Let’s get the result out of the way first. We went out to a weaker team who were nonetheless very well-drilled in defence. AEK scored with their only two attempts on goal last night and with one of their two at Celtic Park. This contrasts greatly with our chance conversation rate. It hurts and is money left on the table.
Recruitment is correctly at the heart of the inquest. Not only did nine of last night’s starters play under Ronny Deila, seven of them were once the heart of Neil Lennon’s team. Only Olivier Ntcham and Jack Hendry were brought to the club by Brendan Rodgers. One of Moussa Dembele or Odsonne Eduard, both Brendan signings, would have started if fully fit, while the Belgian, a Ronny signing, would have started in other circumstances.
This is Brendan’s fifth transfer window, so why do so many remain from the Ronny/Neil eras? There are good reason and bad reasons. McGregor, Rogic and Forrest have improved significantly under Brendan. We want more like this.
We only have accounts for Brendan’s first year, which show a £13.8m spent on player registrations. Since then we have bought big ticket players like Ntcham and Edouard, and more. Total spend will not be a whisker below £30m. Profit for Brendan’s first year was £6.9m. We could spend more (always), but we are still in an expenditure territory that AEK could not dream about.
I wanted John McGinn, but he is irrelevant to last night. He would not have displaced Ntcham or Brown. Not only was John not a solution, he was yet another squad player!
I’m not saying it’s easy, in fact, it’s difficult. We did not fall to a team who necessarily had a better plan for their recruitment budget, every season there is an AEK who hit the right numbers and over perform, before reverting to the mean. These are the perils of qualification.
We do not have a viable plan to continually qualify for the Champions League, and failures like this hurt. But we have been here before.