News this morning that Uefa president, Michel Platini told newspaper, Quest-France, that the governing body are considering dispensing with the Europa League and broadening the Champions League from 23 to 64 teams is far from welcome.
Celtic fans have grown to love the Champions League since our early exploits in the group stage in 2001 but while national TV market values continue to determine who has a chance of winning the tournament there will continue to be a need for a second competition.
10 years ago today Henrik Larsson scored the only goal of the game as Celtic beat Celta Vigo 1-0 in the Uefa Cup on their way to an away goals victory which ensured they were in European competition for the first Christmas since 1979. That was a huge tie for us and an unlikely victory, given 23 years of failure experienced without exception at that level.
The excitement rolled on, Stuttgart, Liverpool and Boavista were eliminated at Celtic reached the final in Seville but all this happened after we’d lost to Basel in the Champions League play-off round. I remember looking at the quarter finalists of the Champions League that year, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Milan, Inter, Valencia, Juventus, Barcelona and only Ajax from outside the then top three leagues in Europe, all of them tier-one clubs.
It’s difficult to imagine our progress in the Uefa Cup meaning any more to us if we had been Champions League but the other quarter finalists were Besiktas, Lazio, Boavista, Malaga, Liverpool, Porto and Panathinaikos. I was really glad Real Madrid & co were not in the same competition; we needed more mortal opponents to stand a chance. For me, it’s infinitely better to beat Boavista than lose to Milan.
Compare this scenario with the SPL, which currently have five teams within a point at the top, a truly magnificent competition. St Johnstone, in sixth place, could go clear at the top if they beat Hibs tonight and Celtic stumble at Tynecastle.
We are the only fly in the ointment. It doesn’t really matter how well Inverness or Motherwell prepare, Celtic have vastly more resources than all other challengers combined. For that reason and that reason only, they will win the league, probably by some margin as their stronger squad allows them to ease through the injuries and suspensions which will have a disproportionality sever effect on others.
I read some joyous tweets from an Inverness Caley supporters’ account last night, including, “This has to be one of the most exciting spl seasons yet! Very close and all to play for. Who needs Rangers?!”
Who needs Rangers? Certainly not Inverness Caley. I wonder if they realise they don’t need Celtic either. Together these two clubs have robbed Scottish football of what it has a wee taste of right now, genuine competition. Those running the game here are still concerned with squeezing more life out of the broken model instead of giving fans what you and I got a taste of 10 years ago tonight – a sporting chance to compete and win a tournament against a group of our peers.
It’s time to tell Celtic to stop talking and go find themselves another league to play in, they are not needed in Scotland.