FORMER Celtic goal hero Chris Sutton insists the fact his old team were not prepared for the challenges of the Champions League is “unforgivable”.
The one-time Hoops attack-leader believes his old club have paid a heavy price for not getting their act together to perform and compete among the European elite.
This season’s crusade has seen Brendan Rodgers’ team lose three and draw one of their four encounters in Group E that sees them rock-bottom and facing Europe extinction after Christmas for a second successive season.
The Parkhead men kicked off with a disastrous 2-0 loss to Feyenoord in Rotterdam that saw them complete the match with nine players following the red cards for Gustaf Lagerbielke and Odin Holm.
PONDERING THE WAY AHEAD…Brendan Rodgers prepares for Aberdeen tomorrow in the aftermath of another Euro disappointment.
That was followed by the agonising stoppage-time loss to Lazio in Glasgow and five points were shed in the double-header with Atletico Madrid, drawing 2-2 at home before Tuesday’s six-goal mauling in the Spanish capital where, of course, Daizen Maeda was dismissed in the first-half.
Sutton said: “Celtic were a development team in the Champions League last season under Ange Postecoglou.
“Fast forward a year and they are still a development team at the highest level of Europe under Brendan Rodgers. If Celtic are in there again next season, that simply cannot be the case for a third time.
“Defeat to Diego Simeone’s side in their own backyard is hardly a cause for recriminations, but that’s not really where the damage was done.
“When the draw was made, for all you should never go into any game without belief, Atletico away is the one you are basically writing off as a loss. That, however, was not the case for the first game against Feyenoord away and the second at home to Lazio.
“Those were huge moments and, at the risk of repeating myself as I said it at the time, Celtic were not ready for them. But it’s alright me saying it. When you hear Rodgers saying it during the week, that’s when it really hits home because, I’m sorry, that’s unforgivable.
“Celtic knew the date of the first Champions League group matches in the second week of May when they won the title against Hearts at Tynecastle and guaranteed their place in them. That is four whole months.
UNHAPPY VIEWING…Ange Postecoglou holds his head as he watches Celtic in Europe.
“That Postecoglou team was building. They had their experiences of the first campaign and those that were staying could use them.
“Those who were leaving needed to be replaced properly and strengthening was also needed because, having finished the campaign with two points last term, it was clear that even the side who ended that term required more furnishing. Instead, Celtic went backwards.”
Sutton, speaking to the Daily Record, continued: “You can’t legislate for injuries to the likes of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Liel Abada, but even if those two had been available for Rotterdam, the squad on night one was still weaker than the one that finished last term’s campaign against Real in the Bernabeu.
“I’m going to repeat myself in one sense. That was unforgivable.
“Rodgers is a quality manager. He’ll know what he needs and what he can expect to get on that recruitment front within the parameters of the club model.
“As a club, Celtic have to be on that right now. I know the market is changeable and targets can alter, but Rodgers will have a grasp of what he wants and they need to be brought in either in January and on the first of June next year.
“Celtic have to go into Champions League matches at full pelt. Not signing Luis Palma on the last days of a window and giving him about five training sessions before he’s herded onto a plane for Rotterdam to be flung in to start a game on Match Day One.
“The team has had to go through their development stage in the most cut-throat environment of the game and that’s not acceptable. Not when the whole club knew four months in advance that these games were coming.
“Rodgers, of course, had less time, but was still there for the start of pre-season.”
SINKING FEELING…Joe Hart can only look back in anger after another Atletico goal.
Former England international striker Sutton added: “Listen, I’m not stupid. I don’t expect Celtic to go into the Champions League and start topping groups. The gulf is too big.
“The work has to start now off the field and also on the park. These boys in the squad right now have to believe and make something happen. Start making the changes. Be the ones who instigate the overhaul.
“The home draw with Atletico was a good start, but they are still having to carry this stat of the club not winning a home game in the Champions League for 10 years.
“So, go and beat Feyenoord next month. Make sure that no-one is ramming the point of 11 years if you start out next season.”