Over the course of the weekend, Celtic and Sevco both played friendly matches, and both finished with identical score lines.
One of those matches was hyped ridiculously. One of them wasn’t. One was shown on live TV. The other one wasn’t. One starred two of the biggest footballers on the planet. One starred a lot of people no-one had ever heard of.
The one that was hyped ridiculously, here in Scotland, was the so-called Battle of the Champions. If by Champions you mean the second tier champions. That’s all I heard in the run up to the game. “Title winning Burnley versus title winning Sevco.” A “battle of Britain” nonetheless, with a lot of people forgetting we’d already had one of those earlier in the month, and between the two sides which won the top flight leagues at that.
The Celtic – Barcelona game got the publicity that comes with having Lionel Messi and Suarez in it, although the media was originally playing down the game because the Argentine wasn’t going to be there. They called it a “Barcelona B” team … ignoring that the combined worth of the players in it would have bought and sold the whole of the Premier League up here, grounds and asbestos staircases included. Jealous much? They certainly were.
It was this game that was shown on live TV, of course, as befitting a match between our world famous club and theirs, and folded as it was into the International Champions League. The TV audience would have enjoyed the match; I know I did. I thought it was a great test for some of our players and that we did reasonably well. Except for a moment of Efe madness we might actually have gotten something out of it.
The media, of course, has focussed on Efe to the max.
The other game wasn’t shown on TV, so there are more available alibis for the Sevconites and their own calamitous defensive partnership.
As expected those alibis are being deployed to the full, with not a word of media criticism focussing on how bad they were at the weekend or, in particular, Calamity Clint, whose age and lack of pace was ruthlessly exposed every time Burnley went up the park.
Shambles will ensue whenever any team runs at this mob. It’s been proved time and again. If teams believe in themselves enough to have a go, there’s amusement to be had aplenty. Calamity Clint may well be the slowest player in Scottish football, and I include all those over 50’s leagues. He is going to be destroyed on the park.
But not in the press. They reserve that for our players.
Our team came up against a side comprised of world class talent. The sneering English studio bosses pondered at half time if we might be “humiliated”, which anyone who watched the match knew never looked remotely likely even though we were 3-1 down. Ironically enough, later that day Inter Milan found themselves trailing Bayern Munich 4-0 at half time and one of England’s own clubs, Chelsea, were being dismantled 3-0 at half time to Real Madrid.
That, of course, is the reality here; there are a handful of teams in the world – of which Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich are included – who will habitually dismantle just about anyone they come up against. There are teams in La Liga, unarguably the best league on the planet, who will consider themselves lucky if they are trailing 3-1 at half time against Barcelona in the season ahead.
Yet how did the Scottish press cover this?
“Celtic have a lot to learn and a long way to go” is the general tone.
What, you mean to catch Barcelona? No shit.
I would suggest 98% of all football clubs ever to have played the game have a lot to learn and a long way to go if they are to reach the peaks this club now scales as a matter of routine. And 99% of those will never get there, no matter how much they learn.
But Sevco wasn’t beaten by Barcelona. They were beaten by Burnley. Yet our media seemed to take a different tone when it came to discussing that game. One suggested that the game proved the club was “ready for the season ahead” and of how they were “shaping up well.”
I mean, seriously, right?
Celtic chose some big tests over the pre-season, and we endured a devastating, calamitous result in Gibraltar. We’re not there yet. We’re nowhere near it. But since that shocking night in the last round of the Champions League we’ve held our own against Leicester, played very well against the Spanish superstars and beaten German club Wolfsburg. Oh yes, and we overturned the first leg defeat and secured a very credible draw with a makeshift defence in Astana.
Are we Champions League ready?
Hell no, but there’s not a single person at Celtic Park trying to kid anybody on that we are. We’re a week away from a new registration deadline; there will be Hell to pay if the manager doesn’t have two signings at least before that game. Our board has to get off its arse and start building this guy his team … but even without them, we’ll dominate Scottish football this season simply because we’ve got better footballers.
We have, quite literally, gone for quality over quantity. I’m not satisfied yet because the manager has identified areas where strengthening is needed, and players to do it, but you can tell that we’re looking for people who can actually do the job. Sevco has signed ten players, and in spite of the media’s gushing over them even the most basic internet research reveals facts about almost all that suggest they are punts if you’re being generous.
Kilmarnock has made eleven signings. I worry about them as much as I worry about Sevco, because aside from a couple of the Sevco players being over-paid has-beens, the “quality” overall isn’t a great leap above what you’d expect from a lower league team. You could argue that the overall quality at Aberdeen and Hearts is higher than it is at Ibrox, which is why Scott Brown thinks it’ll be those clubs who will provide the greater challenge this year, and I agree.
Sevco has played a bunch of lower league clubs – and a Motherwell side that had barely played a pre-season match – in the revamped League Cup, a tournament laughably designed as only the SPFL can. There’s a lot of self-congratulatory back slapping going on as a consequence.
Burnley aren’t a great side, but they are a cut above what Sevco has come up against thus far, and the Ibrox club was taken apart for sixty minutes of the game.
How do I know that? I know that because although it wasn’t on the telly I was able to watch it, and I was laughing myself silly for the whole time, as Calamity Clint redefined the word “hopeless” only to escape any heavy duty media criticism for a shambolic performance which would have had Efe on the front pages, far less the back. He wasn’t alone.
I don’t think our pre-season has been perfect, but then it wasn’t supposed to be. It was supposed to prepare us for massive matches by testing us against big teams. It was never going to be all plain sailing, but the actual humiliation came in a competitive match and as bad as it was it happened in the first leg of a tie we won easily.
The media thinks we’ve got a long way to go, and they’re right. But only comparatively, and in terms of our wanting to climb the European rankings once again.
Sevco are judged by a different standard, but in many ways they should be. Because they’re not only a shadow of who and where we are, but they are a shadow of who and where they think they are too. Learning that is going to hurt.
And you know what?
We’re all going to be here to savour every stab of pain.
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