We’re on the One Road
For many of us, following Celtic Football Club through thick and thin represents a lifelong emotional journey. Wonderful highs are tempered by gut wrenching lows, but no matter what happens we always seem willing to come back for more.
Personally speaking, I found last night’s result to be a little frustrating. However, this was not because we were bad – quite the opposite in fact – but because we were good. To travel to Germany to face a Borussia Monchengladbach side who have only been defeated at home twice in 2016 (by Borussia Dortmund and F.C. Barcelona no less) and come away with a draw is, in isolation, a fantastic result. Don’t forget we had lost twenty-six of our twenty-eight away Champions League fixtures prior to last night. Save for one incredible late victory in Moscow in 2012 and a very admirable draw at the Camp Nou during the Martin O’Neill era, it hasn’t been great. There have been some nights which typified our brand of glorious failure, but there have also been several evenings best forgotten altogether. Yet, in a manner somewhat indicative of the emotional trials and tribulations which go hand in hand with wholehearted support of Celtic, we could well have recorded our first competitive win in Germany last night. Inevitably, Callum McGregor’s missed opportunity has sparked a significant amount of discussion but, being pragmatic, the fact that we even had a chance to win the match must be considered to be a sign of progress. We have come so far in such a short space of time, from a rocky visit to Gibraltar and a nervy loss in Beersheba to a well-deserved point in Germany. To be frustrated not to have beaten Borussia Monchengladbach says a lot about how much we have improved.
Since Celtic’s last foray into the UEFA Champions League group stages, we have been defeated by Legia Warsaw, Maribor, Red Bull Salzburg, Dinamo Zagreb, Inter Milan, Malmo, Ajax and Molde. Now, it would be naive to sit here and say you should always beat this team or that side on paper because football is a far more fluid and unpredictable beast than that, but I feel that a number of the examples listed above have represented significant disappointments for the Football Club and its supporters nonetheless. Last night’s result could be construed as disappointing by some with an immediate view to post-Christmas European football, but I’d much rather consider it to be significant in a positive manner.
For me, the most encouraging aspect of our trip to Germany was not the result nor the individual performances of the players but the attitude embodied by the team in the face of adversity. The resilience which they showed in attaining a draw (and almost a victory) after having gone behind to a side who defeated them a fortnight ago in Glasgow was impressive, particularly with the somewhat makeshift nature of the defence in mind. Too many times over the years have we watched Celtic sides falter when placed under duress away in Europe, but not yesterday.
Football can be a game of fine margins times, but this reality is made all the more severe when playing at the highest levels of continental competition. Often it is not a complete lack of ability which can be a team’s downfall, but a momentary lack of concentration or sound decision making. A heavy touch or a wayward pass can be salvaged now and again when facing domestic opponents, but many of Europe’s best sides are so clinical that they make these potential recovery operations all the more arduous in nature. The efficiency with which they can pounce on the slightest opportunity can be frightening at times, but it is to be admired also. Not only will the experience gained by the Celtic players in competing at this level be beneficial in time, so will be any improvements made to both the first eleven and the overall depth of the playing squad as a result of being there in the first place.
I believe that the future for Celtic Football Club under Brendan Rodgers could be bright indeed. From a financial standpoint, we have already achieved a place in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League and in doing so secured in excess of £30 million. Even a result such as yesterday’s draw will add almost half a million pounds to the coffers, which is certainly not to be sniffed at. Whilst I feel there is little point in discussing hypothetical sums, it is also noteworthy that there are squad members – with Kris Commons being the most high profile example – drawing weekly salaries who are patently not going to be form a critical part of Rodgers’ plans going forward. This is no criticism of Commons or any other player as they are entitled to the sums outlined in their contracts, but one would presume the Club will feel these resources could be better spent elsewhere so will be keen to offload so-called “deadwood” as quickly as possible. There is also the issue of Moussa Dembele, who is proving himself to be an immensely talented young man who could well be destined for a big future. There isn’t much point as to worrying when a large transfer fee will arrive or quite how significant the sum will ultimately be, but it is looking increasingly likely numerous offers for him will be inbound at some point or other. Having said that, I sincerely hope we can all enjoy his talent as a Celtic player for a good while yet.
In closing, I am excited to see what the months and years ahead can bring to Celtic Park. We already have one domestic Cup Final to look forward to this season and another Scottish Cup campaign set to begin in January. In the league, we are striving for a sixth League Championship title in a row, a feat which we have only achieved twice previously as a Football Club, whilst two of the best sides in Europe still lie in wait over the next month or so. The improvement in both results and performances have been marked not only when compared with those of the last few seasons, but also from the start of this campaign itself. We are on the right road, and if we can maintain perspective even as we head over the odd bump or fall into an occasional hole, we should continue to head in the correct direction and enjoy those wonderful highs once again soon enough.