Celtic were eliminated from the Champions League on Wednesday night after a 2-1 defeat to AEK Athens which meant they went out 3-2 on aggregate. The defeat and exit is a huge blow to Celtic and, in typical fashion, the inquest has begun. Celtic, like every other football fan base, have the full array of supporters. The board, the team, individual players and the manager will all be blamed by different people but who really is responsible?
All eyes on the board
The board have been criticised by many of late, including the manager. Rodgers is annoyed that they haven’t been able to get enough signings over the line. That is true as there are clearly areas of the team that need to be improved on but at the same time the board have authorised a club record fee this summer when they spent £9 million on Odsonne Edouard. For a club like Celtic that was a big outlay and perhaps questions could be raised as to whether that money would have been wiser spent elsewhere?
The performance of the team over the two games wasn’t too bad. They dominated the first leg albeit in a fashion where they didn’t really create a lot of chances but did see a lot of possession. They looked to be lacking in the final third and when Tom Rogic was substituted in the first leg for Leigh Griffiths, Celtic had two strikers in the box but nobody good enough to create an opening for them.
Defensively, Celtic looked poor. This isn’t a new thing in the Champions League though. The manager’s philosophy is to play football and that means when possession is lost the defence are left exposed. The philosophy is admirable but there’s a huge difference between Scottish football and Europe and perhaps a little more defensive organisation would help the teams balance.
Rodgers is not without fault
Brendan Rodgers has been great for Celtic. Domestically, he has won everything and getting to the Champions League two years in a row was a fantastic achievement. He has failed to do so this season though and he’s not without fault. As stated above, he made a poor change in the first leg, maybe could have spent the Edouard money wiser and could do with making his teams a little more solid. That said there’s no manager in the world that would be a realistic appointment that could do a better job than Rodgers and we’re lucky to have him.
When the draw was made, this tie always looked difficult. Greece are ranked ten places above Scotland in the UEFA league co-efficients table. Celtic were seeded for this match and generally the Greek champions would be too, but AEK Athens had been through a few difficult seasons which saw their ranking drop and Celtic were unfortunate to draw them at this stage.
Over the two games, AEK showed themselves to be very strong defensively and when Celtic were sloppy in defence they took advantage of it. It was a professional display from the Greek side and despite not a lot of European football in recent times they showed Celtic to be a bit naive.
Overall, fingers will be pointed and cross words will be said. The fact is in 2018, this is where Celtic are. The club can’t compete with top teams in the transfer market and in this window alone we have missed out on players to English Championship sides. To expect a club with those resources to qualify for the Champions League is a big ask and unfortunately due to a combination of factors we fell short this season.
There will be consequences
Going forward, I expect there may be consequences. The wage bill has crept up a bit in recent times, as contrary to popular belief, the board have been backing the manager in terms of signing up key players to longer contracts. The likelihood is a few players will move on and probably a few new ones will come in. Those that do come in are unlikely to be of the standard of Edouard, Moussa Dembele and Patrick Roberts but as long as they come in and do their best for the jersey the fans will accept them.
Celtic will lick their wounds for now. They have done well in the last two seasons, so well in fact that expectations have risen to the point that the Champions League exit seems like a real low point. However, they will pick themselves up and go again as there’s a league to be won and European football still be played. In reality, this is far from a low point for the Bhoys. Celtic are still heavily favoured to win the league championship, but there’s no doubt that the pressure has been ramped up on both Rodgers and the board.
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