Our critics, and there are some in our own support, are having a fair old day today.
Some of what they are trotting out is hoary old nonsense, easily slapped aside. Some of it is as pervasive as sand underneath your toenails. Brendan is suddenly tactically naïve and inflexible. The coaching team are suddenly not doing their jobs. And always is the call to just spend money.
None of it stands up to scrutiny.
None of it will make this one fraction better.
Let’s take the point about money. I agree we gave ourselves a massive hostage to fortune in the last window when we didn’t sign a central defender. Of our starting two last night, one wasn’t even half fit and it certainly showed. He was well off the pace. Yet that offers a convenient alibi to the midfield which gave PSG too much room and failed to protect its back line.
So what’s the answer? To spend a fortune? On what? How much money would it take before we could realistically match a team like PSG? Ten million wouldn’t buy you one of their players on a season long loan. How about twenty million? In the current market that will buy you a couple of mid-level Championship players from England.
And what would that accomplish? To turn a 7-1 defeat into a 3-1 loss? Yeah that would make some people feel better but we’d still walk away from the game with nil points, so to me what a lot of people are asking for – and some are flat out demanding – is that we spend stupid money on a player or players for the sole purpose of assuaging our egos a little.
We should spend in January, because this team needs fresh blood and especially at the back, but no-one should be under any illusions about anything we do closing the gap between ourselves and the super-clubs. That’s not going to happen. Even the idea of getting us out of Scotland, which a lot of people believe in as if it’s a magic wand, will not change the immutable fact that certain clubs will always have access to reserves of cash we won’t.
Look at it from the perspective of a team like West Ham; they are now EPL mid- table players. You ask their fans if they believe £100 million per annum in television money has turned them into title contenders. Then ask the supporters of Manchester United, Chelsea or City if they could have gone out and paid what PSG did for Neymar and Mbappe and would those players have chosen England, over playing in France or Spain or Italy.
One result that people seem to be holding over Brendan is Neil’s sensational win against Barcelona in the Champions League in 2012. Was that a magnificent performance? Of course it wasn’t, although it was a magnificent result.
Barca scored once from 25 shots at goal that night, 7 of them blocked, 8 on target and 10 off target. They dominated the entire match, with 83% possession. They made 955 passes. Last night, PSG scored 7 goals from 24 shots, with 63% possession.
Without playing down Neil’s achievement, we could play the Barcelona game 100 times and still never get that single goal win again. On another night they might have handed us our heads on a plate, as they did when they rolled up the following year.
Those who think Brendan is inflexible weren’t paying attention last night. Against Barcelona in Spain last season he played five at the back. He played five in midfield last night in an attempt to keep their forward line from getting in about our defence.
Neither formation worked. When you are playing against the best players in the world you can tweak and change as much about the system as you like but when individual players aren’t on their game or switch off you are on a hiding to nothing and that is exactly what happened last night. I wholeheartedly blame the players for that display.
To suggest that our performance was somehow some sort of Champions League low is equally ridiculous and doesn’t stand up to the remotest examination. In 2007, Manchester United beat Roma 7-1 in a Champions League quarter final second leg. Bayern Munich have twice handed out 4-0 beatings to teams at the semi-final stage; once to Barcelona and the other to Real Madrid. Go back to the Round of 16 and you find that they’ve beaten Basel and Shakthar Donetsk by 7-0 margins and Real Madrid and Liverpool have both scored 8 in a group stage game.
This is by no means an exhaustive list; those are merely the record score lines in those rounds according to UEFA.
At this level, punishment beatings are more regular than our media would have you believe. The teams at the top are just too good, just too ruthless for any mistakes. When PSG can turn over Barcelona by 4-0 at home and then be crushed 6-1 away that’s the level we’re talking about, that’s the level at which we hopelessly floundered last night.
And the reason why we floundered really doesn’t have anything to do with tactics or lack of a central defensive signing or anything else. At one stage last night PSG took off Julien Draxler, a player who would walk into just about any team on the planet but who rarely starts for their side these days. In his place they brought on Javier Pastore, their number 10 until Neymar signed, a guy who seven years ago cost them £40 million.
That’s greater than the cost of the whole of the Celtic team combined. Coming off the bench. For a guy who cost an equally large sum, making a rare start.
A single player in their forward line would command a transfer fee higher than the total value of every club in Scotland combined; players, coaches, management team, heated driveways, fixtures, fittings, leaky roofs, manager hunt prize draw lotto machines, right down to the last nuts and bolts. One player, and you could take your pick of Mbappe, Neymar or Cavani. It all comes down to the same thing; they had all three on the park.
We were spectacularly, even grotesquely, outgunned.
Yet Brendan gets stick.
We’ve had four horrible mauling’s in this tournament in the last two years; when Barcelona did it to us last season I said they’d have results in the rest of their campaign that would put ours into perspective. They went on to win 6-1 at home against the team which, but for two players, was nearly identical to the one we just played.
The guy who ran riot that night in the Nou Camp was, by the way, the same one who’s dismantled us four times in two years … the world’s most expensive footballer. And PSG’s response to that hammering was instructive; they bought him.
Just what do our critics think they spent all that money on? Headlines? Perhaps they think an appropriate way for us to make sure it doesn’t happen again is see if PSG are amendable to us doing some sort of deal over him.
Last night was a sore one to take. Again, there’s talk that Brendan should “learn lessons from it” and change his tactical plan, in apparent ignorance of the fact that’s exactly what he did do last night and to no avail. Some people have waited patiently to sharpen the pencils and write those pieces; with others I can’t fathom what they are thinking.
That experience was searing, but it was hardly a tremendous shock. It was a game I had dreaded from the moment the draw was made and not even our excellent display against Bayern at Celtic Park had me even remotely confident about the outcome of it. There are teams which you can go toe-to-toe with and get pounded and who are just as capable, perhaps even more so, of giving you a going over if you put all eleven men behind the ball.
I am not convinced that any alternative strategy or team shape, with those same players. would have even succeeded in damage limitation. That one last night was always going to be ugly, and it was. I wanted it behind us. And it is.
It’s time to look forward and not back. We have a cup final to win, and unlike some who appear suddenly spooked at the prospect of playing Motherwell because of what a once in a generation side has done to us – or did Neymar sign for them this morning? – it’s one I thoroughly expect us to win, comfortably, and put this nightmare in the rear view.
It’s the afternoon after the game and I’m already tired of those putting scars on our back.