Warsaw defeat highlights problems ahead for Ronny Deila
Celtic's lack of drive in European transfer market to keep Deila's side in the 'slow lane'
Published 01/08/2014 | 02:30
Should Celtic fail to progress even to the play-off round for the Champions League – and, on the evidence of the tactical failings and simple lack of quality that was all too evident in the 4-1 defeat by Legia Warsaw, they will be lucky to make it into the Europa League – then the only verdict can be one of death by a thousand cuts.
Neil Lennon resigned as manager at the end of last season after winning a third successive championship, but he knew the lack of ambition and flawed strategy at board level made such an outcome in Europe almost inevitable.
Of course, it is still possible for Celtic to reach the play-offs – a 3-0 victory next week would suffice – but Legia are entitled to believe that they will score in Edinburgh.
Yes, Edinburgh. A packed Parkhead might have inspired even this insipid Celtic side to claw back the deficit but the decision to take the Commonwealth Games coin means that the return leg will be played at Murrayfield.
Since Ronny Deila replaced Lennon eight weeks ago only two new faces have arrived: Craig Gordon, an injury-plagued goalkeeper who had made one competitive appearance in the previous three seasons and who has not even made the bench for the three European ties; and Jo Inge Berget, whose Premier League experience after joining Cardiff in January amounted to 11 minutes.
Deila admitted last month that significant signings would not be made until Champions League football had been secured. That reflects a painful lack of ambition from the club, especially since by then they knew that captain and midfield powerhouse Scott Brown would be out until October after tearing his hamstring.
The lack of investment seems certain to leave Celtic as bit-part players in Europe. The Catch 22 for Deila is that, without Champions League football and the revenue it brings, those players will not be sought, never mind signed. A continuation of the seemingly scattergun policy of buy 'em cheap and sell 'em high is the best he can hope for.
Celtic got lucky with Victor Wanyama, signed from Beerschot for £900,000 and sold to Southampton for £12m. They also made a reasonable £2.5m profit on Gary Hooper and Kelvin Wilson when they were also sold last year. Not one of the three has been adequately replaced.
Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, can also point to the £1.2m received this week from Standard Liege for striker Tony Watt, who was bought for £45,000 from Airdrie United, yet the business model can be considered a failure when profits are produced only by selling players.
Hooper apart, signing capable strikers has proved to be beyond the scouting department. Morten Rasmussen, Daryl Murphy, Mo Bangura, Miku, Lassad Nouioui, Pawel Brozek, Amido Baldé, Derk Boerrigter, Teemu Pukki, Bahrudin Atajic and Holmbert Fridjonsson have come and (mostly) gone since 2010 without making an impact.
Deila's decision to start Berget, signed 24 hours earlier, in a crucial match, is baffling. And the selection of right-sided Adam Matthews on the opposite flank when Mexico's World Cup left-back Emilio Izaguirre was a substitute, beggars belief.
Playing what was effectively an unfamiliar 4-3-3 away from home was also risky, especially with a player as ponderous and lacking in pace as Charlie Mulgrew in the midfield, where Celtic were overrun.
Even then Celtic were seven minutes away from having to overturn what would have been a fortunate 2-1 defeat in the second leg yet they ended up conceding a fourth goal in stoppage-time while chasing the game with 10 men. Deila got it horribly wrong.
Martin O'Neill warned supporters to get used to life in the slow lane when Celtic (rightly) reined in their spending a decade ago, which meant they avoided the financial ruin which befell rivals Rangers two years ago. Now, though, prudence has been replaced by parsimony at Parkhead. Wednesday suggests that a new fiscal policy is required. (© Daily Telegraph, London)