The Media’s Celtic Champions League Stats Are Misleading Rubbish Which Miss The Point.

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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.

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  • Savo says:

    I agree the media love to gloat on these results for Celtic and it’s not the full picture but let’s be honest, it’s getting pretty embarrassing in Europe now…I feel like hiding behind the couch when I hear that champions League music these days

  • Bob (original) says:

    Maybe a summary could be:

    this last transfer window may prove to have been a HUGE, one-off opportunity

    to take the club to another level – and which we might be grumbling about for

    years to come…? 🙁

    1) A returning, top grade manager – who joined quickly, and took the full pre-season.

    2) A succesful squad which had just delivered a Treble.

    3) A Board which seemed to imply to the support, [via SMSM, via BR?], that

    progress in Europe was NOW on its radar.

    4) An unexpected c.£25M windfall from the Jota sale – and with

    TWO whole months of the transfer window still open.

    5) Another automatic CL Group Stage entry – with its guaranteed £20M/£30M ?

    When are the stars going to align like that again?

    Just very disappointed that a unique, massive opportunity has been missed.

  • Martin says:

    Yes, you make a fair point. I was getting worried that playing well but losing was becoming far too much of a habit for us. But the reasons behind it are well laid out here. The gap is widening, the same teams from the same leagues are almost destined to progress. Increasing the number of participants, by the way, will just lead to 7th space EPL team getting in ahead of yet another league winning team. Financially it will be good for us relative to the rest of Scotland, but it doesn’t increase our chances of winning anything in European terms.

    But the board do seem to cripple our chances every summer. I still think we should see January as our most important window so our new players are several months into being Celtic players before the CL starts. But if our board always take a step back from the edge when we’re on the cusp of doing well, it doesn’t really matter when we do our business.

    I was pretty impressed with us (mostly) last night and if we can even slightly break that pattern of wasted windows next season might actually be good. But if it’s same old same old, we’ll be saying the same thing next year.

    FWIW I think we can beat Feyenoord in December and with a bit of tightening we may even get 2-4 points from the other 3 games. Which wouldn’t be a disaster to be honest.

    • Sid says:

      So you think we can get between 5 and 7 points? Sorry, I don’t think you’ve been paying attention.

  • Peter Cassidy says:

    It’s the same story regarding champions league football”we are not good enough and that’s the truth we buy projects young players and expect them to compete in this higher grade football they are good enough for the low quality spl teams but come up way short in the cl .Nothing going to change the directors want just to get in the the group stages and the £30/40 million pot that’s our limit its not going to change get used to it

  • king murdy says:

    the ONLY thing we bring to champions league fixtures is disco lights……pathetic…utterly pathetic.
    shame on the board…so embarrassing… we lord it over motherwell, the huns etc….but get beaten at home by a team sitting 16th in serie A ?????
    NO scottish team deserves to be in CL group stages – unless they are capable of winning through the qualifying rounds…
    europa league standard – AT BEST.
    as long as this board is in place…we will continue to be make weights in the CL….SHAME ON THEM !!! BASTARDS every one of them.

  • Gordon Raeburn says:

    Good article James. The only thing I don’t agree on is that neither Yang or Palma look up to much especially Palma who runs like he’s pulling a bus behind him. Wingers need technical ability and pace. These guys don’t have both of these attributes. The loss last night is solely down to Liewell Sr. and Liewell Jr.

  • John L says:

    Well pointed out, AGAIN. It’s the failure of people with a healthy bank balance and no football brain. I see, Chris Boyde posted a picture of Gascoigne in a lazio strip , thanks for reminding us of another shameful character and another shameful cover up of your old club. Wife beating and club doctors cover up. Cheers Chris.

  • Tony B says:

    I agree with everything you say, but it would carry much more weight if you named and shamed the person responsible.

  • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

    Ah The good (not) old Scottish Football Media twisting anti Celtic statistics and stories once again…

    Quell surprise there then – Absolutely not…

    Ah well, They’ll sell plenty rags today to their vast Sevco supporting audience no doubt –

    And probably an ‘odd’ Celtic supporter as well…

    They certainly won’t get one halfpenny bit from me and wouldn’t even if there was a free Euromillions ticket inside their rag…

    Never, Never, Never !

    (I hate quoting that deceased – like Rangers – Ian Paisley) but when it comes to spending a penny on The Scottish mainstream media sometimes needs must with words !

  • Kevan McKeown says:

    For me ah don’t know how many times ah’ve seen this. It seems its no just in how we’re investin, or how we’re doin against whoever, it’s that we’re still makin the same basic defensive errors in crucial games. Could somebody tell me where the organization was for their equalizer last night. Fkn shambles. This is every year and that team were definitely there for the takin last night, yet they managed tae beat us.

  • Frank Connelly says:

    re your point on our “stand still” 12 month policy. Its clear that the recent improved contracts to players is to enhance the balance sheet when they are moved on and as you say James we will replace them with projects in the hope that the financial gravy train keeps a running. As I have said repeatedly we not only lack experience but way short in physical side. Far to lightweight and lack of height is clearly a concern too

  • John says:

    Your article is gives an insight into the board’s way of thinking and most supporters understand where your coming from, but Celtic are a selling club who groom young talent who then move on for a profit. As far as european football goes scottish teams are always going to be at a disadvantage in these competitions punching above their weight. Celtic play well most times in europe and the team this year have been outstanding in both matches this season showing a very good brand of technical football and have deserved better than results have shown so far.
    The two matches have not produced positive results but when all factors are analysed the team have been unlucky but their football and commitment cannot be faulted. Everyone can see this and other Celtic teams could always be improved but finding players with experience of champions league football is a challenge that frankly is out of Celtic’s reach and as much as all Celtic supporters wish our european record was better we are where we are at european level. I can only add that i for one was very impressed with our football last night and the managers technical ability to implement this playing system to the players he has at his disposal.

  • Clara says:

    Spot on James, absolutely no interest from the Board on improving in Europe. The fact is that improving in Europe is about prestige and fans not about Improving profit.
    We don’t need £100,000 a week £20 million players to win the SPL and even stretching to that type of player would in no way guarantee CL progress as a group of death is still a possibility, that has always been the mantra of our board.

  • Johnno says:

    Actually a bit shocked at your assessment James, and finding this constant board bashing for European failings of the past, a bit tedious when looking at the present.
    We had 7 out of 15 players used last night, who’s first experience of playing at Celtic Park on a European night, and 4 of them actually started.
    So are we saying now that them 7 aren’t good enough now?
    Or maybe the other 8 with the experience gained, still remain up to the required standard needed?
    All bit of a ridiculous assessment, after turning in a performance that was worthy of a win, but 2 lapses in concentration cost us so dearly.
    All the misfortune or the past was due to ourselves not having a core group within a squad capable of playing European football.
    That will possibly never happen either with not being able to find 8 Scottish players within a squad capable of reaching the required standard, we are looking for.
    How does this actually work then?
    Let’s write off the players that have only just joined the club?
    Yet in the meantime overlook the fact of taking 2 seasons for the likes of scales and Taylor taking 2 seasons to show there worth to ourselves, and capable still of playing at this level still?
    We continue to keep getting undone upon the finer details within a game at this level, and will put that down to the standard of opposition faced within Scottish football and not even having a core squad of players in place?
    The same issue was evident last season, yet we are addressing it, but still not good enough for way too many still.
    Either these players are going to be good enough or there not?
    We need to start realising that we still are very much a development club at CL level.
    And yet we are developing in the right manner, where we have been a team so reliant upon certain players in the past, and it was like a death within a family if they weren’t available for big games.
    Football has long changed with it being such a squad game, even moreso with the 5 sub rule.
    Very proud of the performance last night, regardless of being so gutted over the result.
    To actually qualify from this group was always going to be a big task, yet the huge improvements on show last night from our 1st game, hardly means this campaign is totally over yet?
    As a club we get very little opportunity’s to actually work upon them finer details within the game that’s needed especially defensively with playing through the press, yet so many times we did last night and was by far our best performance out of the 4 seen at Celtic Park this season.
    We remain upon the right tracks imo, and gearing ourselves nicely for the increased matches faced next season, and possibly will be the 1st time ever we might have a core group of players in place for once.
    Still looking forward to the Madrid match, and hardly going to say we’ve got no chance either, because I still believe there we do, and even more so with players hopefully settled in that bit better to the plan’s and demands of the manager also.
    If we were totally outclassed last night, I could understand the moaning moreso, but we weren’t, so the disappointment of the result is far easier to take, as the such highs to the such lows are still very unusual to take in just the space of 5 days.
    No one says its easy being a Celtic supporter, but still remains so worthwhile still, and should never be forgotten either, especially during the few low occasions that football will always throw up.


    Whoa… belter James.

    Can feel the rising anger in every line.
    Can’t fault a thing you say.

    Deliberate Board policy. Keep Celtic just a little bit better than Der Hun and no more.
    They have no Euro expectations. The fact that the Board have openly stated that they are stockpiling Cash because European Qualification can’t be guaranteed every year shows you the level of their commitment to the Team.

    They run the Plc as a business to generate profits for the Balance Sheet.
    The Football side of the Business is what generates the Income, Season Books and gate receipts and the profits from the Commercial Operations. Add in Domestic Prize money ( nae laffin at the back there ) and the Revenue from European appearances. Add in player sales and it’s a healthy sum.

    All this money is generated purely to post a profit, pay shareholders a dividend and tart up the Balance Sheet.
    That’s the be sole purpose of the Plc. As long as we stay a step ahead of the DebtDome then that’s it.

    They know that they have a Customer base ( yes Customer because that’s how the Board see us) of 60000 repeat Customers , Addicts after a fashion and a database of 10000+ waiting to get in.

    The Board know that as long as they can fund the Team sufficiently (enough and no more) as to assure Domestic success then those headline figures of 60000 / 10000 won’t vary much year on year. Their view is that we’re never going to win the CL so diverting funds to that end is a waste of money. They are quite happy getting to Group Stages every year or two, the occasional post XMAS Football in the Europa League. It’s a Bonus.

    These are Business Men. Our Club is a Plc in a small European Country. Our Club isn’t owned and run by some mega rich Oligarch looking for a vanity project or some opaque foreign State actors engaged in Money Laundering or Sports Washing.
    Ours are Conservative (Big and small ‘ c’) Businessmen.

    We believe that the Plc’s function should be to fund the Footballing Operations to a level where, as Sportsmen, our players can compete to reach the highest level possible.

    The Board, as Businessmen, believe otherwise.

    Our problem is how do we change that outlook, as Customers / Fans.

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