Author – @CARDIFFBHOY
Chris Sutton has made some interesting points about our recent European failure. Chris was, of course, part of the famed Seville team, the side that famously reached the 2003 UEFA Cup Final, losing narrowly to the side which won the Champions League the season after.
That side was the first Celtic side to compete in European football after Christmas since 1980, yeah, you read that right, 23 years. Relative minnows such as Politechna Timisoara, Partizan Belgrade and Neuchâtel Xamax & FC Zürich were among our conquerors during that period. Europe was an extra bonus, but not something we took for granted.
Turning back to Chris’ comments, one of them was that “the big picture I see is a team lacking leadership and constantly making the same mistakes while being mentally weak.” Hold that thought, while I ramble.
The Seville team that Chris played in was in it’s 3rd European campaign under Martin O’Neill. It’s worth having a look at the first 2 campaigns.
After a 3-2 aggregate win against Helsinki, where we lost 2-1 in Finland, his first campaign ended with a 2-1 home defeat to Bordeaux in the 2nd Round of the UEFA Cup, a game we pretty much dominated according to the BBC report.
“It could and should have been very different for Celtic as they created and squandered opportunity after opportunity in the first 45 minutes. Chris Sutton, who upset the French with his physical approach, was the biggest culprit, but Henrik Larsson and Stilian Petrov might have done better with their chances.”
So we dominated and lost the game due to poor finishing, sounds a bit like Thursday night ? For Griffiths, swap Sutton ? Bordeaux went out in the 4th round, so hardly one of Europe’s top teams.
The 2nd season was O’Neill’s first in the Champions League. A famous victory in Amsterdam in the qualifiers sent us into a tough group with Juventus, Porto and Rosenberg. Away defeats in Porto and Rosenborg ultimately saw us knocked out, despite a famous 4-3 win against an already qualified Juventus side at Celtic Park. Those of us who went to Porto or watched the performance in Norway would perhaps think of Sutton’s comments about lacking leadership, indeed had it not been for Neil Lennon’s performance the loss in Porto could have been even greater. Rosenberg were Norwegian champions, you know, the same league that Molde were reigning champions of when they beat us. Losing in Norway, with Larsson, Sutton and Petrov in the team – if only Ronny had such quality choose from.
Now I’d contend that Martin’s side was hugely unlucky in that 2nd season, whereas it would be extremely kind to say Ronny’s has, even if we could have had a penalty in Malmo that may have changed the game, and rash decisions by senior players cost us the win in each of our 1st 2 Europa group games. It’s worth noting however that Martin hadn’t lost his central defensive pairing, nor any of his key players, and had the benefit of a very settled team.
It’s often forgotten that the Seville season, Martin’s 3rd in Europe, initially started with failure as we went out in the Champions League qualifier, to a Basel side who would surprise a few teams that year. The rest of that season is history, so I don’t need to go through it again.
In O’Neill’s 4th season , domestically we couldn’t be touched, 5 wins over Rangers as we lifted the double, 17 points ahead in the league. Our unbeaten home European run continued as Lyon and Anderlecht were thumped and Bayern celebrated a 0-0 like they’d won the match. Away from home though, it was the same old story – an insipid performance away to 10 man Anderlecht ultimately costing us a place in the knock out stages.
Chris’ last game in Europe for Celtic was in Bratislava. Gordon Strachan’s first game in charge. Chris only lasted 17 minutes as he was injured in a freak collision with Neil Lennon. I don’t recall his comments after the 5-0 defeat with a side that included Lennon, Hartson and Petrov in it. I’m sure he didn’t accuse those players of lacking leadership, or being mentally weak, however none of them stepped up on that occasion.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is that even some of our more celebrated players , and pundits, have been through European disappointments, and have bounced back. Many of our defeats were down to the same issues, yet no-one screamed that O’Neill doesn’t learn from mistakes.
I for one, am confident that our current players, and manager, can do the same, given time, and support.
Keep the faith.
Thanks for the comments. It’s not excuses, and spin – it’s just my view.
You make a very good point about us knocking Barcelona out in 2004 , I’d argue they were a better side than any of those we faced in the Champions League and the 0-0 in the Camp Nou was possibly one of our greatest European performances, ironically with a number of our first choice defence missing. You could say that proved how Martin could turn round performances in Europe.
I’d also agree WGS messed up in Artmedia, and his tactics cost us. Did Ronny not change his tactics in Qarabag ? He changed them the other night too, and was unlucky. I also agree with you that he, and Collins, need to be less naive in Europe, and in what they say to the press.
Sutton made some very personal comments about a lot of the team, I guess my argument is that far superior Celtic players than the ones we can currently afford have let us down in Europe too.
Nah, can’t agree with all the excuses and spin in that.
With regards to European football after Christmas, it is is much, much easier these days due to seedings and group stages. Especially with our seeding that a lot of good work has went into in the last 15 years.
Bordeaux, that was one of our first handful of games in Europe under the new manager and plenty of the squad had barely any European experience. Unlike the last 2 years. MoN hadn’t made the majority of his most important signings and hadn’t found his team yet. Ronny rightfully got cut some slack last season as he was adjusting.
Rosenborg were a very handy side who were dominant at home and picked up some excellent results regularly in Europe, miles ahead of a Molde side who finished midtable. Not comparable. It was part of 2 terrible results in the group for MoN granted but they also won the home games and picked up 9 points. Ever so slightly different to 6 European games without a win and 10 consecutive Europa games without victory.
If it was just a few dodgy results like MoN and Strachan picked up usually away, fair enough. It’s not though, it’s consistent failures with the exact same mistakes.
With regards to MoNs 4th season you seem to have conveniently ignored knocking Barcelona out as we reached the Uefa Cup Quarter finals. Again, Anderlecht away deserving of criticism but the odd game rather than every single European game..
With regards to Artmedia, it is funny you mention that game as it was completely down to the manager screwing up and being completely naive. Continuing to attack gungho with the fullbacks being caught out time and time again, sound familiar? We should have shut up shop after the 2nd goal and we would have went through the tie easily. Strachan learned from that and never set us up so naively again in Europe. Ronny is making the same mistakes and played straight into Moldes hands 2 weeks after making the exact same errors that cost us on the break. Add that into Collins comments about how they don’t regret anything and won’t change their tactics and it’s very worrying.
I’m not saying we should sack Ronny btw, I think he gets another European campaign to turn it around but I just can’t agree with all the excuses and feel he and the team deserve all the criticism they get for this dismal European season. Nobody deserves slated or personal digs like the above and other blogs recently for having their opinion.
It’s fine that you are confident that Ronny can turn it round in Europe but for others they have seen nothing that suggests any kind of improvement and progress (like made by all other managers in their 2nd season) to have that sort of faith.