It was when I was sitting in a taxi on the way home on Wednesday evening that I realized how things have changed in respect to my expectations of Celtic in Europe.
There we have the Portuguese giants Benfica, who with 14 million members are officially the best-supported club in the world, at Celtic Park. In our previous two meetings in the Champions League they had failed to register a goal and we had won both. Indeed, our 3-0 win in the last encounter was one of our finest performances in the competition since its inception.
However, due to travel down south I was missing the game and I landed at Glasgow Airport in time to catch the last 20 mins on the radio.
My words to the taxi driver, and mate, when I got in the cab? “Still 0-0? I’d take that just now.”
There you have it. I was happy with 0-0 at home against a team we had beaten twice already. Why is that? Realism, I guess. Life in the slow lane, maybe.
Or the grim reality that for Celtic getting to the group stages after a 4-year absence was our aim. Anything else is a bonus. Under Martin O’Neill we expected to get out of the group stages. We never did.
Under Gordon Strachan, we managed the feat not once but twice, only to face giants in AC Milan and Barcelona in the last 16. Not exactly embarrassing to go down to these teams, especially when you consider how far we pushed Milan before succumbing to Kaka’s brilliance.
Now under Lennon we are just happy to be at the top table with the chance of brushing our legs in a semi-erotic fashion against the beauties of Iberia, the Med and even the frozen wastes of Northern Europe.
Yet, with realism should come perspective.
Headlines lamenting Celtic’s lack of creativity or suggesting that we were lucky to get a draw are insanely myopic. This, as Lennon so eloquently put after the game, is a team with only one squad member who has played at this level. Hell, the management team is not exactly brimming with experience either.
I watched the highlights and from what I could see we had the right endeavor, attitude and platform from which to build. We were, in the parlance of the lazy cliché, hard to break down.
The perspective which has to come is a) Benfica are ranked 13th in Europe over the last five years, b) we have a team with literally no UCL experience, c) we’ve just shut out a £40m strikeforce, d) our team is exceptionally young and e) potential is the name of our game.
You look at the team from Wednesday and almost to a man they have the room to improve. Not just here and there. I am talking improving well beyond current capabilities. Even star men like Wanyama has a ways to go. Only perhaps Brown, Mulgrew and Miku could be argued to be experienced campaigners who are at the peak of their abilities. And in Miku’s case he has a bit to do in respect to finding his feet in Scotland, and ergo will improve as he gets to know the team and the style of play better.
We have Ambrose, Lassad, Ledley, Samaras and Stokes to bring back. Experience will bring that most Scottish of traits, canniness and this is more valuable than any £5m pound signing.
So, yes, I was happy to take a 0-0 against a very good Benfica side. Of course I was. It maintained the positive momentum in Europe that we have made over the last 10 or so games. We are competing and expectations will build as a result. If the fans maintain perspective and Lennon and his staff grow the potential to its fullest we can move from happy to be there, to competing, to qualifying in quite short order.
The future could be bright and we can be sure it will be green*.
*note: not Green, he’s a tool.
Talking to a Man Utd fan last night, he said we had done well against Benfica, because they “battered us twice”
I am reminded of the new shoot rising through the soil. What gardener in his right mind expects it to produce a flower or a fruit immediately. Like many plants, this young inexperienced and, in many ways, experimental, Celtic team will not yield fruit immediately and, in fact, may take a few seasons to show its full bloom. Supporters who want immediate rewards should re-examine their expectations. This is a team in a league that is in turmoil and of poor, if not pathetic, standing in the European arena. To demand anything more than progress and to witness more than current achievements is to build castles in the air. In time we can level our criticisms or enjoy our successes with justification depending on future results. For now, we should be happy with continued
improvement. As for the domestic scene, many called for a trial period using youth and experimentation as this season would not present a great challenge to us winning trophies. This is what the management has done and because we are showing a level of inconsistency, they are being barracked at every turn by a lot of those many. Personally, I feel we need to tighten the reins a little and be aware that this season will not be a ‘cake-walk’ especially if we follow the same path all the way through. Balance and focus are the key.