I like Chris Sutton, but he sometimes talks utter nonsense.
Last night was a case in point, when he slated Celtic’s signing policies and our Champions League displays.
I get that Big Chris is hurting; what he says comes out of love for our club. But John Hartson was much more reasonable. He has grasped what Big Chris appears not to have; times have changed. Football has changed. Everything’s different.
I was angry last night, and I think it showed.
I thought that was a shocking display, especially at home.
Our record in the Champions League groups is dreadful these last two years.
That ultimately reflects badly on Brendan … but I’m not entirely blaming him for it.
He got the team selection wrong last night; he trusted Armstrong in particular. I would have played Ntcham. He remedied that at half time and he made the swap. He also took off Sinclair, a ballsy move that solidified the midfield and let our winger know there are no sacred cows in this team.
That message will do us good in the long haul.
We have to be better than that.
We have to be better than this Champions League campaign.
But what we cannot do is beat ourselves up needlessly over losing to Bayern and PSG. There have been two massive home disappointments in two years; Borussia Monchengladbach and Anderlecht. The Man City game stands out as a major highlight.
Those are the results we have to focus on; those are the games where we were punching in something like our weight class and ought to have done better. I am not going to cry the blues over losing at home to Munich, when we fought them all the way, or to PSG with their resources. When I talked about our home record being gone here’s what I didn’t say; we lived through the last golden age. That might never be coming back.
Chris Sutton sat in the studio last night and seemed to suggest that this is a problem we can solve by spending money; here’s the thing. The team he played in, the one with Larsson and Hartson (who does get this, by the way) and Thompson and Mjallby, was expensively assembled at a time when money bought you more than it does today.
We paid £6 million for Sutton. He already had international caps. He was a top class player, who’d simply gone through a difficult spell. Chris Sutton would cost you four times that in the current market. You know what you’d get for £6 million today?
Anybody know who Famara Diédhiou is? He’s a striker who signed for Bristol City this summer; they got him in France because an English based player would have been too expensive. He’s 24. He cost them £5.3 million and barely a soul had heard of him.
John Hartson cost us £6 million. He was an established Welsh international who had played for Arsenal and West Ham. He was a top tier talent. To sign his equivalent player in today’s transfer market would be impossible on our budget.
These players, and guys like Neil Lennon and Alan Thompson were fantastic footballers coming to the peak of their careers. We wouldn’t get near those guys today. Every signing we make has to be right on the nose. You won’t be able to go out and bring in their kind of quality unless you have tens of millions in the kitty, and we don’t.
Back then, that team could swap punches with an AC Milan team that cost perhaps £100 million to our £30 million. Our current squad is probably worth about £50 million if you exclude the inflated fees being talked about for the likes of Kieran and Moussa … we went up against a PSG team assembled for close to £1 billion.
There has never been an era like it in football, and it’s not going to get better any time soon. The clubs with the money can buy who they want and so you get a handful of clubs who have access to a better class of player than any of their early era sides could muster. The global scouting system means that they can reach corners of the world they never have before.
Which is to say nothing for wages.
Someone asked me the other day about Sutton and who an equivalent signing would be in the modern day; a player with EPL pedigree, a proven goalscorer with caps, a bargain, a steal, a player in that price range but who was available.
And the answer was obvious; Charlie Austin.
He cost £4 million. He is 28. He is also not as good as Sutton or Hartson was at the time, and he’s injury prone. But even if he had Sutton’s fitness record, even if he’d been available at that fee and even if he’d been willing to move to Scotland, his wage demands would have killed us.
Sutton and Hartson just missed the era of the crazy money. Mediocre players with not a fraction of their talent are now earning £60,000 a week … double what they would have had in their highest paid years at Celtic Park. We can’t get close to it.
The point is, that even trying to assemble a team on the level of that one – experience at the highest level, England internationals, Welsh internationals, Swedish internationals, guys who could have continued to play in the top flight down there, easily, and been successful – would be enormously expensive and even if we could afford it we would be going up against super clubs unlike any that ever played the game.
We might never again be able to beat a Barcelona at home; our home record might well be gone for the foreseeable future and that’s not Brendan Rodgers fault, unless the direction of the transfer market and the upward climb of wages is down to him.
We gave Bayern one Hell of a game at home; that shows that it can be done on those nights when everyone gives his all and the planets align. We fought like tigers in that match, and were very unlucky to lose. There is no blame on that score, and nor is there any criticism of the magnificent Man City match.
The games against Anderlecht and Borussia Monchengladbach were awful because they are the ones we need to be winning.
They are the games that will live long in the memory and which haunt our record.
We no longer have Fortress Parkhead and as long as the Champions League groups are seeded as they are and we’re in Pot 4 we won’t have it again.
But we will be better than we were last night.
We will beat teams like Anderlecht.
We have to. Nothing less will do. If we can’t do that, we don’t deserve to be in the competition, and many more nights like last night and we won’t be.
Sutton’s criticism is fair as far as last night goes. That was rank. Any negative press is wholly deserved. But grieving for all our yesterday’s won’t bring them back or move us forward one inch. What will is an acceptance of where we are now.
We are better than that last night. That’s what makes is so frustrating. But the good old days aren’t coming back, when we could realistically beat anyone at home. The game has moved on. We have to adjust our expectations accordingly. Three points out of twelve is unacceptable … but chasing dreams by spending more money isn’t the way to fix it.
That idea is at least ten years out of date.
The team itself will have to do better. They need a mental toughness at this level they don’t yet have. The coaching will have to improve to make players hold the ball that second longer, to be able to spot space and move into it … I trust Brendan and I trust his staff. We’ll get there.