At his presidential inauguration in 1963, Lydon B. Johnson said, “I would give anything not to be standing here today”. It is with a similar sense of mourning that we look at tonight’s Europa League qualifier between two Baltic sides, Spartaks Jurmala and Suduva, to discover who we face in the play-off round. I wouldn’t give anything to be in the Champions League qualifier, but I’d happily concede a few league defeats.
Europa League group stage qualification can be worth up to £10m to Celtic, but even winning the trophy will not come near to closing the financial gap between this tournament and Champions League group stage money. Still, it is an important tournament for reasons other than money.
Accumulating Uefa coefficient points in the Champions League has proven very difficult for Celtic. Winning games in the Europa will be easier; we have to deliver on this target. It is also important to qualify from the group into the knockout stages. We have not faced genuine domestic competition in a very long time, and I see little change this year. As a consequence, we need European action after Christmas. Better teams that Celtic have licked their wounds and got on with life in the Europa League, we need to do the same and prepare for the tournament in a professional manner.
I don’t know if the intervening 16 years have been kind to Suduva since we last met 16 years ago, but they hold a special place in our folklore, so I hope they progress tonight. I also have a great wee story of one man pitching up in the North Stand for a few minutes at the home game, just to be there.