So much about modern football is skewed away from those who strategically plan and develop teams. It wasn’t always this way. It isn’t this way everywhere. Tonight upwards of 50,000 people will pack into Celtic Park to live every kick of the ball. They will be there to see the champions of Scotland face the champions of Sweden, two clubs who bookended the 1970s by losing the first and last European Cup final of that decade respectively.
For the Celtic and Malmo, this is the modern equivalent of the European Cup final. The meritocracy, which European football enjoyed in the 70s, has been replaced by Rule of the Rich, but these two clubs go head-to-head in what is an all-encompassing battle. For each club, winning will be their biggest trophy of the season.
Both teams fancy their chances. Malmo manager, Age Hareide, is enjoying a welcome midseason form hiatus. When asked about Celtic before leaving Sweden, he dammed with difficult to find praise.
The challenge for visitors to Celtic Park, it appears, lies in standing firm to the distractions of a boisterous stadium. Celtic’s players don’t worry Hareide so much, “At Celtic, the pressure will not come from the opponents but from the stands”, apparently. Take that.
Hareide’s Helsingborgs lost to Celtic at this stage of Champions League qualifying three years ago, but after losing the first leg 0-2 in Sweden, he dismissed Celtic’s achievement by saying “we were better than Celtic at everything; in possession, we ran more than the Celtic players, and we actually played really well”. Celtic won both ties by two goals to nil. Hareide, no doubt mystified at just how his superior team were denied.
On-loan striker, Nikola Durdic, was also at Helsingborgs when they lost to Celtic. Former Aberdeen defender, Kari Arnason, lost on his only visit to Celtic Park. Jo Inge Berget made two starting appearances at Celtic Park, scoring twice in a 6-1 win over Dundee United, before losing to Maribor and slipping out of contention. All three will start tonight for Malmo if fit.
These people think we’re a one-dimensional shouty football club, who can be undone by sophisticated Scandinavian guile. Which has annoyed me, who do these people think they are? Abba, were artistically unremarkable. Take that, yourself.
Didn’t think I’d that anger in me. Hareide is in for a surprise tonight.
You can win a Celtic European shirt (the bumblebee one), courtesy of club sponsor, Magners, who have kindly donated the shirt to help with our Mary’s Meals appeal. The competition closes as kick off takes place TONIGHT, so you don’t have much time to enter. To win the shirt, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org with the answer to the following question IN THE SUBJECT line:
How many goals have Celtic conceded to Swedish opposition in history?
When you are entering, if you can give a £1 or so to help build what would be our fifth school kitchen in Malawi for Mary’s Meals, you can do so here, it will only take a minute. I’ll give you a clue, the answer is not as hard as you may think.