Reruns, responsibility and repercussions

On nights like last night, “Celtic stunned in Champions League qualifier” is often a favourite headline – or something similarly sensationalised.

The reality of Celtic’s latest Champions League exit though was no great surprise for those who’ve witnessed it time and again in recent years. Sure, the decisive goal came from a counter attack late on in the game (if you can label a hoofed clearance bouncing it’s way through our defence a “counter attack”, that is), and if it fits into the required dramatics of clickbaiting you could easily create a narrative surrounding a devastating sucker punch leaving Celtic shocked.

But you would be wrong.

Whilst I’m sure no Celtic fan anticipated such a performance a few hours before the game, as the rumours swirled around pre-match that not only would Edouard be missing, but Christie would be replacing him in the lone striker role, that sinking feeling of dread would have already engulfed large swathes of the support.

Within seven minutes, that apprehension had been realised as each and every one of us watching through our screens registered that we’d in fact seen this movie before.

Emotions naturally run high in the immediate aftermath of defeats like these – we should know, we’re not just well-versed in them now, we’re at the pinnacle of our field – but it’s hard to argue against this year’s Champions League “campaign” constituting the worst of our recent trilogy.

From signings not being made early enough to allow them to integrate properly before our most important games of the season, to players regularly being played out of position; from poor decision making in decisive moments on the park, to the lack of it entirely coming from the dugout – these are all elements that have repeated themselves each and every year, and yet still we believe, or hope, that this time it will be different.

Of course the extraordinary external circumstances of 2020 will have made preparation for this year’s qualifiers harder than most, but what makes this particular reoccurrence so hard to fathom is in its execution as opposed to simply its result.

Last night’s defeat was not just a consequence of the aforementioned factors, in many ways the performance presented a more fundamental flaw which has repeated in every other insipid and uninspired display so far this season.

While not quite all of our early season showings have fallen into the ‘turgid’ category, each time Celtic have stepped onto the park in recent weeks two main, alarming characteristics of our game have been undeniably evident: our lack of creativity and impotence trying to find a way through a tight defensive line; and, our inability to defend against basic long balls upfield to a quick, strong target man.

It may seem reactionary following last night’s result but in this early part of the season Celtic’s attacking play has proved extremely one dimensional: dominate possession, play it wide to the fullbacks to cross, if they can’t find space recycle possession back and across the park. Repeat until opportunity to cross presents itself, if it doesn’t, shoot, mostly aimlessly, from anywhere around the box.

Whilst that no doubt reflects a naïve, oversimplified evaluation, for any upcoming opponent truly analysing our matches it wouldn’t take long to identify overwhelming and unimaginative patterns of our play.

Last night, even as we finally began to influence the game around the 40th minute mark, it was hard to ignore the overriding concern that we simply wouldn’t carve out enough clearcut goalscoring opportunities to win the game, and that even if we were to, it was unlikely we’d limit Ferencvaros to the one goal they’d already scored.

Both fears proved to come true, and although in the second half we sporadically played some of our most intricate attacking football of the season around our opponent’s box, we still lacked the imagination and influence to determine the outcome of the tie.

Ferencvaros’ winner was as predictable as it was infuriating.

Some may argue it came against the run of play, but as Sergei Rebrov’s comments implied – “Most of the time we defended, but football is about scoring goals, not about the possession of the ball.” – it had an air of inevitability surrounding it. It was their gameplan. Something we, once more, didn’t appear to have.

The fallout from this year’s exit will no doubt be harsh. Our opponents were of a significantly lower standard than even our previous two campaigns, and the financial implications of a third successive year without Champions League money will hit harder, particularly considering the economic impact the pandemic has already had on the club.

The most significant consequence of our failure to qualify is likely to be in terms of the playing squad, with the only way to recover the financial burden being to sell one, or some, of our assets.

Rather than ourselves determining who is most dispensable, the biggest problem could now be in trying to convince at least one of those star names to stay. Lennon’s post match comments indicated as much.

The sad but clear reality is that the Europa League is this Celtic squad’s level – at least in terms of actually competing if we make it to the group stages. But what makes these Champions League qualifying defeats so hard to swallow each year is not simply missing out on the main prize, but in the manner of our failure.

When we have previously suffered humiliating Champions League group stage defeats at the hands of the bankrolled superclubs we have been quick to cry foul of modern football’s financial inequality, yet here we are, once again, suffering a humiliating defeat in qualification to a side whose squad was built on a budget only a fraction of our own.

If certain players did in fact already want to leave the club, the immediate repercussions of the defeat to Ferencvaros could well be vast, and whilst you or I may be able to identify the same repeated mistakes each and every season, until these are acknowledged and responsibility is taken throughout the club (boardroom, management, and players alike) the likelihood of further reruns seems inevitable.

4 comments

  1. Jay Money · August 27

    You deserve a lot of credit for being able to compose yourself long enough to write that article. I’m livid.

    Given that this is not the first, second or third time in our recent history that this has happened, there clearly is a systemic failure within Celtic football club that costs tens of millions of pounds on an annual basis. Failure to adequately prepare and setup for our most important period in the year, and failure to learn from past mistakes. In any other business such repeated failure wouldn’t be tolerated and the Celtic board should be asking themselves hard questions this morning.

    The law of averages suggests that teams with the better squads (and most money!) will qualify for major tournaments in the vast majority of cases (when was the last time a team from out with the “money leagues” won anything in European football?), yet time and again Celtic fall short to underdogs. Why? Repeatedly, why? Because we fail to prepare.

    Now, I must admit that in this window the board appear to be addressing the gaps in the squad, so kudos to Peter for the GK and Striker. But the fact it is a recurring failure means top to bottom must take accountability.

    I place the blame for last night squarely on the shoulders of Neil Lennon. No striker? I understand that Ajeti is just back from 2 weeks Italian indulgence, but what about Klimala? To say he isn’t match fit and then not even get off the bench is a disgrace.

    It’s easy to be critical of Lennon. He’s overseen these types of results as a manager very frequently (going back to his first spell when we had disastrous Europa League campaigns) but equally has given us Barcelona and last seasons impressive performances. It sticks in my brain whenever this happens that I wanted a European manager after the rat jumped ship.

    This season is all about the 10, but if we aren’t careful, chasing the 10 will be the death of us in Europe.

    We are regressing as a football club and nothing looks like changing.

    Liked by 1 person

    • stephendroptheshoulder · August 27

      I was too seething to come close to getting any sleep after the game, so more anger induced insomnia than composure the cause of writing it.

      Agree with your comments but this morning I’m struggling far more with words.

      Furious yet contradictorily (is that even a word?) borderline apathetic given the inevitability and replication of the same scenarios playing out time and again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. calledbycthulhu · August 27

    Our lack of a game plan, that’s it in a nutshell. It’s a shadow so vast it renders insignificant all our other failings. It also extends to our transfer policy, where the chief sin is not the delay in getting players in (players will almost always wait to see if a deal can be bettered) but the type of player we do sign. To implement 4-2-3-1 correctly you need wholly different players, in terms of strikers (yes, that even applies to Edouard), midfielders, and full backs, than those signed during Lennon’s reign (and before). If we can’t afford the right type of players then we need a new game plan, and quickly. If you disagree, look at how we’ve fared in “difficult” games since Lennon took over i.e. Sevco, Low Block Teams on shitches, Cluj, Copenhagen and now Ferencvaros. We did well against Lazio etc. but there the game plan was different against an obviously superior team.

    Like

    • stephendroptheshoulder · August 27

      Don’t disagree at all. From top to bottom there is no coherent plan in place beyond “win 10 in a row”.

      We will never progress as a side when the same negligence is allowed to happen repeatedly simply because our attention can be so easily diverted towards domestic domination. Which at this stage is clearly also not a given.

      Liked by 1 person

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