Sustained football success is all about the money. Any team can do a St Johnstone, win three trophies in a decade to become Scotland’s second most decorated club in that era, but if you don’t have the income, you will revert to a lowly mean soon enough.
This season’s Champions League qualification ties, therefore, are vitally important in determining the structural advantage Celtic have over would-be rivals.
Newco opened strongly against Union Saint-Gilloise. The Belgians, playing in front of their home fans, clearly set out a stall to inhibit the visitors and play on the counter. This paid dividends 27 minutes in when calamitous defensive gaps allowed Union to score their first ever European goal (they lost both legs to Juventus 1-0 in their previous tie 58 years ago).
Union’s penalty clearly shocked Newco, not to mention their former players in the Premier Sports studio. That’s not the kind of decision that goes against this team in domestic football and they were not happy seeing “rules” catch them out, which an infuriated Kenny Miller bemoaned after the game.
Long before the second goal arrived, Newco were a diminished force. They have played only four games since last season, Union played twice as many. The contrasting fitness was clear as the game concluded with Union creating openings that could have put the tie to bed. This short Newco preseason looked like a potential mistake beforehand, four games is not enough to get a squad fully fit.
As it stands, Newco retain a fighting chance of qualifying for the play-off round. If they get there, they earn a €5m bonus, plus gate money. Failure against Union, and they go straight to the Europa League, no bonus payment and not even a play-off round to generate gate money. If Celtic are the only Scottish team to reach the CL Group Stage, they retain the entire Scottish TV pot, which would be worth an extra €3m to Celtic.
Make no mistake, we have a real and active interest in the Champions League qualifiers. These figures are huge factors in determining competitive outcomes in Scotland. There is a spreadsheet somewhere in Govan that no one will open today.