Celtic Needs Champions League Football

I walked home the full length of the city last night after the game. When I got home at 4:30 AM I saw folk were disparagingly reproducing Delia’s comments about Celtic being too “good” for three Champions League qualifiers. We’ll put to one side that Delia didn’t actually say Celtic were “too good”. This time last year there was an article on the BBC attracting no small amount of attention about how Uefa’s seeding system helps Arsenal & hinders Celtic. The take home message was

“By reaching the last 16, Celtic went as far as Arsenal and Manchester United, and further than Chelsea and Manchester City. They also pulled off one of the biggest upsets of last year’s competition when they beat Barcelona in the group stage – not that it helped them much.

At the time, Neil Lennon’s side were ranked 63rd and Barca were number one but, unlike Fifa’s ranking system,  Uefa awards teams the same number of points for a win, no matter who the opposition are and how far they are above or below the victors.

So, Celtic received two points for beating a Barca side 62 places above them in Group G, as did Chelsea, ranked third, for beating Danish minnows FC Nordsjaelland, ranked 168 places below them, in Group E.

And the Bhoys’ reward for reaching the knockout stage for the first time in five years was for their ranking to improve by only one place for this season, because the points they picked up on that occasion [when they last reached the knockout stage], in 2007-08, no longer count.

In terms of qualifying, they took one step backwards, entering in the second qualifying round rather than the third… That was because of Scotland’s plummeting national coefficient”

In the Delia article, misleadingly titled Ronny Delia: Celtic are too good for Champions League qualifiers, Delia was quoted criticizing the current seeding system. Under this system, despite Celtic contributing more points to their national coefficient for 2012-2013 than all but four clubs in the Champions League (Real, Dortmund, Juve, PSG), the following year they were required to play three qualifying rounds because the national coefficient was still so low. Celtic was more valuable to the Scottish coefficient than Barca was to the Spanish but Celtic ultimately is dragged down by a lack of other Scottish teams succeeding in Europe. Delia said “It should be more about the clubs. I knew before I came here that we had three qualifying rounds. That’s wrong because you have to take into consideration the club, not the country.”

The argument that if Celtic cannot win three qualifiers then they aren’t good enough to be in the Champions League is a non-starter. It doesn’t take into account the effects of European uncertainty on the club. We’ll leave to one side for now the fact that our new manager was forced to compete in CL qualifiers before he had played a single competitive domestic game with his new club. The board is of the mind that they can’t spend money on what they perceive as a Champions League level player without the guarantee of Champions League revenue. The market is constantly inflating and Celtic simply cannot afford to match oil tycoon prices in the EPL which complicates our situation even more. Even if that money is spent on a Champions League standard player, we’re getting less for our money now than we would have in the past. Regardless, if the board isn’t prepared to spend until they know what our situation is with regards European football, Delia is put in a very difficult position. Now that we’re out the Champions League we’ll be looking at a different type of player than we would’ve been had we qualified. If Celtic wasn’t required to play three qualifiers, the Champions League money would be freed up from the get-go and the board wouldn’t feel the need to wait-and-see like this.

On top of this, Champions League football would enable us to attract better players  than we can in this position. If Celtic is guaranteed Champions League football then Celtic can put the development team model into action to greater effect. Victor Wanyama would have been sold for a fraction of the £12mill he fetched had he not been showcased on a European stage. We would be able to say to players that would enrich our squad ‘come and play for us, we’ll showcase you in Europe, it’ll add quality to you and quality to us’. We’d be able to sell players on for more money than we could otherwise and could confidently reinvest that money in more European level players.

Yes, thanks to Peter Lawwell clutching the coin purse to his chest Celtic will be afloat in ten years. A friend of mine told me that it’s not a God given right to win the league every year and keeping the team economically stable while winning the league is ok with him. It’s not an either or situation though. Being ambitious at a European level doesn’t mean we need to speculate to speculate to accumulate. We don’t need to rack up debt, we just need to reinvest what money we do make on quality players. A really easy way of guaranteeing revenue is maintaining a squad capable of consistently qualifying for the Champions’ League Group stages. It will increase attendances at Parkhead, international interest in the club, attract players to us, showcase the players we are looking to one day sell on before a massive audience. The fundamental problem with the board’s wait-and-see response is that not being good enough leads to us getting worse. The ambition should be to maintain performance at a European level – a win-win-win-win-win-win situation if ever there was one! – rather than to merely keep winning the league. It’s why Lennon left. After the Warsaw game he spoke out and said that this had been on the cards for a while.

Celtic needs to have Champions League football. If that means the board taking a risk then the board needs to take that risk.

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