Welcome to skewed world of Celtic
Hamilton Academical’s record transfer fee, as you probably know, is the £180,000 or so paid to Czech club Sigma Olomouc for their goalkeeper Tomas Cerny almost a decade ago. Paris Saint-Germain’s record transfer fee, which you may not have heard about, is the ¤220 million paid over to Barcelona for Neymar this summer.
Celtic were at Hamilton Academical for another routine Scottish Premiership win last night. On Tuesday, they face the Paris club in the Champions League. It could be argued that one is no preparation for the other.
This is the skewed world Celtic inhabit, and have done for years, but while it is natural to focus on the polar opposites Celtic can encounter in domestic and European football – they beat Kilmarnock 6-1 last season before facing Manchester City – the champions of Scotland are not alone.
While they were on the way to Hamilton on the south-eastern outskirts of Glasgow last night, PSG were heading east across France to thrash Metz 5-1. After five games of France’s Ligue 1 season, PSG are top with five wins and Metz are bottom with five defeats. PSG have scored 19 goals, Metz have scored two. In terms of preparation, PSG might have preferred a night out in Hamilton.
In Italy, meanwhile, Juventus ready themselves for the trip to Barcelona next week having faced Chievo, who finished 48 points behind the Italian champions last season. Juve have won the last six Serie A titles and the joke is it’s now called “Serie J”.
It is another example of the lop-sided nature of so much of football and the big, unfunny irony is that Uefa prize money and its spin-off sponsorship income is a central part of the explanation.
So Celtic’s balancing act of domestic domination and European inspiration is not unique. Even to call it a balancing act is probably too strong. Celtic have moved so far ahead of the rest in Scotland economically – and thus competitively – that they could thrash Rangers 5-1 last season before their opening group game at Barcelona.
What happened next, of course, was that Barcelona scored 7 – “brackets, seven” – at the Nou Camp.
That was an unfair scoreline in the sense that Celtic could have made it 1-1 in the 24th minute only for Moussa Dembele to fluff his penalty kick, but the “Men against Bhoys” cliché was in use after that and Neymar was one of the Barca scorers.
It was a night that raised questions about the entire competition and the role of clubs such as Celtic in it. Celtic, and the likes of Anderlecht are too important historically, and today, to be walk-on actors in someone else’s drama.
Yet that is how it can feel. The Champions League can look like a party with three or four different entrances. This is not all Uefa’s fault, despite their part in reinforcing it, but the world changed when the Berlin Wall fell and the idea, never mind the fact, of wealth redistribution has struggled to gain a foothold amid an overwhelming tide of globalisation.
To their credit, Celtic recovered some credibility and prestige in the group post-Barcelona, but it was still noted that when Brendan Rodgers made an appearance in Belfast last weekend he laughed when saying his immediate aim in Europe this season is to “try not to lose the first game 7-0”.
Beyond that, more seriously, Rodgers said being in Europe after Christmas was a realistic ambition. As they go for seven in a row in Scotland, where they have not lost a league game since May 2016, pre-Rodgers, and where they collected a treble in the Antrim man’s first season, Celtic should be able to focus on Europe while taking care of domestic issues.
Nevertheless, that does not guarantee progress. Celtic have been drawn against PSG – winners of the previous four Ligue 1 titles until last season, and the biggest-spending club in the world currently; Bayern Munich – winners of the last five Bundesliga titles; and Anderlecht – who have won five of the last eight Belgium championships, including last season’s.
The after-Christmas target Rodgers mentioned includes the Europa League caveat – if Celtic come third in this Champions League group they filter into the Europa League. Even so, finishing third was beyond Celtic last season when they had two giants – Barcelona and Manchester City – plus Borussia Monchengladbach in their group. Anderlecht will be considered this season’s Gladbach.
Anderlecht were eliminated in the Champions League qualifiers last season, though they went on to push Manchester United in the Europa League quarter-final.
But the Belgian champions keep selling asset after asset and their uncertain start to the domestic season offers hope to Celtic.
The presence of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe at Parkhead also offers fresh excitement to next Tuesday.
We stand in our jaded knowledge that PSG and the Champions League represent the extremes of football in a skewed world where the next visitors to Celtic are Ross County. But we will cross the road to watch it.
In Italy, Juventus ready themselves for the trip to Barcelona having faced Chievo, who finished 48 points behind the Italian champions last season. Juve have won the last six Serie A titles and the joke is it’s now called “Serie J”
Celtic’s new loan signing from PSG Odsonne Edouard gets past Hamilton Academical’s Xavier Tomas before setting up the second goal for Scott Sinclair during the Glasgow club’s 4-1 win in last night’s Scottish Premiership match. The French teenager was also on the scoresheet.