What a rush to judgement. What unseemly, scandalous, haste. Ex-Celtic players, people who allegedly retain affection for our club, running to their typewriters and word processors and microphones to repeat one word over and over again; “embarrassing.”
They have a shockingly low embarrassment threshold, these people.
Some of them were embarrassed last season when the club appealed the Scott Brown sending off. They were embarrassed when Celtic lost to Barcelona in Spain by a thumping margin although we were still in the early days of Brendan’s tenure and with no clear idea of how that would go.
And I listened to some of those same people use that word to describe how far ahead we are of everyone else in Scotland. Yes, these people are embarrassed a lot. I would be embarrassed for them, if I even remembered they existed except for days like this.
After a result like that, what’s needed in introspection and calm. This was not losing to a shock defeat in a domestic cup game, against an opponent you ought to have well beaten. This was a defeat – a sore one, a resounding one, ultimately a painful one – at the hands of a team filled with world class footballers. We don’t have world class footballers at Celtic Park, not yet, perhaps not for a long time to come.
For reasons I’ll talk about later, I am not disheartened by last night.
There was a point last season when some of these “embarrassed” media people were telling us that putting away teams didn’t matter because “we hadn’t been tested yet.” They constantly moved the goalposts on us there too; as we got better, so they demanded a greater challenge to “prove” ourselves.
Charlie Nicholas is a case in point. Normally I wouldn’t listen to a single word that came of that man’s ignorant mouth, but I thought this morning his comments were instructive. They were instructive of just how appalling his football knowledge and limited comprehension actually is. For whatever reason, Sky thinks this guy is a pundit … if Charlie Nicholas couldn’t play football he’d be really be in trouble, getting by on his looks.
His comments this morning were that Brendan “had learned nothing.”
Has he been watching the same team as me this season? In the last campaign, Astana took us to within seconds of extra time at Celtic Park. This season we dispatched them scoring eight times. The Rosenborg away performance was as disciplined and accomplished as I can ever remember us having. Nicholas bothers me not because he does remember these things and chooses to ignore them but because he’s one of the “go-to guys” for Sky Scotland whenever there’s a negative story about us, because Nicholas has the memory of a fly and the intellect of an amoeba. You will get stupidity from him on each and every occasion.
Chris Sutton is smarter than Nicholas by far, although I’m not convinced he possesses a scintilla of understanding about tactics, as his short and fateful spell as a manager surely attests. This is another thing that makes me laugh uncontrollably about the Monday morning quarterbacks who pontificate on every mistake made by bosses in football … these guys are either the sort who’ve never had the bottle to sit in the dugout or weren’t good enough to.
Sutton’s use of that word last night was a symptom of his penchant for dramatizing every incident, and it’s pretty clear he enjoys controversy for its own sake. But last night that wasn’t controversy as much as it was a classless display from a guy who, for whatever reason, simply doesn’t get it. Later on I’ll explore the point in more detail, but last night’s PSG forward line – just the strikers, those who started the game – had a combined transfer market value greater than the whole of the SPL and I don’t mean the teams; I mean the clubs, stadiums, car parks, players, fixtures, fittings and Ibrox dodgy roof thrown in just for the fun of it.
Put that defeat in its proper context, and it looks like a bad night at the office.
A bad night at the office usually results in Celtic dropping points, because a bad night at the office is usually against an SPL team. A bad night at the office against this sort of team … painful lessons are handed out, and that’s what this was. But what exactly was the lesson?
That we’re lost at this level?
Depends what you mean by “this level.” I refute that if it’s a reference to the Champions League itself, but as I’ll explore later there are now two Champions Leagues as there are effectively two EPL’s and two La Liga’s and two Ligue One’s … and that’s a reality we all have to face.
The lesson that we should have strengthened at the back?
Perhaps yes, but as I’ve come to realise since the window shut – as I knew before it did, actually – we’re in a strange position here. We should have had a greater target pool to dip into, in my view, but again that’s easy for me to say. There was not a queue all the way down London Road of top defenders willing to take huge wage cuts for the pleasure of taking on Motherwell on a wet Wednesday night after the glitz of PSG passes by.
Had there been, and had we signed them, it’s not impossible – not even unlikely – that PSG’s strike force would have danced around them anyway; what do people think over £170 million for Neymar bought? A guy who’ll fold the hand because he’s playing against Martin Skrtel and not Mikael Lustig?
So what other lesson?
That we should have played better? Been better as a unit?
I’ll grant that, but I’ll say this … there was a guy on the pitch last night, Rabiot, who most people who don’t watch French football on a regular basis will barely have heard of. I’ve been a huge admirer of his for a few years, as I try to watch as much football from around the world as I can. He’s an immense talent, and still very young. He was partnered in the middle by Thiago Silva, another exceptional footballer from the very top drawer.
Rabiot could play for any club anywhere and he’s one of those guys who does a very unsexy job. But last night he gave a masterclass in how that job should be done. He harried. He harassed. Every time a Celtic midfielder had the ball, there he was. And if he wasn’t the guy doing the marking he was the guy hovering between that Celtic player and another, to intercept the pass … which he did time and time and time again. And when he wasn’t … Silva was.
And of course they had another partner in the midfield; Marco Verratti, one of the game’s genuine prodigies, signed from Pescara in Italy when he only 19 but already on the verge of the Italian national team, and being talked about as one of the finest up-coming midfielders in the world.
That was in 2012, and the years between have moulded him into one of the finest players of his generation. He cost PSG £12 million … and last year Barcelona failed in a bid to sign him for around six times that. And they won’t quit trying.
So other than “don’t get teams like PSG in the draw” I’m not sure what lesson Brendan Rodgers has failed to learn that Nicholas and others, in their wisdom, could teach.
Brendan spoke after the game, in a way that was as classy as anything PSG did on the field. He acknowledged that the team didn’t perform to the level he would have wanted, but made sure to remind the journos of exactly who it was we were up against.
He wasn’t satisfied. He wasn’t happy. He knows we could have done things better … but he’s also a grounded guy.
He praised the kid Ralston, who I thought acquitted himself as well as he could against the world’s most expensive footballer – in fact, I thought he was excellent, perhaps not in terms of his technique just yet, but in his attitude, his aggression, his fearlessness; we have a young lion here.
But more than that, he pretty much shrugged off all talk about being “embarrassed.” Brendan is not a fantasist, or “tactically naïve” as some idiots were putting it. He’s a guy who knows what we have here. He also knows what we don’t have here, and this team is still a work in progress.
The simple truth is that mistakes and errors aside, we could have gone out there last night with a full strength team and played at the very top of our game … and still wound up on the back of that result. We’re in football’s most unforgiving realm.
And the only embarrassment is that a lot of people still don’t recognise that reality.