Ange spoke out today about his plans for the coming game against Betis and I have to say, if we’re taking his words at face value – and I always do – then I agree with him 100%.
If qualification for the next round were still up for grabs it would be a phenomenal European night, the kind that Celtic does better than any other club. The house would be rocking for a massive, meaningful game.
But it will neither be massive nor meaningful because of where we are.
Where we are here, of course, is nowhere as far as this group is concerned. We are out of the running. This game is a dead rubber. There’s nothing to play for, so there’s nothing to gain and everything to lose by going into it in a blood-and-thunder fashion.
What are we playing for? Pride? Ange says that the education will be worth it to those who play. Maybe, but not if we lose key players to injury. Which is why he won’t go with the full strength team no matter what could be learned.
If he did, and we lost footballers for this run-in, people would question the decision to play a full strength side, and they would have a point.
This is an opportunity to rest players and to wrap others in cotton wool.
I understand the imperative to win every match and I respect the manager for wanting to entertain the 60,000 fans who will be in attendance at the game, but cold-blooded pragmatism is what he’s thinking on, and that will trump all other considerations.
Ange has framed in terms of us needing the squad players fit and ready for battle in the weeks to come, and of course he is entirely correct about that as well. We need those guys to have games under their belts because anything can happen to those on whom he has relied, and if it does these players need to be ready to step up.
There is something to be said for trying to win this game; to get nine points in this group would be a major achievement for this team, and in some ways that makes it worth shooting for, especially when you consider that we went toe-to-toe with a Bundesliga giant on their turf and battled to the last in Spain. Nine points would represent real progress.
As I expect Lyon to swat aside a certain other club in their final game it would also deprive the media of their narrative that somehow our rivals have had a better qualifying campaign than we have.
In that event, they would have qualified with seven points and we’d have gone out with nine, and even the hacks would need to give us some credit and comment on the contrast in fortunes; bad luck on our part for drawing genuine giants, incredible luck on theirs for drawing minnows and dropping major points but somehow managing to fluke their way in.
But we all know that the real priorities are here at home, and a symbolic victory doesn’t get you silverware. Leave that garbage to other clubs, all that guff about whose goalkeeper won an online poll and other such fluff that means nothing at all.
The manager should be hard-nosed about prioritising and it sounds as if he will be.