Elimination from the Champions League was not just embarrassing, it could have a significant impact on Celtic’s hopes of winning their tenth league title in a row…
It’s been a…mixed start to the season for Celtic.
They have won three of their four league games, but had two postponed thanks to some Covid-related carelessness and the nadir came last week when they were dumped out of the Champions League at the second qualifying stage by Ferencvaros.
“It’s the earliest they’ve been knocked out of the Champions League since 2005/6,” said The Athletic’s Celtic correspondent Kieran Devlin on The Totally Scottish Football Show this week. “The infamous Bratislava game in Gordon Strachan’s first season in charge. It’s catastrophic financially, because it’s their third season in a row out of the Champions League, which can bring in £25-30million.”
A significant blow, then. Particularly for what that elimination would mean for their hopes of hanging onto some key players.
Kieran said: “I think there’s a degree of patience being lost with Lennon because for all the hype around this being the potential ten-in-a-row season, European football is massive for Celtic. In terms of a reputation perspective, but also in terms of player retention.
“Going into the transfer window, the club made it clear it was all about keeping their key players for the ten-in-a-row season. There was about a 50/50 chance of them being able to keep players like Kristoffer Ajer, Olivier Ntcham and Odsonne Edouard even before Champions League elimination: it’s possible/probable that one of those players would have gone anyway.
“Now, with the financial situation and players being more unsettled, you’re probably looking at two, maybe all three of those player going. Suddenly the transfer window went from keeping key players to potentially a really high player turnover.
“From what I understand, Edouard is not one of the players who explicitly wants to leave this window. The Champions League was very important to him but wasn’t the deciding factor. I’d say Ntcham and Ajer are more likely to leave.”
One of Lennon’s more eyebrow-raising decisions was to play Ryan Christie up front on his own in their 3-0 win over Motherwell at the weekend: of course the result could justify that decision, but it was more the underlying issues that led to that decision that raises questions.
“The main issue is that Celtic have four strikers – three of them aren’t match-fit, and the fourth isn’t rated enough to be a first-team striker even when there’s literally nobody else. People in Poland were baffled as to why Celtic signed Patryk Klimala, because they didn’t rate him very highly and he initially didn’t impress in training.
“After football resumed, he bulked up, retained his pace and was even finishing chances in training that he wasn’t when he first signed. He’s got a few goals in pre-season, got a really well-taken goal against Hamilton, but it still didn’t feel like he could be the focal point in a one-up-top. Tactically his biggest weaknesses are his hold-up play and link-up play, in stark contrast to Odsonne Eduoard, who is so clever in that way.
“The striker situation is un-ideal, but it begs bigger questions about recruitment, and what’s happening in training that these guys are constantly unfit and unavailable for the first-team.
“With David Turnbull arriving, that’s £35million Celtic have spent in the last 14 months, which is an extraordinary amount of money for a Scottish team to have spent, and they still didn’t have a fit first-team striker on Sunday.
“The second-half against Motherwell could be looked upon in a few weeks as a small turning point, but you’re only as good as your next game.”
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