Lack of squad investment harmed chances
1 September ~ Two years ago Celtic beat Barcelona in the Champions League and finished above Benfica and Spartak Moscow in their group. This season their defeat in the qualifying round by NK Maribor from Slovenia sparked a fan protest against the board's failure to invest in the squad. After manager Neil Lennon left the club at the end of last season, the board replaced him with 38-year-old Ronny Deila. As a manager in Norway, Deila had won Stromsgodset's first league title in 43 years, while playing an attacking game, but he was untested at a higher level
The hope was that he would be the Norwegian Jürgen Klopp. Unfortunately so far his performances and results – in Europe and in the league – have been reminiscent of Tony Mowbray's disastrous Parkhead reign. Although it's too early to write Deila off, he was always going to be judged on whether he qualified for the Champions League group stages.
Celtic only got to take on Maribor because of extraordinary good fortune in the previous round. Legia Warsaw beat them 6-1 on aggregate but brought on a suspended substitute late in the second leg, which they then forfeited 3-0, putting Celtic through on away goals. Other Celtic managers have had disastrous starts in Europe, but none has had two such humbling aggregate defeats in such quick succession.
Many fans believe Deila's appointment was the cheap option. And the club have sold the players who performed so well in Europe two years ago, including Victor Wanyama, Gary Hooper and Fraser Forster. Defender Virgil van Dijk looks like the only player of Champions League in the current squad.
The lack of Champions League income isn't an immediate problem for the club, but the £15-20 million it can generate is the difference between operating at a profit or loss. The board have to decide whether to invest to get back into the competition next season, or cut their cloth so that they can afford to live without the income.
It feels perverse to criticise rare examples of financial prudence in football, and Celtic's financial policy is understandable: it started after they made a loss in the season when they reached the Uefa Cup final. But a lack of investment may be destroying the club's ability to prosper. It's also clear, however, that Deila has not had enough time to get his team working how he'd like it.
So now Celtic will be playing in the Europa League. The fans want to compete at the top level, but as the power and wealth in European club football is concentrated in a small elite of big clubs and countries, maybe a club playing in Scotland can no longer expect the Champions League to be its natural home. Mark Poole