By Brian P. Dunleavy
An article in Saturday’s Irish Times described it best.
On Friday, Celtic played a Hamilton Academical side, which paid what was, for them, a record transfer fee of £180,000 for goalkeeper Tomas Cerny in 2009. It was, for the small club, a sound investment, as Cerny went on to make 82 appearances for them over the next three years.
However, it also highlights the gulf that exists between the Scottish game and the rest of Europe as, three days later, Celtic took on Paris-Saint Germain, which, of course, paid the measly sum of £199 million for Neymar. It’s too soon to tell whether the Parisians will receive adequate return on investment for the Brazilian—or pass muster with FIFA’s seemingly selectively applied financial fair play requirements—but early signs suggest that, well, things are looking good for the French side.
As for Celtic’s hopes of playing European football after the turn of the year… not so much.
To be fair, PSG tuned up for Tuesday’s match at Celtic Park against winless Metz in Ligue 1 play, but it’s a safe bet that the Lorraine side has paid more than £180,000 for a player. And, regardless of domestic opponent, Unai Emery’s side were clearly more prepared for what awaited them in Glasgow.
In the lead-up to the match, much had been made about the power of the supporters at Celtic Park, and the noise and atmosphere they can generate.
The supporters did indeed bring what Neil Lennon once called the “thunder” on Tuesday, but the Parisians quickly took the crowd out of the match by controlling the play for much of the early going (although the volume returned in the second half, much to the home crowd’s credit, especially given that PSG finished with 62 percent possession). Then, Neymar and his mates caught the Hoops on the break (some would say Celtic’s Scott Sinclair had drawn a foul on the sequence, but we’re not convinced) and the rout was on.
By the time it was over, the final score line of 5-0 hardly flattered Celtic, but one could argue that Neymar and PSG had hardly broken a sweat. So much for earning their keep…
Now, obviously, both sides return to domestic play, but therein lies the rub. PSG take on Lyon this weekend, while Celtic host Ross County—a bigger club than Hamilton Accies, to be fair, although hardly one with the recent European pedigree of Lyon. Earlier this week, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair actually revealed that he had considered pushing for the unification of the English and Scotland football pyramids as a counterpoint, to keep the two home nations “culturally aligned” in the wake of devolution.
Given that Blair governed Britain from 1997 to 2007, at a time when, well, there was a lot going on in the world, to put it mildly, we generally think he should have been focused on other things.
But it’s worth wondering whether playing in a bigger league—in a bigger country, on a bigger stage—would better position Celtic to succeed in big-time European competition. One could argue that facing the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea week in and week out would set a higher standard (and that playing in the EPL would allow for higher wage and transfer budgets), but Celtic would also need to beat these clubs week in and week out to qualify for Europe.
And that is easier said than done, as we were just telling Arsene Wenger the other day—because, of course, it’s been well documented that those clubs have also paid more than £180,000 for players…At least last time we checked.
We know. None of this makes us feel any better about Tuesday’s match either.