“But shouldn’t you have scored against a team like that?”

Yesterday, someone implied that I must have been disappointed with Celtic’s failure to score a goal in Azerbaijan on Wednesday evening. This was in response to my comment when asked how I felt the game went.

After explaining that Celtic had taken the cautious approach to the game I got the reply: “But shouldn’t you have scored against a team like that?” I didn’t take the bait for this one and let it slide.

This didn’t come from someone with great passion for football. A mere onlooker shall we say whose interest in the sport, or any sport for that matter, is somewhat ‘generic’.

They’ll read the news and the opinions of others whilst ‘supporting’ an English club who may be further up the rankings than Celtic, but are by no means a great team even if they have a superior income. On occasion, this person watches or attends cricket, rugby, football or athletics and talk about it as general news.

That doesn’t make you an expert. It certainly doesn’t make you any more of an expert when you comment on a game you never saw or that the two teams involved you’ve probably never seen on live TV before.

I on the other hand have a personal interst in my team, the game, the competitions and a more rounded and insightful view of the game (I think). I don’t just read what the media are saying then use it as a third person remark as this person did, I actually write about it myself in the first person.

It got me thinking though – should we have scored against this team away from home? Let’s be honest, the comment made tells you just how much of a throwaway remark it was.

Did this person know anything about Qarabağ? No, and even I had to do my research to write about them before a ball was kicked.

Which led me to thinking that we should not underestimate that team. In fairness we were all thinking that and even Ronny demonstrated that with way we set up on Wednesday.

Without a reasonable understanding of the game you could forgive this person for not knowing any teams from Azerbaijan. Because of that it is understandable given their remote interest that they would assume a club like Celtic should dispose of an ‘unknown’ club.

Apart from Celtic’s current ongoing development under Ronny Deila, Qarabağ were no mugs. European football is a journey into the unknown at times, particularly when even as a national champions, you still have to jump through hoops to get to the stage your team should be given direct entry to in the first place.

Qarabağ may be ranked 139th in Europe overall – some 93 places below Celtic – but that’s far superior to any other Scottish club. The Scottish best of the rest are:

211th – Motherwell
212th – Hearts
221th – St Johnstone
257th – Dundee United
258th – Rangers (are these points even valid?)
280th – Aberdeen
305th – Inverness Caledonian Thistle
306th – Hibernian

Whilst not all of these teams are in the Scottish top flight (tee-hee), Celtic have played all of them in the last twelve months. Who would you rather play in Europe – Qarabağ or one of the above?

As it is, of the five possible opponents Celtic could face in the play-offs, most are better off in the UEFA club coefficients than the clubs above:

98th – Maccabi Tel-Aviv
122nd – Malmö FF
138th – Partizan
224th – Skënderbeu Korçë
286th – Astana

After a 0-0 draw in Finland, Astana overcame HJK Helsinki (146th) 4-3 at home. Skënderbeu won 2-0 home and away to win 4-0 on aggregate over Milsami (307th) of Moldova.

Partizan won 5-3 on aggregate after a 1-1 draw against Steau (49th) in Bucharest then taking them down 4-2 in Belgrade. Malmö FF turned around a 2-0 away defeat by Celtic’s opponents from last season, Salzburg (38th), by notching up a 3-0 home victory.

Better still were the efforts of Maccabi Tel-Aviv. After losing their home leg against Plzeň 2-1, they travelled to the Czech Republic and duly despatched them 2-0, winning 3-2 on aggregate.

As Celtic supporters I think we all know well enough not underestimate any team and not to be swayed by the UEFA club coefficient system. The names may not be well known, but some of these ‘minnows’ are well funded, in the midst of their domestic season at during summer time and can spend the same if not more than Celtic can.

The gap in European football is vast but Celtic, despite their respectable standing, are in a domestic pool that is underfunded and badly maintained. Celtic are the standard in Scotland and have achieved that by running a good business and living within their means.

For Scottish football to evolve, there needs to be an improvement with standards and a plan for the future. Until that happens Celtic will continue to fly the flag and not take risks against teams like Qarabağ.

Be it a trip to Israel, Sweden, Serbia, Albania or Kazakhstan….bring on today’s draw!

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

Scouting and spending

The departure of Teemu Pukki to Brøndby IF for less than £500k should be a lesson learned for Celtic. For a forward with a fairly unimpressive record, the club have taken a hit on this player.

The Finnish international signed a four year contract in 2013 for a fee in the region of £2M-£3M. He scored on his début away to Hearts and then again on his home début and you can’t really ask for more than that from a new player.

However, things never really progressed for Pukki from those early days. Chances would go a miss, he fell out of the picture and the void left by Gary Hooper was never filled.

In fact if it wasn’t for the goal scoring prowess of Kris Commons, Celtic would have been well short of fire power that season. Celtic were still without a proven goalscorer.

What Pukki’s role was supposed to be when he was brought in I am uncertain of. He wasn’t exactly prolific at any of his previous clubs and Celtic were clearly in need of a striker hence the arrival of Leigh Griffiths in January 2014.

Despite all of this, I stuck by Pukki hoping that the scouting team had seen something to convince them to pluck him from FC Schalke 04 in the first place. The club have unearthed some gems in recent years but we’ve also seen some donkeys at the same time.

Amido Baldé, Mohamed Bangura and Derk Boerrigter are recent examples of such poor buys. Whilst Boerrigter had a good spell in his career, he had become prone to injury and as for the other two, they didn’t even come with a proven track record.

A couple of million pounds may not seem like a lot in the modern day when you consider Celtic were spending that kind of money in the mid 90’s. It’s still a waste of money though particularly when these guys have failed to produce the goods.

That has been a set back for Celtic because if you buy one player to do a job and wait another year to find out if he’s good enough or not, then you’ve lost some ground. Then you have the arduous task of trying to move that player on to recoup some of the money shelled out on fees and wages.

You can’t expect all signings to work out because there are a plethora of factors that can affect a player at a club. Some or most of these can be out of the club’s control but at the very least the player should have some solid statistics to back up your willingness to spend a few million quid on them.

Gary Hooper is an example of a good signing. He had a good goalscoring record in a competitive league and was worth every penny.

If Celtic are planning to purchase forwards in this price bracket again, I’d suggest that they come with a track record as Hooper did. Pukki, Bangura and Baldé did not come with that kind of background but each cost around the same.

They have been abject failures for Celtic Football Club. Both financially and on the field of play.

At least in the case of Stefan Šćepović, he was doing a job in Spain before setting foot on Scottish soil. There’s still a chance for him you might think but he has yet to kick-start his Celtic career.

Whoever is on the radar for Celtic this summer, we will want to see any money spent, spent well. I’d rather the club paid £1M for a young Scottish player or give one of their own youth players a chance than blow it on some journeyman with a poor CV.

Let’s see what the summer brings.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie

The Celtic Roadshow

Celtic will face KR Reykjavik in the Second Qualifying round of the Champions League. After today’s draw in Nyon, Ronny Deila discovered who he will be up against in first competitive game in charge of Celtic.

In between now and then, he and assistant John Collins will be preparing the squad for that first of six possible matches that they would need to overcome in order to emulate those achievements of Celtic’s past two seasons in Europe. The Champions League group phase is undoubtedly the aim for the club but it will be a stern test for the management team at their first attempt.

The Icelandic champions aren’t the worst selection but also not to be taken lightly. KR Reykjavik have been involved in the qualifying rounds for European competition consecutively the for the past five seasons.

However, they have never made it past the Second qualifying round of the Champions League or Third qualifying round of the Europa League. Their conqueror’s in those last five attempts coming in the form of FC Basel, FC Karpaty Lviv, FC Dinamo Tbilisi, HJK Helsinki (who Celtic later beat) and last season Standard Liege.

These losses should not be overlooked or underestimated. Even though Celtic are deemed a bigger club by history, experience and size its all about doing your home work and getting it right on the day.

Last season was by no means a convincing path to the group phase for Neil Lennon. There is nothing to suggest this will be any easier particularly that Deila will be using the same group of players as Neil Lennon did, minus Joe Ledley, Georgios Samaras and Kelvin Wilson.

On the subject players, one man Celtic will face is former youth hopeful, Kjartan Finnbogason. He was recruited by Celtic as a highly rated 18 year old but in his time at the club he never featured in a first team game.

He endured injury and loan spells during a three year spell before seeking opportunities away from Celtic. Having scored 31 goals in 67 matches for KR Reykjavik, he’ll be looking to prove a point against Celtic.

Preparations will be begin on the training ground for Celtic and decisions will be made on who take up key roles in defence, midfield and attack. There will be friendlies against Russian team FK Krasnodar, Rapid Vienna and LSK Linz of Austria and Dukla Prague of the Czech Republic to help make those decisions as well as a friendly against Dynamo Dresden in between first and second leg of the Second Qualifying round.

Although Celtic will play these friendlies on away or neutral territory, they will not play their first competitive match at Celtic Park, despite the home tie being first. With Paradise being used for the Commonwealth Games, Murrayfield will be home for Celtic’s first Champions League qualifying match.

Should Celtic advance from that round, it is likely that the home leg of the Third Qualifying round will also be played at Murrayfield. The closing ceremony for the Commonwealth Games is on Saturday 3rd August and it will take a while to prepare it for football once again.

So Celtic will remain nomadic until mid-August. With European football on the menu, it may even work in the Ronny and Johnny’s favour.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie