The 3-0 scoreline was harsh. Celtic had more than competed against Juventus, the champions of Italy, but thanks to their opponents guile, experience, and nous in Europe’s elite Celtic slipped to defeat.
While it is a near impossible deficit to overcome in Turin in under three weeks time, this Champions League campaign has shown the Bhoys they can challenge the best of the continent.
This is only the second time in six years that Celtic have progressed beyond the Champions League group stage. Indeed it’s only the first time in four years that have even made it through the qualification games to reach the group stage.
For a club the size of Celtic, with attendances averaging between 45-58,000, a main draw for Scottish talent, an almost guarantee of trophies and medals, and an ideal route for players into the riches of the English Premier League, that is a poor record.
Naturally, Scotland suffers from its size, reputation, and a perceived lack of glamour. It is not only Celtic who have performed poorly on the continent – rarely does a Scottish team outside the Old Firm make the first round proper of the Europa League. Scottish clubs are battling to survive and a belligerent HM Revenues & Custom has made life a lot harder, as Rangers’ demotion to the four tier has shown.
Rangers’ woes have contributed to Celtic’s Champions League success in a way. Would Celtic’s famous 2-1 win over Barcelona have happened if they had their age old enemy challenging them in the league? Could so much time and effort be concentrated on Europe if an Old Firm derby, and the subsequent build up and fall out that comes with, was included in the mix?
Rarely does one club exist without the other, but rather than push each other to improve, Celtic and Rangers have dragged each other down. Domestic bragging rights dominated both clubs, from supporters through the dressing room and into the boardroom. Being the two best teams in the land often meant winning the Old Firm matches meant winning trophies, but at the expense of European success. It is no coincidence that both Celtic and Rangers reached the UEFA Cup final at the end of a season in which their rivals won the league title.
Rangers will be back, but for now Celtic can shine. Their performances in the Champions League so far, including the defeat against Juventus, will have impressed many. No doubt there will be a movement of players to the Premier League.
Victor Wanyama has been linked with Arsenal, while Gary Hooper was the subject of a succession of bids from Norwich in the January transfer window. But even this will help Celtic as young talent will see Celtic as a chance to develop their careers, play games, win medals, appear in the Champions League and attract interest from clubs south of the border.
Celtic are romping to the domestic championship, and while Rangers’ absence sees the rest of the league tightly congested, the title race is already over. Scottish football fans should not lament Celtic’s dominance, however, if it means they are successful in Europe. Scotland need to improve their UEFA co-efficient to give their other European qualifiers a chance to get better seedings for the qualifying rounds that will hopefully see them into the main draws on a consistent basis.
Without the distraction of their cross-city rivals, Celtic are starting to exploit the potential they have as a club. It is fanciful to think they will challenge the continents heavyweights for the big-earred cup, but the Hoops can certainly start taking a bigger slice of the Champions League riches and return the club to the higher echelons of European football.
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