Celtic progress without making much progress in Europe

Celtic Park. Photo by: Brian Hargadon www.flickr.com

Celtic Park. Photo by: Brian Hargadon

Congratulations to Celtic for qualifying from the group stage of the Europa League and ensuring that there will be European football in Scotland after Christmas this season. The Scottish champions went through despite a 3-1 loss to Salzburg last night with Astra beating Dinamo Zagreb in the other game in the group.

Pleased though they will be to go through, the defeat to Salzburg seems to me like a pretty accurate reflection of where Celtic are right now in European terms. I didn’t see the game but assuming the Austrian’s victory was as comfortable as the score line suggests then I wouldn’t expect Celtic’s current European adventure to last very much longer.

Looking at the starting line up from last night there’s definitely a lack of quality in the team and in the squad. Craig Gordon remains an outstanding goalkeeper on his day and still belongs on the European stage; Van Dijk is a very accomplished central defender and has a long list of suitors; Scott Brown and Charlie Mulgrew have both starred of late for Scotland; but overall there is a lack of the sort of player who can really make the difference at the highest level (or indeed the level of the Europa League).

In contrast to some clubs (naming no names), Celtic have been very prudently run over quite a considerable period of time. The board have made sound financial decisions but there’s no doubt that there’s been slow and steady erosion in the quality of player at Celtic. Neil Lennon’s departure as manager was a sure sign that he didn’t feel the club could continue to compete at the same level that they had in recent years.

Lennon and his side probably slightly overachieved in the Champions League when they qualified for the knock out stages and the squad at Parkhead now resembles an ok but not great Europa League one. Exactly the sort of squad that might lose comfortably to Salzburg and the Austrians are far from the strongest side left in the tournament.

Transfer windows have brought little cheer to Celtic fans of late and they must anticipate January with some trepidation again. When was the last time that Celtic’s squad was stronger at the end of a transfer window than at the beginning? I doubt it will be strengthened this January but it may again be weakened.

While we’re on the subject of the Europa League, let me pay tribute to the heroic exploits of my Croatian team Rijeka. Rijeka is my wife’s home city and I’m a regular visitor. I always try to go to Rijeka games if they’re playing while I’m there. Their stadium, Kantrida, cut into a rock and perched on the edge of the Adriatic Sea is simply one of the most beautiful places to watch the beautiful game that I’ve ever seen.

Last night Rijeka beat Standard Liege 2-0 to keep their qualifications hopes alive in a tough group that includes Sevilla and Feyenoord. Star striker Kramaric is attracting a lot of attention and so sadly I fear that if they do qualify their squad may be weaker by the time the knock out stages start. But anyway, Forza Fiume.

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