… in the Europa League, that is!
Seems things may be starting to swing Celtic’s way in the wrangle over qualification, with reports of unrest among Sion’s fellow Swiss clubs and also our prospective group competitors. Reports that, in all honesty, instil some ambivalent feelings in yours truly.
Being of a generation that considered European competition (and a sterling performance from Celtic in that arena) to be something of a given, obviously I long to see the Hoops strutting that stage. Equally, though, I cannot help but feel a slight sense of embarrassment at possibly slipping into Europe through the back door after failing abysmally to stake a claim by right. Which is what I think the vast majority of Celtic people expected this season of Neil Lennon’s more experienced, hungry young lions, bolstered by new signings and (more importantly) the somewhat surprising and hugely encouraging retention of key figures like Ki, Kayal and Izaguirre.
There are some who would prefer our focus to be firmly on league success as a passport back to the Champions League table, at which we all long to dine again, without the burden of midweek European football as a build up to key SPL fixtures. A fair shout … but not one I will be lending my voice to.
Ambitious clubs have always thrived on the pressure of midweek/weekend football deep into the season and claimed to want it; so let’s not have any bleating about European participation adversely affecting our league challenge. Indeed, it should enhance it – and in these days of squad football, it should be seen as a challenge, not a problem.
Anyway, embarrassed or not, I hope Celtic prevail over the increasingly desperate Sion attempts to reverse the UEFA decision to punish them for what looks like a flagrant breach of regulations, which no self-respecting football authority can countenance. That said, if we do prevail, I hope we can anticipate a level of performance in the competition that will do the club and its fans proud, banishing the inevitable neutral (… and hostile …) perception that we are only there by default to make up the numbers.
If that isn’t the case, then we’re not talking about the Celtic I have spent my life supporting and promoting as an international football and humanitarian icon.