Like you, I was delighted at Ajax performance and 1-4 win in the Bernabeu last night. It was a victory for clubs in small nations everywhere, who have been disenfranchised by leagues with more valuable television contracts. This was not a backs against the wall performance, like our win over Barcelona in 2012, Ajax attacked relentlessly, they could have scored more.
When Dutch fans left the Johan Cruyff Arena last month, having watched Real Madrid secure a 1-2 victory, they must have assumed their European adventure was over for this season, but they would have consoled themselves with the knowledge that at least they did better than last season. Then, they were beaten home and away in the Europa League qualifiers by Rosenborg, just two weeks after Celtic dumped Rosenborg out of the Champions League qualifiers.
A glass ceiling exists for clubs from the smaller leagues, and when Brendan Rodgers left the building last week, the point was made to me that perhaps group stage fodder in the Champions League is the new limit for a club with Celtic’s resources.
What Ajax have established is that it is very difficult for clubs like them and Celtic to perform consistently well in Europe. Good players will leave quickly, replacing with players of a similar standard is haphazard, but while an occasional defeat to the likes of Rosenborg (or AEK) will happen, the ceiling is significantly higher than one win and five defeats in the Champions League group stage. We should not be cannon fodder.
All efforts at Celtic right now are focussed on winning the league and Scottish Cup, but by the summer, the club will have set their ambitions for the medium-term. By any reasonable measure, Brendan was a roaring success, but for the money (football budget, not just his wage), we could do much better in the Champions League. Ajax will force us to ask some harder questions. Winning 10-in-a-row will be an historic high, but it is not the only yardstick in town.