Champions League qualifiers are a hard but necessary slog for any club striving to pit themselves against the elite.
The qualifying phase of the prestigious competition demands some teams play their way through no less than four two-legged matches just to reach the group stage.
With that said, the rewards on offer in the final tournament can provide a huge boost to each of the 32 participants lucky enough to earn their place.
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Barcelona legend Xavi is a player who knows the Champions League better than most given he has four winner’s medals in his trophy cabinet.
But while he is lucky enough to have never experienced the grind of the qualifying stages, the 37-year-old sympathises for those who do at one club at least.
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Xavi believes Scottish giants Celtic should be granted direct entry to the group stage instead of being forced to scrap with the minnows of European club football.
As Brendan Rodgers’ men await Tuesday’s draw to determine their second qualifying round opponents, the 2010 World Cup champion has shared his views on their situation.
“I don’t think that Celtic should be a club that has to qualify for the Champions League,” he said, as per the Daily Record.
“When you consider the size of the club, their history, their stadium – they should qualify automatically by winning their league.
“But the rules are the rules and the important thing is that they qualify for the group stages.”
Xavi feels Celtic should be aiming to compete in the knockout stages of Europe’s elite club competition – rather than having to prove their worth against the champions of Luxembourg, Latvia, Albania and the like.
“With Rodgers as coach and players they now have, I think Celtic’s ambition should be more than qualifying for the group stage, it should be to make it to the last 16.
“The most important thing is that Celtic keep their big players – Dembele was one of the top forwards in Europe last season and any club must firstly make sure that they keep their best players.
“If they want to go up a level in the Champions League they must also look to add some quality.
“Even if it is a loan player from one of the big clubs in England – it’s important they have players who have experience of playing at the highest level.”
Xavi – who faced Celtic during several Champions League evenings with Barcelona – makes a case that is hard to argue with when one considers their domestic and continental pedigree.
The 48-time Scottish League champions have featured in the final tournament nine times since 2000 while escaping their group on three of those occasions.
UEFA are unlikely to introduce any drastic changes to qualifying rulebook in the near future, but Celtic must surely be one of the first in line to benefit if they do.
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