It can be in the stinging silence of the away end, or when the plane lands when it truly hits. Maybe even the next morning, as you brush your teeth, when it suddenly clicks and you subtly swear at the realization. Whatever way you talk and reflect; deny and justify, the result still remains the same. Losing out 2-1 in Greece to AEK Athens, the European dream appears to be over for another year.
The romance; so associated with the green and white of Celtic Park, is split and parted for another year. It can be gutting, it can be cruel for the, ‘Double Treble’ winners, but football is never fair.
That was three weeks ago. In a blistering night in Greece when Scott Sinclair’s goal just wasn’t enough as Brendan Rodger’s men excited the UEFA Champions League in the third qualifying round, and in turn entering the Europa League. Now, focus has been regained. Having overcome FC Sūduva of Lithuania 4-1 on aggregate to qualify for the group stages of the Europa League, Rodgers faces new and yet familiar roads as he prepares for life in Europe’s secondary competition.
Now in a group of Germany’s RB Leipzig and Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg along with Norwegian side Rosenborg (who they previously faced in the second round of the Champions League) Rodgers faces challenges anew when he faces Red Bull sides who both reached the quarter finals last season, and a Rosenborg outfit no stranger to upsets to last season’s drubbing of Ajax Amsterdam and draws against Zenit Saint Petersburg. It would be foolish to deny the task at hand for Rodgers, who has only won one group stage game since taking over in June 2016.
At the time of writing Parkhead is empty. The grass trickles in the September breeze and the turnstiles lie bare. Outside the word, “Paradise” stands defiant over the green and white side of the city, to a picturesque opening to any epic. Be it an epic of romance and success for the boyhood supporter, or one of horror and villainy, remains to be seen.
Rodgers had once beckoned to a densely populated group of reporters on his unveiling, in a message where he expressed his joy and admiration for taking over at his boyhood club
My objective now, of course, is to continue this work, to keep us at the top and again make our mark in Europe
The smile of modesty and disbelief by the Northern Irishman soon grew to joy as he adjusted to life at ‘the Hoops’. Masterminding an undefeated 2016/17 season domestically; Rodgers guided Celtic to their first treble success in May 2017 when they added the Scottish Cup to their already League and League Cup wins that season. This was only the beginning for Rodgers as he lifted the trophy at Hampden Park, as twelve months later he made Scottish footballing history by turning his treble win into a, ‘Double Treble’ across the 2017/18 season.
In a feat only ever seen five times in world football; Rodgers had elevated the previous five in a row winners at Celtic, to unheard of, ‘Double Treble’ winners. Only PSG and The New Saints of Wales had managed this feat since the inception of cup football in the 1800’s, in their retrospective 2014-16 seasons.
In all world football, the ‘Double Treble’ has only ever been managed on five occasions. The feat was birthed in Africa through Kaizer Chiefs of South Africa in 1976-77 before the achievement was doubled in Hong Kong as clubs Sieko and South China leveled this feat in 1980-81 and 1987-1988. With PSG and TNS the only European clubs on the roll of honor, history beckons and behold to Rodgers.
It was a romantic victory rewarded in the picturesque closing fitted to any success story. In an open top bus parade; first for Celtic, Rodgers led his team across the city, triumphant. Success continued and assured under his vision. The boy living the dream. The end. Let the credits roll.
In a twisted turn of events, this is only half the story at Celtic Park. Through the stereotype of, ‘one man’s meat is another man’s poison’ what is a story of romance is an equaled story finances.
Dwarfing Scottish football with revenues of £90m for the 2016/17, Celtic overshadowed second placed Aberdeen with a revenue of £16m. Third placed Rangers only garnered £30m, in their first season back at the top flight. On further reflection Celtic further encompass League spending with 42% of all wages from the Scottish league pyramid paid by Celtic. Bookmakers Paddy Power have already paid out on ‘the Celts’ winning the 2018/19 title. Success at Celtic Park might not be easy, but by statistically predictable given the books with the club’s achievements in line with their financial superiority.
As for Rodgers; the boy with the dream, the words of continuing the work can only be stretched to Europe. Having qualified for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League in 2016 and 2017, it could be seen as a job accomplished with the Celts dining amongst the European elites. But this isn’t enough for the 1967 European Cup winners.
Moments such as that European Cup triumph to the club’s run to the finals of the 2003 UEFA Cup have been the true pillar for success. Other conquests such as Neil Lennon’s last 16 appearance in the Champions League in 2012/13 showcased the best and the reaches of what they are truly measured and capable too.
Modern day heroics beg to differ on the history they are built. A forgettable campaign in 2016 saw the Celts garner three points in a group of Barcelona, Manchester City and Borussia Mönchengladbach. 2017 was an improvement for Rodgers but only narrowly. Faced with PSG, Bayern Munich and Anderlecht of Belgium, Celtic qualified from the group to the last thirty two of the Europa League with three points; curtesy of a 3-0 away win against Anderlect in October.
On paper qualification from such a group is a prize worth noting. But, once pitted against a -13 goal difference and score lines such as 7-1 and 5-0 against PSG, it is questioned the true merits of their group stage campaign. Followed up with a 3-1 loss against Zenit Saint Petersburg in the last 32 of the Europa League, Celtic’s only true moment of celebration came from a Callum McGregor winner in Celtic Park to give them a 1-0 win in the first leg. A whimpered 3-0 loss in Russia ended the Celt’s European dreams in a mixed campaign of more horror than romance for Rodgers.
It is a story of horror; hidden in the guise of promise and let down through the psychological pain of the ‘what if’. The problem with this black mirror is that there is no monster to prey on the Celts. What is here is something much more sinister and plaguing. The unseen enemy hidden inside the fine print, the one ghosted and lost only to be seen minutes before the end. The villain? The hidden evils of the financial market.
To achieve the European runs and wins so lusted for from the Celts on the European top table, is one teased and seemingly out of reach. What it is is a story of David vs. Goliath. The gritted teeth and optimism against the raging monster.
Holding their heads high, Rodgers assembled his squad for 2018/19 by breaking their transfer record of £9,000,000 for striker Odsonne Édouard, with a totaled squad estimated value at £60.98 million. A respected stat within the global footballing pyramid, the stats are dwarfed and once the European borders are crossed.
In 2016/17 when facing Barcelona and Man City who each have a squad valuation of over a billion euro, before similar figures of €820.32 million when faced against PSG in 2017/18 and Bayern Munich of €844.65. The gulf is further stretched through club revenues. Under focus from 2017-18, Celtic’s previously stated club revenue of £90m, is dwarfed under PSG’s €971m revenue and Bayern Munich’s €352m. Encouraging performances aside such 3-3 draws with Manchester City and a 2-1 loss against Bayern Munich, the true romance is cold and minimalist when matched to the silent monsters of the financial markets.
So, where too for Brendan Rodgers and the eternal boyhood dream? Out of the desperation form the Athens result and the highs of the trebles where to and how for the Celts?
It isn’t a secret or a revelation to say Thursday nights and the Europa League, but neither a dirty secret either. What is presented is a clear cut and fresh challenge for Rodgers. Like the Bhoys from Seville in the 2003 UEFA Cup run and the 2000/01 treble winning season, Rodgers has the opportunity to build on the treble success through avenues of the Europa League. Having already overcome Rosenborg twice in two seasons, and previously beaten RB Salzburg in their 2013/14 Europa League exploits, Celtic are no strangers with their opposition.
Accompanied with the outside factors of the infamous Green Brigade and the cauldron of Celtic Park on a European night with the previous experience of opposition, it may not be the same story of more recent European campaigns. A European run and a chance to dream is a reality. For the boyhood story of romance; no success has comes without struggle, and despite the seemingly credited finale last May for the, ‘Double Treble’ winners, the story only just goes on.