When Celtic slumped to a 2-0 home defeat by Legia Warsaw in the second leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie at Murrrayfield, it epitomised the recent slump in Scottish football especially as Celtic lost the first leg by a resounding 4-1 scoreline. Only two years previously, a capacity crowd at Parkhead had witness the 2-1 defeat of Barcelona which helped the champions of Scotland to advance into the knockout phase of Europe’s most prestigious club competition. Last season, Celtic finished at the foot of their Champions League group but had at least showed some ability to compete with the elite teams of Europe, unlike in recent days.
An error by Legia Warsaw in fielding the illegible Bartosz Bereszynski in the 88th minute of the second leg has apparently reprieved Celtic and they will now face Maribor in the Champions League playoff round, but this change in fortune should not hide some palpable truths. Celtic were beaten by a far better team who, with due respect, are not in the same class as Barcelona or Juventus with whom matches were contested in the past two seasons.
Bereszynski had been banned for three matches but as he was not registered in the squad for the previous tie against St Patrick’s Athletic, he did not serve any of that three game suspension. Rules are rules and the Club administrators should be fully aware of the stipulations for banned players. Legia Warsaw will protest, but for now, Celtic have been granted a 3-0 home leg win to win the tie and the potential of a financial windfall from the Champions League.
Should the appeal fail, the tie against Slovenian outfit Maribor could be a wake-up call for Celtic manager Ronny Deila. The former boss of Norwegian champions Stromsgodset has accepted the blame for the defeat against the Polish team and it was not a great beginning in the Parkhead hot seat for the man who replaced Neil Lennon during the summer. He will gain some credibility among some supporters if he can guide Celtic to an aggregate win against Maribor who struggled to a 3-2 aggregate win against Maccabi Tel Aviv, and Scottish football most certainly needs some decent news after the events of the past week.
Both Aberdeen and St Johnstone were eliminated from the Europa League this week joining Motherwell who were defeated in the previous second qualifying round by Icelandic team Stjarnan. Celtic are the only Scottish representatives remaining in Europe and would have dropped into the Europa League playoff round until the untimely error by Legia Warsaw granted them a Champions League playoff berth.
It is now up to Celtic to ensure that this fortunate lifeline is not wasted and try to prove that Scottish football can arrest its apparent slide into the wilderness. Celtic won the European Cup in 1967 while Aberdeen and Rangers have both won silverware during their European ventures, but will those successful occasions ever be repeated in the next few years.