Celtic Football Club are widely acknowledged as a superpower of Scottish football. They have dominated the division ever since the relegation of Rangers to the bottom tier of the country’s football leagues.
Many plaudits have been given to the work of manager Brendan Rodgers. Last year saw the club break its record of 62 games unbeaten. The club play sensational football going forward but perhaps this is simply a reflection of the poor defensive quality in Scottish football.The club’s results in this year’s UEFA Champions League group, would suggest exactly that. The side scored just 5 goals in their six Champions League ties.
The club have conceded 18 goals in 28 Scottish Premier League matches this season, meaning they have the best defensive record in the league. However, in their six Champions League games, Celtic conceded that exact number. It took them just six European games to concede as many as they would concede in 28 Scottish Premiership matches.
The side were beaten in their three away games, and their only win came against the group’s weakest side, Anderlecht. The only decent performance put in was this, as well as their narrow 2-1 defeat at home to Bayern Munich.
The silver lining in all of this was a chance to challenge for the UEFA Europa League. Celtic would face of against fellow Champions League failures, Zenit St. Petersburg.
The side put in a stellar first leg display at Celtic park and would take a 1-0 lead to Russia. All the Scots needed was a draw to progress. An away goal would surely have done the trick. Instead, the club fell apart and were dismantled 3-0.
Although Celtic are going for their seventh consecutive league title, they are currently just six points clear of old firm rivals Rangers. The power of Scottish Football may well be on the verge of splitting between the clubs as their great rivalry looks set to be rekindled. Perhaps a lack of challengers over the past six seasons has seen standards start to slip?
In terms of why Celtic may never go back to the days of being European Champions or at least challengers, one must simply look to their European form. What the stats tell us are that they are defensively fragile and lack creative threat when faced with the challenge of a decent defense. Although they have averaged two goals per game in is years’s title race, they averaged less then one per game in the Champions league.
There are numerous problems to address. The following are the main problems and possible solutions to the club’s performance issues in Europe:
1. Brendan Rodgers’ gung-ho style of play:
Despite breaking the 62 game unbeaten run, Conceding 18 goals in 6 Champions League games is preposterous. Celtic have been famed for their open style of play which can often led to their defense being cut open at the back. In European Football, a more pragmatic approach is required. This approach is what won Chelsea the title back in 2012 and Inter Milan in 2010. Rodgers’ tactics arguably cost Liverpool the title back in 2014. Having led 3-0 with 10 minutes to go in their penultimate game against Crystal Palace, the Reds needed to take a step back and play a more conserved style of football. Instead, Palace were allowed to fight back and steal a point. The Reds finished two points behind winners Manchester City.
A possible alternative to Rodgers could be Sam Alladyce. Alladyce is a tactically astute coach who would undoubtedly concede less goals in Europe. The top footballing conservatives like Simeone, Conte and Mourinho, would all be dream appointments but would be unlikely to take a lower paying job.
2. The club are a product of their surroundings:
Scottish football is nowhere near the level of the Premier League, Serie A, Bundesliga or La Liga. The top six in England push each other to improve year in year out. Barcelona and Real do battle each year, Juventus face the recent challenges of Napoli. Despite Bayern’s similar dominance in Germany to that of Celtic’s, they are consistently challenging to become European Champions which they achieved back in 2013.
A solution to this problem would be for Celtic to transfer into the Premier League. Rodgers recently said that the club would be a top 4 side in the World’s most competitive league. The European achievements of the top 6 in England would suggest that Celtic would not finish therein. Celtic would finally realize where they are both defensively and offensively if this transfer were to take place.
Their impressive goal scoring coupled with having the best defensive stats, are simply illusions of where Scottish football currently lies on the footballing Richter Scale.
3. The Club Cannot Attract Top Class Talent:
Many will look at this statement and immediately look to pounce. However, despite the likes of Kolo Toure and Robbie Keane representing the side, these players did not join until they reached their thirties. Patrick Roberts and Charly Musonda have also been brought in but only on loan. Perform well and these guys make the break into their parent clubs or in the case of Chelsea, get sold on for a profit.
Due to the nature of Highlands football, young creative talents don’t want to commit their long term future to the former European Champions. Many English clubs have started using Celtic to simply help their youngsters develop before recalling them to their own squads.
In order to attract the calibre of player needed, Celtic may need to appoint a World Class manager. One would imagine a transfer to the Premier League would make Celtic a highly sought after club. The likes of Musonda and Roberts may actually consider signing permanent deals should they be guaranteed to play in the World’s most broadcast league.
Although one may argue that Celtic would miss out on European Football in England, the standard of the club would undoubtedly improve. With improved pulling power in the transfer market and the appointment of a world class manager, Celtic could challenge for the top 4. If Leicester can win the League, then surely Celtic can steal a 4th place finish.
Although these ideas may seem far fetched, one can surely see the point of Celtic playing in England. Cardiff City and Swansea City play in England despite being located in Wales. No matter what the club would achieve in England or Europe, they will always be a Scottish club and would never identify as anything else.
Perhaps an alternative to these drastic but necessary changes, could be the potential introduction of Celtic to the FA Cup of English League Cup. These tournaments could offer them the opportunity to gain more big match experience.
Perhaps a new competition could be created, a “British Cup,” where all Scottish, Welsh, Northern Irish and English clubs could do battle. Again this would expose Celtic to the reality of their standard and help them realize what is required to compete on the World’s biggest stage again.
The fact of the matter is, Celtic are a Scottish Club. Given the fierce historic rivalry between England and Scotland in more then just sporting manners, the likelihood of a permit being granted to play in England is highly unlikely. The green and white stripped side may need to figure out an alternative to raise the club’s standards.
The board face a dilemma. Do they stick with Rodgers and continue to dominate the SPL with an iron fist? Or, do they sack the tactically blind Rodgers and look to a world class manager to revolutionise the club on the European stage?
Many Bhoys’ fans will be hoping the latter.