For me, the most notable comment from Ronny Deila post game was fear; the team played looking scared and he was right. For the second year in a row we fell at the final hurdle with players looking scared to lose and the consequence of being scared to lose is lacking the confidence to win. It looked that way to me too and reminded me of part of the problem which has resulted in Scottish football performing abysmally in Europe for 20+ years.
Over the past 20 years or so some of the results of Scottish clubs have been a disgrace, being knocked out by teams from Iceland, Ireland, Finland, Denmark etc. Losing to clubs who, if they played in the SPL every week would struggle to finish in the top 6, yet against Scottish sides they have looked like world beaters. And the more these results occur, the more we debate excuses about early season starts, or whether or quality of players. And the more we obsess about this, the more the teams don’t seem to go out and just defeat clubs better than them, and so the more the result rages…except, from debate on twitter this season I realised THAT debate has ended. Supporters of clubs like Aberdeen and St Johnstone have now accepted that Europe just doesn’t happen beyond August and “we do alright”. Mediocrity has become acceptable.
For us (fortunately) we are a long way from that. Indeed whilst it is acceptable for Aberdeen (Scotland’s second club) to not qualify for Europe and avoid any criticism for failure, questions are asked of our manager for failing to make the Champions League however are we in danger of catching the Scottish football disease?
Since the death of Rangers ALL decisions upon whether we have had a good or bad season has become based upon our performances in Europe. The media talk of Celtic’s most important games of the season being all before August. The financial success of the club is determined before August. Lose before August and it’s ARMAGEDDON!!!
Whilst there is an obvious truth in this, my concern is this is transmitting to the players. Everything around the club from the clubs’ timing of signings, to the manager’s selection (RD & NL), to the media coverage – ONLY Champions League football matters. I texted a mate during the Killie game that it looked like the players were doing just enough to win. Unfortunately just enough didn’t account for giving away a penalty and consequently we have not won the first 4 games of the season now since 2011. Unfortunately we haven’t won those must win Champions League games either and whilst every supporter and player will be very upset, the world has not ended and we still have 4 trophies to play for.
The Champions League is where we need to be. The longer we are without it, the more challenging the finances become to get into it. Failure to qualify can easily become a downward spiral but being frozen by fear only makes the thing we fear more likely.
Celtic were a better side than Maribor. Celtic are a better side than Malmo but we didn’t win and we are out. As Ronny said, we looked a frightened team. Fear of losing uses energy and makes losing more likely and (unfortunately in this case) sometimes inevitable. We HAVE to avoid going down the route which has destroyed all hope of even average performances by other Scottish clubs in Europe. As the man said – The Only Thing To Fear Is Fear Itself