When you talk of the UEFA Champions League, you think of the atmosphere that surrounds the games. And when you think of atmosphere, the Celtic Park will never be far off the reckoning.
If you remember last season’s Champions League, two teams left people awestruck. First being the Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund and second being the Scottish League Champions Celtic FC. Both of them had an awful lot in common, be it the perpetual writing-off by the experts or their ever-so-noisy boulevards.
When the draw for the 2012-13 campaign rolled out, not many gave Celtic a chance. The allegation was partly fair though. With Barcelona, Benfica and Spartak Moscow seeded alongside, the chances of qualifying for the knock-out stages were little.
With the media and the fans ruling out the Hoops, Neil Lennon made sure that a point is made. The focus, as you would suggest, was on the Barcelona game. It was ocular that the men in green were mentally sidelined against the Championship favourites.
The game at the Camp Nou saw them going down by 2 goals to one, a result that propelled them to astonishing levels of audacity in the reverse fixture. When Barca arrived at the Celtic Park, the first blow was delivered by the fans themselves. The Celts looked like a complete joint force who was raring to deliver a suckerpunch. And suckerpunch it was.
They defeated the Catalans by same margins and recorded the most famous win in the history of the club. A laconic reply to the preceding leg’s result. The ‘dream’ of playing the knock-out stages was theirs for the taking. Meeting with Juventus in the Round of 16, though meant that the dream wasn’t to last. The draw ended up in a bitter 5-0 aggregate defeat. But, they went down with their chests pumped out.
But the team that showed the world how emotions play a role in determining the results has been equally phlegmatic this year. With Round of 16 qualification being a distant dream, the chance of competing in the Europa League also slipped past them.
Pooled amongst Barcelona, AC Milan and Ajax Amsterdam, Celtic have again been hard done by the draw this time around. 1 win at Celtic Park against the Dutch side Ajax was sandwiched by 4 losses. The Bhoys still lead the SPL charts, but with no Rangers in the top tier, who’s there to compete with?
Celtic fans may moan about the poor results, but it’s their club who’s at fault. Selling three top quality players, namely – Victor Wanyama, Kelvin Wilson and Gary Hooper in one season will hurt any side. The fact that they haven’t bought any sizeable replacement only worsens the situation. Derk Boerrigter and Virgil van Dijk have been brought in, but the impact is not the same.
The absence of Scott Brown, the captain, has also affected them inappropriately. The 28-year-old central midfielder served his 3-match ban for his tackle on Neymar. His presence in the midfield would’ve seen the Bhoys competing with more zeal. As it stands though, the Scottish Premier League champions will have to wait for another year to prove their worth in Europe.
Also, with there being absolutely no competition in the SPL, manager Neil Lennon must get the best squad out for the European outings. Most of the signings the club made this year were under 21 years of age. Derk Boerrigter, 26, from Ajax being the only established professional with decent European experience.
If Celtic wants to realistically compete with Europe’s elite, the investments have to be made. The good thing is that they have time as the supporters never seem to get enervated. Another important aspect of it will be keeping hold of what they already have. With goalkeeper Fraser Forster being scouted by top clubs like Barcelona, the future of the football club is in their hands.
If the egregious campaign of 2013-14 has to be turned around, the foundation should be laid sooner than later, because the task is as big as making a mountain out of a crater.