Another tilt the Champions League and another exit. Four out of the last six, under three different managers, have ended in failure, the last two before even getting to the play-off round.
Cluj now join Malmo, Maribor and AEK Athens as teams who have seen their ‘miracles’ come to fruition against Celtic.
Neil Lennon’s team selection and substitutions leave a lot to be desired on the night and are to a large extent unfathomable. He’s far from exempt from criticism, but it’s also fair to point out the common denominator in all of those failures is Peter Lawwell and his ‘policy’ of qualify before you buy.
Last year, the word went out that Brendan Rodgers wasn’t getting any money because he was angling for a move. Oh, and hadn’t you seen how much he wasted on Charly Musonda and Marvin Compper?
The two were undoubtedly terrible signings, but in the former’s case, it was a short-lived loan that was quickly rectified by his exit.
Terrible signings have been a consistent factor this past 15 or 16 years. They’re not confined to one Celtic manager. Indeed, they’re not confined to one club.
To use a couple of flops as justification for not giving Rodgers money didn’t hold up.
The pair had a fractious relationship that was building up way before it calamitously came to a head last summer.
Rodgers indefensibly left Celtic in the lurch, but as an undoubtedly ambitious manager, it was evident his ambitions were never going to be met at Celtic. Just as Kieran Tierney would have slowly come to the same conclusion, Rodgers realised he would need to go.
When Rodgers came in, a mantra of his was to have players in ready to perform in the Champions League qualifiers. The importance of these, not just in financial terms, was clearly expressed. These are the most vital matches of the season.
Yet again, we have gone in short. Lennon has been ‘backed’ to the tune of £12m in the transfer window.
These deals were all completed swiftly and, without wishing to write anyone off, there are clues as to why this might be the case.
Jullien and Bolingoli started last night on the bench, with only Elhamed of this year’s summer signings selected.
The defenders who have left the club since the Cup Final include Lustig, Boyata and of course Tierney, three first choices. Their replacements on the available evidence, aren’t as good.
That was always going to be the case with Tierney’s replacement but the other two positions are weaker (and there’s less back-up).
Benkovic was a starter until injury curtailed his chances, Gamboa provided backup over his time at the club (often being flung into the deep end). Izaguirre left after his second spell, while Toljan’s loan deal ended.
That’s seven defenders gone (eight if you want to be awkward and include Compper), to be replaced by three.
The ‘investment’ in the club may have looked impressive on paper, but the investment in the team was minimal, barely papering over the cracks at the back. The downsizing and managing of expectations is such that this was sold as somehow adequate after the summer exodus.
Aside from that, we had all those wage bills going, plus those of another five players to have departed the scene.
And anyone with any experience watching Celtic knew that the £12m spent on incoming players would be recouped quickly. The Champions League money wouldn’t be enough, it would come in the form of a top player leaving.
So it proved with Tierney. Despite Celtic noises about trying everything we could to keep the player, not many of these appeared to be uttered in public.
Where a flat ‘not for sale’ went up over Callum McGregor, there was nothing of the kind about KT.
As James Forrest said recently: “You feel good when the staff at the club want you to stay.”
It may always have been Tierney’s intention to leave if an opportunity came up, regardless of any such moves, but we did nothing to disabuse the notion that at the top of the club we are happy with our role as a selling club.
This is nothing new to fans who are resigned in large part of the new reality of a distorted transfer market.
No one is expecting Celtic to go into huge debt. No one is saying go and spend £100m. But nor does investing in the team signal “going the same way Rangers went”.
We have money piled up in the bank. That was increased by the sale of Tierney. It could have been added to by a Champions League windfall.
Instead of investing in the team to achieve that aim, we have to cobble things together in a bid to get there and then see if there’s anyone left without a club in the last few days of the transfer window.
Now, Lennon has warned that transfer targets will have to be revised in the wake of last night’s calamity.
It will come as news to a lot of Celtic fans that we had targets but a win, or at least a 0-0 draw, would have guaranteed us European football of some description.
Now, it’s feared that there will be more outgoings rather than good quality incoming players.
Last year, Edouard ended up the only fit forward for a couple of months. If there’s a will to sell him, £3million-man Peter Lawwell (who started on a reasonable salary of a couple of hundred grand a year, but has seen remarkably his wages go up by around 1,500 per cent to the point where he has now trousered over £15million from his job!) will find a way.
Because for some reason, Celtic do not need to break even anymore. We need to make a cash profit to build on our stash. We are saving money for a rainy day rather than fixing the roof when it’s sunny.
Peter Lawwell and the board are running the club in such a way that it doesn’t appear for the benefit of the team.
Surely, the purpose of a club is to get the best team possible on the pitch and the best manager available in the dugout.
Lennon left once before over frustrations with the board’s strategy. A reckless gamble then took place by appointing Deila (these reckless gambles are a feature of life under Lawwell, and bizarrely are a consequence of the otherwise ultra-conservative strategy), then we fleetingly showed a degree of proper ambition with the appointment of Rodgers.
The clash of personalities was never going to be far away and Rodgers found it more and more difficult to prise open the coffers, while the money rolled in. And while the Champions League disaster that regularly threatened eventually came to pass last year, we managed to maintain our domestic dominance thanks to Lennon’s serendipitous availability.
Lennon’s career since leaving Celtic has not gone on an upward trajectory. Taking his connection to the club as player and manager aside, it’s hard to imagine that someone with that experience at Bolton and Hibs would be considered for the job.
Even then, with the board knowing what he could do, he was still made to go through an ‘audition’ for the gig.
It then transpired that he would be given the role with Lawwell saying no other candidates had been sounded out or investigated since February.
The negligence beggars belief. Lennon is, of course, a solid Celtic man who has gone through more than anyone in the service of the club. If it is true that the club weren’t even looking at other possibilities, what he went through in his ‘audition’ (his second one, remember) smacks of little more than a power trip.
Lennon is no one’s doormat, as anyone can see from watching his time on the field and off it. He also left because of our glass ceiling being placed way too low. But by accepting the job this time, most fans feared that he would be over a barrel and he would find it an even tougher ask this time around.
This seems to be what’s transpired. On the night, Celtic should have got through. We should have been able to see out a winning position, which we were in more than once, against modest opposition.
He chose not to play two of the summer’s signings, Bolingoli and Jullien. Either they are not ready, not good enough, or not trusted. Because the entire team was reshaped as a result, with terrible consequences.
All due respect to Lewis Morgan, but he’s not in any way better than Sinclair who never even made the squad. A cynic might come to the conclusion that the Englishman’s time is coming to an end whether he likes it or not.
We have seen players being frozen out before in a bid to get them off the wage bill. Have we returned to that level of interference in the team from upstairs?
Sinclair may be well paid, but he has also scored at least six goals in Champions League qualifiers in his time. To not have him even available from the bench, behind Johnston and Morgan in the pecking order, is bizarre.
What needs to happen now is a statement of intent. We still have money burning a hole in our accounts. Our primary business is football. The fans don’t come along in all weathers to hear about a balance sheet. They want to know that the team is in the best shape possible to meet the challenge on the pitch.
This is a blow for the club. If Rangers build up momentum, the whole ‘in a row’ years will come to an end.
Our previous domination counts for nothing when addressing what lies ahead. We have lost players and proven winners.
Lack of investment in winter of 2009 saw our ‘generation of domination’ crumble into dust. It was a short ‘generation’ and a chance blown.
The bigger you are, the harder you fall. Celtic are by reputation, size, bank balance, and trophy cabinet, the biggest. All of that can disappear in an instant if the league is lost. The thump if we hit the ground will have massive reverberations.
If he’s not backed, Neil Lennon will have to ask himself if he’s prepared to wear that. The man who dictates the strategy might think that, with stage-managed AGMs and spring season book deadlines, he and the club are bulletproof to the ire of the fans.
He should think again.
The current danger to Celtic’s dominance comes not from Ibrox but from within. The current board, in common with the old lot who were overthrown, are aloof enough to think nothing matters.
People might say that he’s only implementing Desmond’s strategy, but there are evidently parameters within that where he exercises his own control. A case in point being the disagreement between the pair over managerial appointments, where Lawwell, for example with Deila over Keane, got his way.
The fans may be more passive than we were in the 90s, but they know when managers, regardless of their merits, are being hung out to dry and they know who to point the finger at.
Time for Lawwell to back Lennon, or head for the exit.