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.