Champions League dream ends for Celtic
For the second season in a row, the dream of Celtic fans to return to the Champion’s League group stages have been dashed before the August Bank Holiday, after the Hoops were knocked out of the competition last month by Swedish side Malmo.
After negotiating potentially difficult opponents in the form of Stjarnan of Iceland and Qarabag of Azerbaijan, Ronny Deila’s charges were paired with Swedish champions Malmo.
The Hoops won an exciting first leg in Glasgow 3-2, but knew that it was going to be a challenge to hold off Malmo in the away leg, and they did prove to be too difficult for them as the Bhoys were defeated 2-0, giving the Swedes a 4-3 aggregate victory.
Speaking after their defeat, Ronny Deila said he felt that Celtic were ‘frightened and scared’ in their loss to Malmo, coming a year after a loss at the same stage by Slovenian side Maribor.
Deila said: “The hype about the Champions League is big, everybody wants it so badly. You have to deal with it but we looked very stressed. We didn’t look like we wanted to go out and play football. We have a lot of young players coming through but this was a hard lesson for us.
“We looked very uncomfortable on the ball. We looked frightened and scared and that is very disappointing. It was a team performance that was not at the level we should expect at these games. We have to learn from this, some very hard learning. We went out and protected something, instead of attacking something. So it’s like we had something to lose, not something to win.
“I have to learn. I’m a young manager as well. This is my mistake that we’re not ready
“We knew if we were at our best we had a good chance to go through but we were not even close. We have shown that the Europa League is the level we have to compete at and it is better than nothing. It is a good competition.
“You can’t say the season is gone. We have so much more to play for but very disappointed because this was a big target for us. I don’t think a very smart person is judging only on results. People who succeed in life judge progress in many ways.
“This club is one of the best-driven clubs in the world. We’re developing young players, we’re taking in players and developing them and selling them for a lot of money and we win so many titles in Scotland.
“If you want to be negative, you can have it in that way (judged on Champions League), but for me it’s much more than one thing. I think we’re going to be in the Champions League when I’m the manager. Now, I think, we are closer. Next year, hopefully we get a new chance.”
Midfielder Kris Commons saw the defeat as a missed opportunity to progress, but is at pains to point out that Celtic crashed out of Europe early last season, but still had a successful season.
He said: “We see it as a chance missed because the way we started the first leg, it could have been anything. The big turning point was the goal late on at Celtic Park which gave them a lot of confidence going into the return leg.
“It was disappointing that we didn’t get a goal, especially with the players we had on the park towards the end.
“We’ve got a good team spirit and a great bunch of lads, an incredible captain who’ll keep driving us on to achieve bigger and better things, but sometimes there are bumps in the road that you have to take and this is one of them.”
Last season, the Hoops reached the knockout stages of the competition before losing to Inter Milan, and Commons is looking for more of the same this time around.
“Early on it’s disappointing because you do feel you should be in the Champions League, but if we can get through the group stages of the Europa League and pull in some big teams we can generate interest like we did last year and it will be interesting to see who we get and how far we can progress.
“Our aim will be to try and complete the treble this year and progress as far as we possibly can in the Europa League.
“It’s important that we get back to winning ways before the international break and try to get this out of our system and concentrate on progressing in the Europa League – that’s going to be a huge part of our season now.
“We’ll keep our heads up, keep working hard and try to give the fans something to cheer about. We’ve had another disappointing European campaign but as we showed last year, we can still go on to have a great season.”
For Malmo, they now face Real Madrid, Paris St. Germain and Shaktar Donetsk in the group stages of the Champions League. For Celtic, they now enter the group stage of the Europa League and have been drawn against some real powerhouses of European Football, where they take on Dutch giants Ajax, leading Turkish team Fenerbahce and Norwegian outfit Molde.
If Celtic were hoping for an easy draw, then they’ve been given a rude awakening, especially being drawn against Fenerbahce who will have the likes of ex-Manchester United players Nani and Robin Van Persie in their ranks, along with Lazar Markovic who recently joined the Turks on loan from Liverpool.
The group stages of the Europa League is going to be scant consolation for Ronny Deila and Celtic after another season which has seen them fail to get over the final hurdle and into the Champion’s League.
By not making the group stages, this will have a financial impact on the club. Conservative estimates predict that they’ve lost about £13m worth of income into the coffers at Parkhead.
This footfall in revenue will not only affect their spending power to attract players into the club, but it could also mean that a number of players may decide that their futures lie elsewhere outside the club – either with teams offering greater wages, or the promise of Champions League football – and in some cases, both.
This may well be the case with defender Virgil Van Dijk, who is rumoured to be of interest to Southampton who have sold most of their successful back four in the past two seasons. Van Dijk has said that he’s happy to stay at Celtic, but wouldn’t rule out a move to the Premier League, which is always going to be the case for any of Celtic’s starlets – but this is always bought even more in focus when they don’t make the Champion’s League.
This problem may well continue for a season or two if their best players decide that playing in the SPL and Europa League isn’t enough for them.