Let’s talk for a second about the opening five minutes of the game.
Man oh man.
What is it with Celtic teams in Europe, and the opening five minutes of games?
It’s as if the task isn’t hard enough and we can’t help but make it harder. There’s something beyond frustrating about that, something that suggests it’s a mental thing rather than being about ability. I don’t get it, but it stalks us like a movie monster.
Let’s talk for a second about the opening spell in the second half.
Losing goals in the first five minutes of a game is bad, it’s deadly, it throws the battle plan into total disarray. Losing goals early in the second half does the same. Whatever opportunity there was for us went by the boards when Neymar scored the free kick.
Now let’s talk for a second about goal number four.
It was incredible, a piece of utter magic, the kind of skill you replay over and over and over again just so you can watch every microsecond of it, as if analysing somehow gave you the ability to replicate it yourself. The pass is sublime, the finish out of this world.
Goal number five follows shortly thereafter because if number three wasn’t demoralising enough at four you’re pushing a boulder up a hill and the harder you work the more it saps at your arms, and your legs and finally your very soul.
So here we are. This is how it comes to pass that Celtic has suffered its largest European defeat in our history, at the Nou Camp stadium. Was it because we couldn’t keep our defensive line in the first five minutes? Because we conceded a second right after the trauma of missing a penalty? Was it a consequence of that killer third right at the start of the second half? Or that majestic fourth? No, of course it wasn’t. It wasn’t about any of that.
We were outplayed, by a vastly superior football team, probably the greatest ever to play the game.
It’s no more complicated than that.
I could sit here all night stripping this down to its nuts and bolts, but what would be the point?
I could lie, like Warburton, and say the result didn’t reflect the game, that there’s no gulf, but I’d sound like an idiot, as he sounded like an idiot. I could, as the denizens of SevcoMedia did when talking about Dembele at the weekend, decry the footballing genius who is Lionel Messi, and say that all we did tonight was step off him, allow him room to run and make him look good. But that would be bullshit, as they were talking bullshit over there.
If it looked easy for him tonight it’s because he makes everything in the game look that way, and he’s been doing it since he was old enough to kick a ball in the direction of the goal. It doesn’t matter how outrageous the piece of skill or how fantastic the guys trying to keep him out are. Making it look easy is what Lionel Messi does.
Embarrassing, I hear some say.
Here’s a prediction.
We’ll do that to at least one team this season, and when their manager is making excuses and talking about how we were allowed too much space and given too much respect, we’ll be asking when we get some credit.
I’ll make you another prediction.
We’re not the last team who Barcelona will do that to this season, and I’m willing to bet the manager of that club doesn’t make those excuses.
Because sometimes you just have to stand in awe.
So a little perspective, then.
Try this for size. In two seasons playing together, Neymar, Messi and Suarez scored two hundred and fifty three goals and assisted another one hundred and twenty. Want some more? Besiktas and Malmo have both conceded eight goals in Champions League group matches. Roma, Sporting and Bate have all conceded seven in the Groups. Basle and Shakhter got out of Groups and conceded seven in the knockout stages.
(Thanks to the lads over on CQN for those stats.)
There are a handful of teams at this level with the skill and the will to score and score and score who will turn out your lights if you give them a sniff.
Some will say we were our own worst enemies tonight.
But analyse any goal ever scored in football and you’ll find somebody on the opposition side caught out of position or making a mistake. That’s why the best players, those who can exploit those mistakes, are paid phenomenal sums and are highly sought after.
So where are we after that?
Bottom of the group, of course, but where in the bigger picture?
Does that result ring out across Europe? No, because we’re an SPL side playing against a superpower, a juggernaut. It suggests that we’re on a gentle slope at the foot of a mountain, and the road gets steeper the higher you go. Can we rise to the level of beating teams like this? Once in a blue moon, maybe, but to actually compete? Not right now, and never from Scotland. A European super league opens up different possibilities, but they’re for later.
A little realism, that’s all that’s required here, a sense of time and place and that Brendan is just in the job and has had very little time, and very little money, to accomplish the things he wants to. Even then, we’re never going to be what Barcelona was tonight, and you know what?
No other club in football, with all the will and the money in the world, will be either.
Tonight we were dismantled by a team light years beyond us, and I don’t feel any embarrassment about admitting that simple fact. We weren’t at the races tonight and even in our fondest day-dreams we never expected to be.
Because we understand and accept reality.
The objective here isn’t to deny it, but to face up to it because only then can you try and alter it in a way that improves us over time.
And we will.
Because we have the right man, with the right plan.
In Brendan We Trust.