The Scottish media is brilliant at finding anti-Celtic stories and their relentless focus on them is so all-encompassing that they occasionally miss the much bigger picture.
And the gleeful way they report that we’re now in our tenth year without a Champions League home win is certainly correct, but it’s also another example of their rushing to a story without seeing the larger one.
Because of course, the real story is how seldom we’ve actually been in the Champions League Group stages in that time.
We were there last year, but you have to go back to 2017-18 for the last time before that.
Rodgers had us there two years in a row, at a time when we had to play qualifiers and Postecoglou’s side were there due to automatic qualification. What the media means, then, is that if – and I stress if, I feel very confident we can beat Feyenoord – we fail to win at home in this tournament that it will be the fourth time in ten years we’ve not won a Group stage game.
A slightly less sexy, a slightly less anti-Celtic slant.
No, the real story is our utter failure to get through to this competition enough times for that stat to have meaning.
I seem to have upset a few people last night. Some folk still believe that criticism is heresy. It’s not. Criticism is valid. We had a dreadful summer transfer window, and there’s no sugar coating that.
It was a low ambition disgrace which left us scandalously unprepared and under-resourced for the Champions League. I said it when the window shut, and I said that if we got a favourable draw and the obvious shortcomings in this squad are what prevented us going through that people at our club would have to answer for that.
And they should have to answer for it, because we didn’t get a favourable draw and those shortcomings have done for us when actually just a fraction of ambition would have given us that small push to get over the line in the last matches.
And please note, I said “a fraction” of ambition, and that’s for the idiots who last night accused me of demanding we spend fortunes; I never have, and if you can point to the article where I did, I’ll chuck it right now.
Regular readers know I’m not some kind of net-spend fruit loop and never have been. If they want to argue with someone, they can argue with the boss himself who clearly identified the need for a bit of power and a bit of experience. He got neither.
It should be blatantly obvious that more experienced players at this level would not have made the mistakes that saw us reduced to nine men in Rotterdam. It should be obvious that we only needed to be a tiny bit better to have gotten us three points last night.
Where does the blame for that lie? Not with the manager, who I laud for getting almost every major decision spot on last night. Not with the players who were superb and deserve every credit.
The media is in such a rush to quote their dire statistic that they’ve missed the bigger story which is that we’ve only been there four times in that decade, and that in every other year we’ve gone out because we went into the qualifiers scandalously – scandalously, and I don’t hesitate to use that word – unprepared for them.
The man in the dugout got us there two years out of three in spite of that.
He would have made it three years out of three had he gotten even one of the players he wanted in the transfer window that shattered the key relationships he had within the club.
AEK Athens didn’t blow us away that year; we fell victim to wholly obvious self-inflicted wounds and Brendan Rodgers knew it. He was furious about not getting any of the signings he wanted, because he wanted that third crack at it and those above him at Celtic Park could not have done more to hamstring him if that had been their explicit intention.
Don’t forget that on the night of the AEK Athens game at Celtic Park someone – and I’ve written about this and know exactly who it was – chose to attack the manager in a briefing to Chris McLaughlin of Radio Scotland, an act of utter sabotage whether that was intended of not. The whole mood around the club was grim for the rest of that campaign.
You know what Rodgers got instead of John McGinn that year? Disco lights.
You will rarely see a more clear-cut example of where the board’s priorities lie than that.
And let’s look at who the teams are that we have faced in the three campaigns before this one, and there have only been three so it’s easy to do. In Rodgers first attempt at it we faced Barcelona, Manchester City and Brossia Monchengladbach. We drew with City, a great City side, on their way to being far and away the best club in England.
The sickener is Monchengladbach; we should have had their number, and we were excellent in Germany and should have won there. But there’s no shame in drawing against City and losing against Barcelona in those home matches. None whatsoever.
The following season the shocker comes against Anderlecht and it’s all the more shocking that we absolutely destroyed them away from home and got our first victory away in the Group Stages. But losing to Bayern Munich and Paris St Germain?
Sorry if I’m not crying my eyes out over those particular results.
They are better teams than we are, pure and simple.
Which brings us to last season.
Losing to Real Madrid home and away is only a disgrace if you erase from memory Madrid’s entire history and ignore the fact that they got to the final. The failures to beat Shakhtar and Leipzig are bad results, and the manner of the defeat by the Germans is still something I witnessed and wish I hadn’t.
Postecoglou got away with that because his team was still a ways short, and you could see that. But those results still sting, and I’m still pretty pissed off about both of them. But I’m actually more pissed off that when that Champions League campaign started we had a team out on the pitch which did not have a single guaranteed starter over the side from the previous year.
Think about what that means. Jota and Carter Vickers were the big ticket players, but they maintained the strength of the team without actually improving it. Who else did we sign in that window?
Maeda, who had been there for six months already. Bernabei. Siegrist. Jenz. Mooy. Hakšabanovic. Abildgaard.
Not one of them – not one – obviously enhanced the starting eleven for Europe.
Only Mooy went on to become a success and he didn’t crack on until after the World Cup.
And people wonder why we weren’t clearly a step up from where we’d been in Europe the season before.
The answer’s clear when you look at that.
So the media’s grossly misleading – if factually accurate – stat about it being ten years since we won a Champions League game at home is a classic example of them looking for the most negative slant that they can find so that they can hang something around the manager’s neck.
In that time, in Group Stage football, we’ve beaten, at home, Rennes, Lille, Dinamo Zagreb, Lazio, Betis and Ferencvaros.
I wrote about this in the article about how our home record in the Europa League stacks up alongside the one at Ibrox which they constantly bang on about.
We could, of course, try to compare their Champions League home record with ours, but theirs is played 3 lost 3 so I understand why the media isn’t terribly interested in doing that, but before they cry foul I’ll give you a statistic; in Rangers last ten years of existence they won a grand total of two Champions League games at home. Two.
The fact is, the gap between the teams that get there every year and those who get there, like we do, every second year if we’re lucky, has only grown bigger.
But perhaps we would have been better off, and better placed, in terms of closing that gap had we not abjectly failed six years out of ten to even get to the Groups in the first place … that’s the bigger story.
And that’s why I am wholly justified in continuing to criticise this board of directors for the dire decision making that ignores the managers needs and his clear-eyed, completely accurate assessment during the summer of what we needed to do.
For the record, here are the names of the teams who stopped us in our tracks and prevented us from making those Group Stages six times out of ten; FC Midtjylland, Ferencvaros, CFR Cluj, AEK Athens, Malmo and NK Maribor.
There are no giants of Europe there and those in charge should be heartily ashamed of every single one of those results.
And in case you doubt their culpability, here’s one more for you in addition to the obvious disgrace that was The John McGinn window; in the season the media are talking about, where we did last win a home game, a victory over Ajax, in order to get there we needed a last-minute winner at home to Shakhtar Karagandy after the board, in its wisdom, had sold Victor Wanyama less than week before the first qualifying round, Gary Hooper five days before the first leg of the next round and Kelvin Wilson eleven days before the game in Kazakhstan.
I’ve not seen anything like that before or since.
It was as if the people running our club took the deliberate decision to weaken the manager’s hand before every subsequent qualifier and I have always thought that it was to Lennon’s credit – his immense credit – that he didn’t lose his mind over that but that he got us there regardless, got us over that line, although the damage that did to his squad is, I’m certain, one of the reasons he decided to leave at the end of that campaign.
And of course, to replace him, we hired the guy we had been pencilling in as his assistant … and of course, two dismal European campaigns followed where we didn’t even look at the Europa League level.
(And I take no pleasure in writing that, as I was and I am a huge fan of Ronny Deila and everything he did at this club, which is more than his detractors will ever fully understand.)
The thing is, every single year we say the same thing; another 12 months and this team will get there.
And why, when those 12 months come around, are we still not ready?
It’s because whenever we get there, whenever we reach a certain level, players are sold, their replacements are invariably inferior to them and before you know it we’re back where we were … and talking about how “in 12 months we’ll be there …” all over again.
And maybe in 12 months we will be.
If the manager gets his players and we can just add that little bit of quality and experience that last night would have got us over the line. Look at the second goal; Liam Scales shows a bit of inexperience and Carter Vickers shows the effects of just being back from a long lay-off, a bit of rustiness … that’s why we lost.
Some of that is bad luck. But you make your own luck at this level.
In 12 months Scales has another year under him in this team, and Yang and Palma are fully integrated into the side and if other players come through to help them … yeah, I can see it, but that’s the biggest hard luck story of them all and any organisation which had the guts to look inward at what it’s doing wrong instead of crowing about how much it gets right would conduct a proper, and independent, review and ask itself why the biggest team in Scotland so consistenly fails in Europe.
Listening to the manager, and delivering on what he needs – not somebody’s pet projects, not disco lights – would be a good place to start.
So many of those failures started above the heads of the guys who ultimately drew fire for them. That’s why when the media points the finger at Lennon, or Deila, or Postecoglou, or Rodgers they are letting other people off the hook big time.
Our record in this competition is not the biggest issue.
It’s not the real story.
FC Midtjylland, Ferencvaros, CFR Cluj, AEK Athens, Malmo and NK Maribor.
it’s the teams who have knocked us out before we even got here who reveal what the real problem is.