haven’t heard him take responsibility for his actions and that is something he has done since the day he took over from Tony Mowbray.
The cost of this could be great. Not only are we out of the running in the big money competition, but we’ve killed any chance of further serious additions to rebuild.
Neil Lennon stated prior to this match that we needed to offload before we could buy more players. That was probably based on squad size and player salaries.
Now we’re in a situation where we may need to stick with players who were earmarked for an exit. Worst still, off load those players and replace with inferior quality ones.
Even if the Europa League group stage was reached, there’s nowhere near the same amount of money to convince the board to cough up the same funds, had we reached the Champions League group stage. This ‘plan’ has backfired badly.
At this point I do not know what the best way forward is. It seems certain we’re likely to sell players like Scott Sinclair who have been frozen out, but the replacements are unlikely to achieve the same kind of stats.
If this is the way we are headed then the club should just put us out of our misery and do it. Keep selling the crown jewels and do whatever it is you want to do with the money.
We are giving our rivals a serious incentive to topple our crown. Is that our goal?