Welcome to skewed world of Celtic

The Irish Times - Sports Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Michael Walker:

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”

PHO­TO­GRAPH: IAN RUTHER­FORD/PA WIRE

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.

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