Yay Or Nay? The Celtic Referendum
Scottish Premier League
Celtic head into their Champions League qualifier second leg with Legia Warsaw tonight knowing that if they cannot overturn a 4:1 first leg defeat their season will be considered by many to be over.
An early exit from Europe will inevitably lead to the departures of several key players, with the likes of keeper Fraser Forster ready to join Southampton should they fail to progress.
The Scottish champions are 19/5 to qualify, odds which contrast sharply with the 1/50 on offer for them to retain the Scottish Premier League.
It seems inevitable that they will secure the domestic title again in a division devoid of fierce rivals such as Glasgow Rangers, Hearts and Hibernian. While some critics believe Aberdeen might be able to put up a credible challenge, it seems farcical that a club’s season may become meaningless when we’re barely into August.
This lack of competition domestically may lead to renewed calls for the club to investigate a move to English football, ironically at a time when Scotland vote on independence. However, the lack of investment which led Neil Lennon to walk away at the end of last season would surely hinder such a move.
While ten years ago, Celtic and Rangers may have been forces in the Premier League down south, the paucity of talent in Celtic’s squad – which will be exacerbated should they exit the Champions League – would arguably lead to a struggle in the English Premier League.
Celtic have almost acted as a feeder club to lower-level EPL clubs in recent seasons, with the likes of Gary Hooper preferring a move to the subsequently relegated Norwich City than claim another certain title up north.
Should the likes of Forster, Virgil van Dijk, Efe Ambrose, Adam Matthews and Kris Commons leave the talent left at Parkhead looks Championship-standard at best.
While a move to English football would boost the club considerably in a financial sense, a subsequent drop to the English second tier would prove disastrous. The Championship is a notoriously difficult division to escape from and shows no respect for heritage or fanbase – as Leeds United can attest. It’s highly likely that a move to England would spell the end of European football at Celtic Park for a considerable period.
Should they fail to bypass Legia Warsaw they do have the consolation of dropping into the Europa League qualifying stages. However, this is a competition that even mid-level English clubs see as a hindrance, and the financial rewards when balanced against its possible effect on domestic form is minimal.
Basically, Celtic’s season – and possibly future – hinges on their second leg tonight. To complicate matters, they play their home tie at Edinburgh’s Murrayfield, unable to depend on the electric atmosphere that traditionally accompanies big European nights at Celtic Park.
And, despite the opposition, this IS a big European night for Celtic.
Should they fail, as the odds of 19/5 suggest, expect high-profile departures. And those odds of 1/50 for the domestic title will surely shorten. As will fans’ patience with the new manager Ronny Deila and the parsimonious Board.