The reality is that we have European football at least up until Christmas this year. I’m happy with that; the reality is that our level (as it stands) is probably Europa League, but the heart says let’s have the Champions League: the CL nights at Celtic Park literally have a real magic feel about them.
As fans, we love going there on a CL night; as opposition players, they love it too. It was once a fortress but isn’t any longer. We need to make it so again!
Before we can dream of Barca, Real or Bayern we have the small matter of Hapoel Be’er Shiva to overcome over two legs on the 17th and 23rd of August.
Be’er Shiva are no mugs, having overcome Olympiacos in the last round, but if we want to be a CL Group Stage team, we have to earn it by defeating them; the reports of injury to a central defender and the pending departure of a full-back may help us in this.
Brendan has the team shaping up nicely, and despite Paddy Roberts probably being ruled out for both legs I feel confident that if we play to our potential we should see them off.
So what can we hope for in the Group Stages of the CL?
UEFA state that “Pot 1 for the draw is formed by the holders and the champions of the top seven associations: Spain, Germany, England, Italy, Portugal, France and Russia. The remaining pots are decided by club coefficients.”
In reality, we will be in Pot 4; however, the way the Play Off draw has worked out means that there are 2 spaces left in Pot 3; as it stands, there are 25 teams higher than us in the rankings so depending on the results of the Play Off Round, we could sneak into Pot 3.
Porto and Roma play each other with the winner taking one of the available spaces in Pot 3 and the other dropping into the Europa League. So by my reckoning if Man City, Villareal, Ajax or Borrussia Monchengladbach lose against Steaua Bucharest, Rostov, Young Boys or Monaco, we would be in Pot 3 which should mean we will avoid some of the more difficult opponents from that pot.
Even if this all goes our way, I would reckon that our realistic target would be 3rd Place and a parachute into the Europa League Round of 32 in January.
What about the Europa League Group Stages? If we don’t overcome Be’er Shiva, we will drop into the Group Stages of the Europa League.
There we could come up against Man U, Inter, Atletico, Shalke, Nice or Southampton. There are also a lot of decent clubs in the Europa League Play Off Round and there will be some good teams dropping out of the CL Play Off Round.
This competition looks as if it could, for a change, have some pretty big names in it so may be more appealing than it has been for the last few years. However as Chris Tarrant says on Millionaire “but you don’t want that, do you”?
It would suffice and give us some good experience for a developing team, but the reality is that (apart from an extra £20M from the CL) we want to feast at the top table – it is where, historically, we belong.
It also means that we SHOULD be in a position to make real marquee signing to help us navigate the CL Group Stages and set us up nicely for improving the team even further in January and the next summer transfer window.
Alongside that, in the absence of any help from other Scottish teams, we need a few good runs in the CL over the next few years to bring us back up the coefficient ladder to get past these initial qualifying rounds so early in our season!
So the door is ajar for us and CL Group Stages beckon if we can deliver 2 good results; if the fates (or Monaco) smile on us we will even be in Pot 3.
To be honest, both of these outcomes looked a very remote possibility at the tail end of last season under Ronny; it’s amazing how quickly things can change.
A new, top class manager and a few decent signings have transformed the whole focus and feel of the club. I now believe we will be competing with the best in Europe over the next few months and will be looking forward to European football after Christmas.
If you’d told me that as I left Celtic Park after the Ajax game on the 26th November last year I would have laughed heartily!
Written by VFR800 for CQN.