STEPHEN MCGOWAN: The legacy of the Lisbon Lions is being dismantled by Celtic after crashing out of the Champions League at Lazio… as Brendan Rodgers' side set embarrassing record in Europe
EuropaLeague

STEPHEN MCGOWAN: The legacy of the Lisbon Lions is being dismantled by Celtic after crashing out of the Champions League at Lazio… as Brendan Rodgers' side set embarrassing record in Europe

Feb 7, 2024

Hours before Celtic slid to their latest Champions League defeat in Rome, reports emerged of an interest in Portuguese Under-21 international Tiago Araujo.

A former Benfica B team-mate of ex-Hoops winger Jota and current loanee Paulo Bernardo, the 22-year-old signed for Estoril at the start of the season.

In terms of his age, international experience and £4million price tag, Araujo now represents the archetypal Celtic signing, meeting the criteria applied to almost all of their recent acquisitions.

And the consequences of that policy were evident once again in Tuesday night’s 2-0 defeat to Lazio.

‘It’s a little bit of the same old story,’ admitted captain Callum McGregor afterwards. ‘Play well, don’t take chances, then get hit by the sucker punch. The second one ends the game and, listen, it’s tough to take.’

Celtic are dismantling the legacy of the Lisbon Lions after setting an unwanted European record

Celtic are dismantling the legacy of the Lisbon Lions after setting an unwanted European record

The Bhoys are renowned for becoming the first British side to win the European Cup in 1967

Brendan Rodgers side have now become the first British side to go 15 games without a win in the competition

The first British side to win European football’s most coveted club trophy have now become the first British club to go 15 games without winning a game in the competition. The proud legacy of the Lisbon Lions is being dismantled by an embarrassing record in Europe.

Since securing qualification for the last 16 of the Champions League under Neil Lennon in December 2012, the Parkhead outfit have played 29 group-stage games. Of the 29, they have won two, drawn six and lost 21, taking 12 points from a possible 87 with a goal difference of minus 57.

Extend the stats to all UEFA competitions and knock-out games and the record over the last decade is 16 wins from 31 Champions League, 44 Europa League and two Conference League ties. The last win of any description in the Champions League was six years ago.

When Brendan Rodgers agreed to return to Glasgow in the summer, he spoke of restoring the club to a competitive level in Europe. While that was always likely to take time, Celtic are now a club so focused on the future that the present feels like an afterthought.

The Scottish outfit have a woeful record in the Champions League - their last win coming six years ago

The Scottish outfit have a woeful record in the Champions League – their last win coming six years ago

The timing of injuries to Cameron Carter-Vickers, Reo Hatate and Liel Abada contributed to a record of one point from five games in this campaign but can’t obscure the bigger picture.

Since the summer of 2022, the club have signed 23 players. Too many contribute little to a bloated, inexperienced squad unable to cope with the demands of the Champions League.

Of the nine players signed in the summer window, Maik Nawrocki, Gustaf Lagerbielke and Kwon Hyeok-kyun struggle to make the first-team squad.

Wingers Luis Palma and Yang have offered signs of promise but little in the way of consistency.

Midfielder Odin Thiago Holm lasted 45 minutes against Motherwell. Nat Phillips, Paulo Bernardo and Marco Tilio have yet to show much at all.

Celtic clearly have a bloated and inexperienced squad after being dumped out by Lazio

Celtic clearly have a bloated and inexperienced squad after being dumped out by Lazio

Speaking after Ciro Immobile’s late goals sealed victory for an underwhelming Lazio side, Rodgers spoke of a ‘glaring’ need for more quality. The underlying message to directors was hard to miss.

Celtic’s board will spend a large chunk of the £72m in the bank to redevelop their Barrowfield training facilities. Tax will swallow up another chunk. Beyond that, the balance offers scope for three or four experienced first-team-ready signings capable of improving the team.

At a time when Europe’s super clubs are spending £70m on one player, signings in the £7-8m bracket offer no guarantees of progress to the last 16 of the Champions League.

From next season, changes to the format of the Champions League will also remove the safety net of finishing third in a group and securing Europa League football after Christmas.

Switching to a 36-team table, knockout football will depend on finishing somewhere between ninth and 24th. On current evidence, that’s a feat beyond Celtic, meaning further damage to Scotland’s club coefficient and more nerve-jangling rounds of qualification simply to reach the group stage. The annual trips to Athens and Astana in July will be back on the schedule.

Rodgers said there was a ¿glaring¿ need for more quality after they were beaten in Rome

Rodgers said there was a ‘glaring’ need for more quality after they were beaten in Rome

Weighing up what it might take to end the cycle of failure, James McFadden, the former Scotland international turned BBC pundit, expressed a view common amongst supporters.

‘When Celtic have their best players available, 11 v 11, they can compete very well,’ he reasoned. ‘Then it starts to go down to using the squad, bringing in players as replacements. The quality is not there among them.

‘Maybe now it’s a time Celtic look and say: “Yes, we want to sign young players, make projects and sell them on, but we also need to buy players who are ready to come into that team”.’

While it’s unfair to judge players until they pull a jersey over their head and actually play a game, the desire to spend £4m on Araujo in January suggests that the transfer strategy won’t be ripped up any time soon.

A player capable of playing left-back or further up the pitch, his age, international experience and fee fits the model used for most of the club’s recent signings. Plan B is to do Plan A better.

The painful truth for Celtic is that smaller clubs are doing a better job of trading players for huge sums and investing the profits in a better quality of player.

Despite a record revenue of £119m, Scotland’s champions are likely to end the year in 58th position in the UEFA club coefficient table.

Celtic have been linked with Portuguese Under-21 international Tiago Araujo - which suggests they won't be ripping up their transfer policy any time soon

Celtic have been linked with Portuguese Under-21 international Tiago Araujo – which suggests they won’t be ripping up their transfer policy any time soon

In contrast, AZ Alkmaar have a revenue of just £30m and sit 32nd with a 400 per cent return on their investment over the last decade. LASK Linz raked in a fifth of the sums Celtic made and sit 47th. Sporting Lisbon brought in £108m in revenue, yet sit 23 places higher than the champions of Scotland.

Celtic’s fiscal approach is rooted in conservatism. Directors are risk averse and, as their rivals across Glasgow have shown, there’s a lot to be said for that approach sometimes.

While stockpiling money in the bank offers some insurance against failure to reach the group stage of the Champions League in future, spending less cash on players than they can afford makes that precise scenario more likely.

It feels at times as if the ambitions extend no further than beating Rangers to the Premiership title, reaching the Champions League, taking a few hidings, banking the money and spending a modest percentage on project players lacking the experience, power or pace to change the record. Supporters spending a sizeable chunk of their annual wage on season tickets, club TV and merchandise want more.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same things year after year and expecting a different outcome, it’s not just a new left-back, striker and goalkeeper Celtic need now. It’s a Harley Street consultation.

IT’S ALL KICKING OFF! 

It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify

source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *