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I'M sad to have to admit that the Celtic team I saw dumped out of the Champions League by Maribor in midweek was the worst I've ever seen.

We are now at the end of a long and painful decline and it will be very hard for Celtic to find a way back.

As we've seen, Celtic have come to depend on a good Champions League run for a bit of sparkle and the big flush of cash it brings in terms of gate receipts and television money.

The root of the problem is simple. Celtic won the European Cup in 1967 with a team of local lads. At the height of Rangers' spending spree, they barely had a single Scotsman on view for an Old Firm derby.

The supply of local talent dried up and the best were long gone to England before Scottish clubs had a chance.

When that production line started to falter, Rangers spent more than they had by competing for players in the same market as Premier League clubs.

They wanted to dominate the SPL and maintain a grip on the Champions League spot. Ironically, Celtic achieved as much by being careful and trying to balance the books.

But at a cost.

As Neil Lennon found out, the reward for Champions League success was the sale of his best players.

Now it's up to Ronnie Deila to make do but his players were clearly not up to the job and didn't deserve to go through against Maribor.

The Champions League financial channel has slammed shut and because Celtic will win the SPL title standing on their heads, Dermot Desmond will probably see no reason to spend any big money on new players.

That's the downward spiral at work and I don't see a fix. Even if Rangers manage to claw their way back again, it will never be the same. Celtic need much more than the Old Firm but there's no room at the inn.