In my last article I said that tonight’s game means precisely nothing. In terms of Europe, it really doesn’t, we’re out and nothing is going to make that better or change it one iota. But in terms of what is at stake, this is far from being a dead rubber.
In fact, there is plenty on the line here and we’d be mad not to take this game as seriously as the coming one at the weekend. We need to win. That’s the bottom line. European exit notwithstanding this one matters, and it matters for a number of reasons.
For openers, following the weekend, we need a win to forestall really hard questions about where this team is going and what the overarching strategy is. Rodgers was brought here for nights like this, and most of us regard this as a winnable game, even with our current injury situation. There will be serious scrutiny if we don’t get some kind of result.
There are four things which loom as important tonight. The first is money. There’s a decent sum up for grabs for winning a Champions League game, a couple of million pounds which is a good chunk of what we get every year for winning the league. We don’t bank nearly enough of the prize money which is available to us in these competitions.
I am tired of talking about money when it involves Celtic.
If we were actually spending some of it on the first team squad, I would be less inclined to dismiss things like this, but of course that’s just frustration talking and every bit enables us to go that bit further if the manager is finally winning his battle over what his needs are here.
Morale is just as important as money, and a win would give us a much-needed lift. That actually feels like a colossal understatement to me. I can’t remember life around this club feeling this flat, not in a long time. There’s very little feel-good in the air, very little spring in anyone’s step.
There is tension, and a sort of half-formed dread … it’s really unusual, it’s something I’ve not felt at Celtic for a while, and a win tonight would help lift that fog a little.
You get the feeling we’re just a flick of the switch away from motoring. But you know what? You get the impression that if we flick the wrong switch it would be dreadfully easy to go the other way, and again, that’s not something we’ve often had to deal with.
Morale is one thing. Calm is another. Morale gives us all a boost.
But I’ll tell you what, if we lose tonight, especially if it’s a bad one, it’ll be a while before things at the club feel even close to calm. The mood in the stands is one of mounting anxiety; that can flip over to anger very quickly, and although I personally will resist any lurch into hysteria there are people in our media who are dying to feed the narrative of a club spiralling … and they will have a high old time at our expense.
There are fans who, based on the weekend, already want a dozen head on spikes along London Road. They are not going to react well to another bad defeat.
So don’t underestimate the importance of restoring calm to this situation.
We need it. We need to be able to all take a breath and let it out again. Following the second half performance at the weekend another loss is the last thing we need.
Finally, our credibility is at stake. What’s left of it anyway. To leave this group with a single point would represent a lamentable failure, even though we all acknowledge that some of the performances deserved a lot more. I don’t care what English shock-jocks are saying about us, or what the local media thinks or about Ibrox fans sniggering from the comfort of the second-tier tournament which they might themselves be out of tomorrow night.
But I do care that the rest of Europe thinks of us as one of the easiest teams to get. I am pissed off that even the Danes and the Swedes and the Romanians and the Belgians all look at Celtic and reckon we’re a guaranteed win at home and good odds for a point away, and let’s not kid ourselves on, that’s where we’re headed for reputationally.
A win tonight won’t fix it. But it will halt, in its tracks, those brutal statistics some are constantly throwing at us, and whilst that will only offer us a temporary balm on the wound – in the way a ref finally giving an SPFL penalty against Ibrox would not bring an end to the need to get to the bottom of things in Scotland – it is critical to allowing this team to start on a new page and be judged on its own merits and on what it does or doesn’t do.
This record needs putting to bed, because Europe is watching and we cannot afford our credibility on the continent to take yet another hit like this.
So, in terms of our qualification for this season, yes of course it’s a bust.
But as I said earlier, we have more than just that to worry about and those other issues are representative of that bigger picture. That’s why talk of experimental line-ups and weakened teams and not taking this one seriously are all daft.
To pretend this doesn’t matter is to delude ourselves.
This one matters alright, and the fact we’ve failed to even put ourselves in contention for a Europa League spot is all the more reason to seek nothing less than a win.