Yesterday’s draw for the Group Stages of the Champions League was an important moment for Celtic, and for our fans.
We are there with the elite of Europe, playing in the biggest club competition in the world.
It’s the stage on which we belong.
Football has changed profoundly in the last 20 years, and not for the better.
We understand that we are not one of the elite; the fates have conspired against us in that the behemoth in England has sucked money towards it, depriving us of the status we deserve. Because we have all the hallmarks of a huge club, a global club, but without the exposure those in the EPL get.
But watch any major sporting event which isn’t football, anywhere in the world, and you will see a Celtic top.
There are no Huddersfield or Bournemouth strips at the US Open, yet these clubs can outspend us and they are sure that their temporary membership of the most hyped football environment anywhere in the world makes them better than we are. There are clubs in the EPL, and I don’t mean the global giants, who blithely expect players to leave Celtic Park to play for them, and the shocking thing of it is, in some cases players will.
Celtic fans understand that; it’s one of the prices we pay for only being an SPL side.
But we also know the underlying truth, that we are bigger than those clubs, that we are a global club, with worldwide reach.
This is not speculation, it’s a fact, and if we were able to realise our potential we would be as big as any side in world football.
The day will come when the restrictions of today no longer hold us down. When it does, even the goons on TalkSport will see just how much bigger than the EPL wannabees we actually are. Until then we know our limitations.
Yesterday, when the draw was made, most of us were glad for it because it offered us the glamourous games you want but it also afforded us hope. Elsewhere I know certain people were gleeful about the prospect of watching us lose four out of six of the games, and who are hoping we end up worse off even than that.
I don’t care how those people feel.
You’d think they had no problems of their own.
But I do care that they think this is some kind of wisdom they are imparting, that Celtic will “know its place” when the Group stages are done … as if we’re not wholly aware of being massively, spectacularly, outgunned here.
Let me put this in its proper context, for those muppets to fully understand it; in one signing this summer – and we know which one – Paris St Germain spent more than the combined annual operating budgets of every single club in Scotland’s top flight, ours included.
We know exactly where we are in the pecking order, and I have news for those sneering eejits; none of the sides we are about to play hails from Luxembourg. I would suggest their first priority is to know their own place … and I’ll be writing about it later today.
We don’t kid ourselves about beating Paris St Germain or Bayern Munich home and away; we seek to do enough at Celtic Park against the big two that when it comes to the last day head-to-head with Anderlecht that we still have something to play for.
That’s the ambition, that’s the aim.
Others will wonder why we won’t go out and spend tens of millions this week. To do what? Compete? With who? Anderlecht? Because those other two clubs … there is no competing with them, unless you have EPL wealth at your disposal.
Today The Guardian did an article on the “bargain basement” signings from this window, the guys who clubs in England and the top leagues “got cheap.”
At the upper end of the scale is Leonardo Bonucci.
His fee? £35 million.
When a player who costs the combined value of every SPL club bar ours and the one in Govan can be described as a bargain then you know exactly where we stand.
When we sign a footballer for big money – as we did with Ntcham, and it’s not big money compared to these teams – we have to get it right, on the nose, each and every time.
We cannot afford to make a mistake.
This is not lack of ambition; it is realism. The whole global transfer market is moving in a ludicrous direction and it’s only going to get worse. The numbers are beyond ridiculous; the scramble for players has become a spectacle all of its own; the “big five” leagues have seen a mind-blowing 1300 transfers involving their teams in this window with a combined value of £3.6 billion. Yes, billion, with a B and a whole lot of zeros.
And this is what some people here in Scotland haven’t twigged to yet; when even mediocre footballers can go for eight figure sums the quality available for what our teams can afford will continue to decline. Unless you are very good, and very smart, with all the right connections and a knowledge of what’s out there … and we are, and we have, and it’s cost us a lot in terms of money and time, the words “left behind” don’t do your situation justice.
It’s why we will dominate here for years to come.
We are a club with ambition, but it’s tempered by what we know we can achieve in the here and the now, all the whilst building for a future we believe will come and which people like Peter Lawwell are working for behind the scenes, a future when Scotland no longer limits our development and potential, where what we already are will be recognised.
And it will happen, and the reason we’ll be part of it and others won’t is because we do know our place and we’re not chasing dreams and wrecking our sound foundations in the process. To be part of that future will involve showing vision and guts but also discipline and a coherent strategy.
It will not be open to clubs relying on director’s loans to secure third place in the SPL.
The reaction to the draw says it all for me; we are respected all around Europe, for what we bring to the table. Not the greatest team the competition has to offer, but the right ethos, the right mentality, the right atmosphere, the right fundamentals … we are respected where it counts, for what really matters, and this has been reflected in the warm messages from our opponents and our friends across Europe. They know what we are, and what we are not.
And so do we, and that’s why we’re at the top table, it’s why we belong there … and it’s why when the Champions League show moves on and morphs into a European League we will be one of the elect, one of the chosen few, one of the clubs deemed “worthy”.
There will be no Bournemouth, no Huddersfield and no Glasgow newco pretenders.
Clubs who’s only claim to fame is being able to spend crazy money, or those which crawled out of the grave of those killed by trying to, need not apply.