The Real Danger In Ibrox’s European Run Is Some Will Demand Celtic Match It.

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For weeks now I have been saying, over and over again, that the Ibrox European run is not what it’s cracked up to be.

They won last night, and the achievement of knocking out two Bundesliga teams gives it a sheen of impressiveness, but I remain resolutely of a mind that the final will be contested by two very ordinary sides.

There are those who think that my purpose in talking down the Ibrox run all this time was that I just don’t want to give them credit for anything.

The real purpose behind it was very different; I am wary of giving it too much respect because if it’s hyped up enough people will look at it and surmise that getting to European finals on a regular basis is something we should be capable of.

Ibrox clubs have managed two in fourteen years.

Is there something we can take from that? Are they doing something right that we’re not?

I take from it only this; the current Ibrox narrative is of a club that climbed, in 12 years, from the bottom tier in the game to a European final … what’s missing from the story is that the last Ibrox club fell from the 2008 final into oblivion a Hell of a lot quicker than that.

Whatever “ambition” they showed to get there last time was a contributing factor in their eventual collapse.

They have spent £100 million above and beyond earnings to get to this one.

That too could be labelled “ambitious” if we didn’t already know it was insane.

Their club is built on levels of spending which cannot be sustained even with Champions League income once in a blue moon.

Some will say flirting with liquidation is a small price to pay for progressing in Europe.

I would respectfully disagree.

The Europa League is a weird competition at times.

Since our final in 2012, won by Porto, the teams who have made it all the way to the final in the competition include; Fulham, Middlesbrough, Braga, CSKA Moscow, Donetsk, Dnipro Werder Bremen, Eintracht Frankfurt, Zenit and two Ibrox clubs.

The specialists are Sevilla.

They have won the trophy six times in the last 16 years.

That is a phenomenal achievement by any metric. But what does it hide?

Well Fulham only just got promoted back to the EPL.

Middlesbrough have spent the better part of a decade stranded in the English Championship.

Braga, we know all about, a dreadful side who Ibrox has had the good fortune to be drawn against twice.

Are either of the German clubs named big hitters on the continent, or at home?

Will Dnipro or Donetsk make European finals again any time soon?

Would Zenit or Moscow even if they weren’t banned?

I’ll say again what I said at the start; four years after making it to Manchester, Rangers was in liquidation and part of the reason they got there is that Maribor and Malmo beat them and took European football off the table for a year.

I remember, when they got to Manchester, people around me saying what a great achievement it was for them and that they would do what we failed to after Seville and crack on … four years later they were gone entirely.

So what lesson was there? What did we learn?

Well look at Sevilla, six times winners … they haven’t won their domestic title since 1945.

They’ve won two Copa Del Ray’s in the same 16-year period and one UEFA Super Cup.

They are incredibly successful within this competition … but nowhere else.

Since 2007-08, when the first Ibrox club reached the final, clubs from that ground have won four titles and three domestic cup competitions … in more than 15 years.

Three of those titles were won in quick succession following that campaign.

For the whole of that time they’ve had the second biggest wage bill in the country.

You can either say that their run proves that they’ve gone from being a bit-part player to being a European giant in a short span of time or you can maybe look at the big picture and ask yourself; were Fulham a European giant just by virtue of getting to a final?

Were Middlesbrough?

Whilst you’re at it, ask yourself this; are Eintracht Frankfurt?

Let’s go further.

Would West Ham going through have made you think you were watching elite clubs? Would RB Leipzig be considered a European giant had they? Go further back, the quarter finals. Would Lyon? Would Braga? Or Atalanta? Only Barcelona stands out … and the Germans who play Ibrox in the final took care of them.

Those are the teams who made it to the latter stages this year.

What have we learned? What should we be aiming to learn from those clubs?

What is there to learn? What lessons can we draw?

Only that sometimes unfancied sides make it in that tournament, which has a habit of producing at least one club that seems to have stumbled upon a magic formula.

In the Conference League this time around that club was Bodo.

Clearly Ibrox has figured out how to negate European teams – that’s something we’ll acknowledge and that I’ll write about in the next piece; it’s a huge and complicated subject.

All I’ll say here is that they don’t change their style from that which they play in Scotland, and over the course of this season that style hasn’t been good enough to keep up with us.

So what did we learn? What lessons can we draw?

What’s the Champions League equivalent of this collection of misfit teams in the final?

Well the answer is, there isn’t one.

Because no team outside the Big Five leagues has made the final since 2003, and that was Mourinho’s Porto. Before that, no non Big Five club had made the final since 1994, and that was Ajax.

In a 30-year spell there has been near total dominance in that competition by the leagues of Italy, France, Germany, Spain and England. Of the sixty available cup final places a mere two clubs have managed to buck that trend.

Of the clubs which have competed for, and won, the Europa League in the last 20 years, only two of them – Chelsea and Porto – has gone on to better that achievement by winning the big competition, and we know that what Porto did was essentially down to one guy.

What do some people think we have learned?

That a club our size should be trying to reach European finals?

It’s a moon-shot, and this is where I keep banging on about the statistics and what they portend; in what is now eighteen Europa League games on the way to the final, the Ibrox club has won just seven of them.

A success rate of less than half.

If they had been unstoppable, if they had blazed a trail, if they had won ten games out of eighteen or twelve games, I would have had no choice to but to say that they performed outstandingly.

As it is, I am entitled to look at the Group Stage performance which was dire, and at the quality of two out of the four teams they beat in the qualifiers, Braga and Red Star.

Look at the number of vastly better clubs who fell by the wayside in this tournament, without ever getting near to playing the club from Ibrox. Sevilla; Barcelona; Napoli; Lazio; Atalanta to give you the highlights.

Knockout football produces this sometimes … like Watford getting to the FA Cup Final in 2018.

Beating both the German clubs is excellent and vastly more than I expected them to do.

But it’s us beating Lazio home and away, not that long ago.

Why is it important to keep on pointing out that they’ve won just seven games in this tournament?

It’s important because the confluence of events that gets a team to a European final in the modern age on the back of just seven wins is as much down to luck as it is anything else.

What can we learn from that? Except “hope that you are lucky.”

And we can’t control that particular variable.

It is wholly unrealistic to put pressure on this team and on this manager by making demands that because Ibrox has reached the final that we should be capable of doing the same. In the right year, with favourable draws, and the right confluence of events, maybe … as Fulham did, as Middlesbrough did, as the other clubs mentioned above did.

Perhaps even as we did … you have to consider that, but it’s easier to dismiss because of the calibre of player we had, the teams we beat along the way and ultimately the trajectoy of the team we took to extra-time.

For all that, we never came close to turning the same trick again … although we did have some good runs, which is something I’m going to talk about later on. Because getting to finals isn’t the full story, of course, and our European record is absolutely dire.

So there is one thing that we could do differently … and that’s the subject of the piece later on.

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  • jrm63 says:

    I think Rangers success has more to do with playing two holding midfield players in front of their defence than anything else. Home and away. Only the very best can play 4-3-3 in Europe. Celtic will improve. Taylor is a man down for a start. I think I would prefer the Bodo guy to Jota. A new LB and him would give us a new dimension.

  • Martin says:

    Who knows? I do know we have been utterly diré in Europe for the majority of the post Seville era. We could learn to actually care about Europe, if not try to bankrupt ourselves doing it. I think if we get our act together and start playing well in Europe, domestic things take care of themselves. I’m sick of the Scottish dichotomy that it’s one or the other.

    • Martin H. says:

      Totally agree, and I think we have got to beef our team up a wee bit, to compete with the guys from ipox.

  • SFTB says:

    Well said James.

    It is a tremendous achievement right up there with Foinavon winning the Grand National

  • Tom Foolery says:

    I have to agree with Sean about the ‘sour grapes’. I remember back to our run to Seville and the Klansman were saying that Liverpool were shite these days after we beat them. And the laughable thing was that the Klansman thought we had no chance against Bundesliga opposition and when we saw them off they put all their hopes in Liverpool only to be sickened when we gubbed them. I’m seeing a similar pattern here. Look, we’re all gutted that the manky hordes have got to a European final but we’ve got to see past the pain and admit they did a great job in getting there. i mean they scored 6 times against Dortmund…that’s not luck or at least it’s not all luck. For goodness sake how much rejoicing and shite talking did we all do when we beat Lazio away from home. As for defence, yes we might have the best defence in league games but in Europe we were shipping goals all over the shop. Leverkusen 7, Betis 6, Bodo 5 and as Sean says it’s mostly down to the way we set out and the refusal to change that set up when we were in front…geez at times, especially later in some of those games, you could’ve drove a bus right through our defence. Give them the credit they’re due and lets all pray that Frankfurt empty them in the final!

  • SL67 says:

    They have had the luck of the draw esp with the majority of return legs at ibrox which is a massive advantage esp with no away goals rule now. They also are a well drilled physical team which many foreign teams don’t like playing against. Whereas since since the last time we reached UCL knockouts we have decided to go toe to toe with teams and try and knock the ball around against much stronger opposition obviously resulting in various gubbings. Think Walter smith obvs sussed this in his 2nd term as manager where he reached UEFA final with totally different style to which he tried before. The main factor for our failure IMO was the project player signings to replace 1st team players we sold for big money.

  • Paddy the Turk says:

    The Rangers are in a European final. Luck or otherwise, it’s a tremendous achievement and one that we would rightly be screaming from the rooptops about were it our team heading to Seville – as it is Celtic fans still treat our final as if it was a victory. It’s time to give credit where credit is due, as dislikable as they may be as a club and organisation.
    Should they win a European trophy this year, The Rangers will have had an enormously successful season. Should Celtic get over the line and win the league, then we too will have had an unexpectedly and wonderfully successful season.
    Constantly detracting from their achievements is tiresome at this stage and appears to be borne out of a long-standing and terrible fear that they will emerge stronger than us after we all thought they were dead and buried forever. Last year is an example of that. Yes, Celtic imploded, however The Rangers walked to the title not because they were good but because they were unbeatable. They won that league title at an absolute canter, it wasn’t handed to them.
    I would also speculate that another new fear has emerged among many Celtic fans, namely that The Rangers are one victory away from the Champions League money that is oft implied on this site to be the be-all and end-all of future success.
    Whether we like it or not, The Rangers are here to stay in one form or another and it’s high time Celtic fans dropped their obsession with them and concentrated on supporting their own club.

  • REBELLIOUS says:

    Again, great read, appreciated very much.

  • Justshatered says:

    To get to any European final is not a fluke.
    This “The Rangers” side have shown the sane qualities that RFC displayed to get to their final: physicality, resilience, pragmatism, and belief.
    Am I jealous ?
    Of course I am. This is the position I want our club to be at. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to spend £100M we don’t have to get there.
    If anything this is a bigger indictment on our recruitment, planning, and strategy off the park and our tactics on it .
    As a club we have seldom known when to “shut up shop” or “park the bus”. This aligned with horrific team setups and amateurish play have seen us lose to countless teams we should gave beaten.
    The fact that every single year we gave been incapable of getting players in early enough to assist in making progress meant that we had only half a tea to play.
    This year we went one further by not even having a
    manager. We never learn but our Board always have the excuses ready.
    We got lucky with our manager this year.
    This has only highlighted the amateurish way our club is run, sure we could overspend by the same amount but does anyone seriously think the money would be spent well.

  • Martin H. says:

    James I’ve been to two European Cup finals, I know where you are coming from, but for christ sake calm down, what ever happens you have got to trust in Ange, I think Jota is a definite, CCV not sure, this is a guy that has played is heart out, for a move, can he sustain it once settled? a lot of money, can get two central defenders for that money, and you can bet our manager is on the case.

  • Bhoy4life says:

    It’s only a few seasons ago you were saying we should be making more impact in Europe as we were strolling the league every year, whilst the board got pesters for lack of ambition.
    There is absolutely no reason we should not be equal to what Sevco have done.

    • James Forrest says:

      It’s chasing smoke. If you think we should be aiming to – actually strategising – to reach the Europa League Final every so often then you know something I don’t about how football finance works.

      • Martin says:

        I would argue that there is merit in it. Especially if the route involves dropping from CL group stages. We’re nowhere near good enough to win the CL. And we’re pot 4 in seedings. Win the EL and we’re pot 1, potentially making progression easier. Frankly CL groups, finish 3rd, El run and win, CL groups the following season seeded seems a much better idea all round than scrape into CL, get horses out, drop out of EL and then stutter in conference.

        We’ve been garbage in Europe for practically my whole life. Not wanting to settle for that isn’t dangerous thinking, it’s an assessment of our reality and what we can potentially achieve.

  • Andrew Lamb says:

    I, ve been saying this for a while one of the deluded said on you tube that They were successful because Van Bronckhurst is a tinker man type coach whereas Ange can only play one way . What a load of shyte I,m surprised that nobody has worked out yet if you stop the show pony(Goldson) hitting 70 yard diagonals to Tav or Kent you stop a good % of their attacking threat. They play the same way every game regardless if it’s RB or Ross County. I also agree that RB was a huge disappointment and didn’t seem to be able to cope with that tactic a bit like us for Arfields goal in semi. I will say this though it’s still a fair achievement to get to that final with those players.

  • Mark B says:

    To be in a Euro Final ten years after liquidation is nothing short of staggering it’s an astonishing achievement. Stupendous. If you cannot see that then I feel sorry for you. As a Celtic fan of nearly 60 years, a shareholder and season ticket holder I demand we reach a Euro final. It’s twenty years nearly since we did it. Despite all those titles all that money and 100m of transfer fees in last four years we have not been past last 16. Woeful. Milan Barca Man U many others fell to us but none in last decade. We have not been competitive even …at the sharp end. Not even close. We need to take a long hard look at ourselves. And I hate to say it but their board cares and backed their managers and squad more than ours did. Think about that for a minute it really hurt to write that. But they put money in from their own pockets. Lawell alone took 3m per year out. A total disgrace.

  • kingmurdy says:

    a big,big dose of sour grapes there james….
    i hate the huns….but jesus i envy them today..
    they have done exceptionally well…started with slippy…and has ended with gvb getting them to final…really excellent results against teams that i KNOW celtic would not have beaten this season…and somehow doubt we will do so next season either…
    tho it does put ange’s team’s performance into perspective against the huns in the league..
    and again….the ibrox board have ambition…while our’s…….
    please jesus don’t let them win the fcukn thing….

  • Malc says:

    Doesn’t matter who they’ve beat to get there, doesn’t matter who has won in in recent times – simple facts are, if they end up winning it on 18th they’ll have done so by beating who they were drawn against – you can only beat what is put in front of you, they and the daily rags will be absolutely intolerable for months possibly years, will remind us forever more they’ve won two European trophies (conveniently ignoring the truth) AND they’ll go straight into the group stages of the Champions League next season beside us halving our TV revenues. Knowing these scabby bastards as we do, they’ll probably fluke their way to a couple rounds after Christmas too. Fucking nightmare scenario – I hope the extremely mediocre Frankfurt bury them on the 18th.

  • Dan Dwan says:

    Sevco, Old Firm, Ibrox The Rangers whoever and whatever they are, will never equal the most wonderful achievement of the famous Glasgow Celtic and that most glorious of days when our own King Billy lifted the most coveted trophy of them all-the European Cup and a group of young men and their manager became forever immortal.
    Now to the present I believe Ange has a huge job on his hands this close season and I really hope the board back him 100%. We have a squad of 26 with the likes of Barkas, Ajeti.Soro,Bolingoli certainties to be moved on, McCarthy-? Dembele? Scales? Johnstone?Bain?Welsh?are they good enough to cut it at Celtic & become regulars in the SPL and grace the Champions League?? I don’t think so. Loans CCV & Jota stil up in the air. Forrest Rogic Julien Biton at the end of their contracts or going into their final year. Hatate-for me the jury’s still out. Big decisions. What Ange achieved this season was remarkable but I’m sure he knows there is a huge job lies ahead, I hope the board back him.

  • Damian says:

    Since 2003, Sporting, CSKA Moscow, St Petersburg, Rangers, Shakhtar Donetsk, Porto (again), Braga, Benfica (twice), Dnipro, Ajax, and now Rangers (‘again’) have reached the Europa final. So 12 appearances from clubs not from the top five leagues (assuming that means England, Spain, Germany, Italy and France). If you’re swapping Portugal into the top five, you’d have to take France out of it, which would result in a similar number.

  • Quinny says:

    Jamesie , you sound like a hack from the Puritan Press … Celtic Fans in Seville have now been reduced to 70,000 when those who were there know it was more than 100,000 , Sevco rainjurs 2012 have won hee haw but made it to a Euro Final , so why shouldn’t Celtic go one better and Win one ??
    To win one you have to make a Final , at the moment Celtic are way off achieving that … but to demand that our Club gets its finger out and produces some decent displays to get us talked about … is no way any less than expected

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