The mushroom cloud of last week’s AEK humbling is, although warranted at the time, thankfully over.
Definitely our Hiroshima moment of the season thus far but, like all great teams, it’s the manner in which the team picks itself up and strides forward which is the most important aspect of the entire episode.
What I have come to realise is that every cloud does have a silver lining however – even the mushroom ones. I refer here to the extent to which I, like many other Celtic fans, have had a chance to ponder over the fundamental reasons as to why Celtic FC, one of the best supported teams in the world currently living through its most financially sound period yet, are operating in what is considered to be European footballs ‘also ran’ competition.
Don’t get me wrong, this is not an attack on the Europa League. After all this is the competition which in its previous life as the UEFA Cup, provided one of our greatest episodes in the shape of Seville, 2003.
The so called ‘Champions’ League and its gross elitism
I have been one of many over the years stating that, in purely footballing terms, qualifying for the Champions League is utterly pointless for a team like Celtic.
Not only is it not for actual champions but it has managed to normalise an overwhelming number of our proud support to be ‘happy’ with a 3rd place finish in a group of 4 – eternally bad for the winners psyche – and all of this so that we gain the necessary monetary rewards which help to bloat the dividends to the shareholders at the end of the fiscal year.
Sure, we get a few home games with envious atmospheres and there really is nothing better than the Champions League anthem being belted out as the teams emerge, but when all is said and done, the majority of Celtic fans realise that we are, at best, scraping a 2nd place finish and, most likely, squeezing out a 4th placed team to finish 3rd to enable us to bow out to play teams more befitting of our talents in the Europa.
Grotesque profit levels aside, in relation to what it gives Celtic there exists a strong argument to suggest that the champions league potentially does more harm than good.
For example, it normalises failure in the guise of finishing 3rd; it solidifies the notion that football is concentrated entirely around profit and big money; it normalises the idea of a ‘champion’ being a 4th placed team from a ‘top’ league and lastly, it anaesthetises the football fan community and promotes a wider culture of their unquestioning enslavement to elitism.
These are all pathological and can only result in a fan base, of any team, being at dis-ease with itself in the long run unless you belong to the ‘elite’ fan-base.
The Revolution will be streamed, not televised
This is not Celtics fault nor do I think it is even the fault of UEFA and there are many who would argue that the money and elitist side of the Champions League is ‘just the way it is’ and that there is no point in riding against the tide.
I reject this however.
It must be acknowledged that if the determined will and dogged protest of the football fan community is there, a community who would have to protest in the form of hurting the finances of the TV and media machines who bankroll certain leagues which give them entry to the ‘elite’ status, a change can always come.
Incidentally, in the internet age of endless and ever improving online streams and new tech solutions to avoid monthly contracts with media monopolies (BT, Sky etc.) this type of protest wouldn’t be all that hard to orchestrate into a mass movement.
Realistically, the fan wouldn’t even have to attend any protest or incur loss of wage or finances as it would require only online and digital changes as opposed to tangible ones in the physical world. The football fan would go back to being just that, a fan; as opposed to exploited consumer of ever inflating monthly subscription charges set by the pay/TV culture
Such a change, on its widest scale, may empower UEFA to be able to reclaim authority over Champions League governance instead of being submissive to ‘big business’ clubs who come from the elitist leagues where TV revenue is king. These are the kind of teams that if they were to get annoyed at new UEFA rules – say a salary cap or automatic expulsion for breaching Financial Fair Play rules – would threaten to walk away from the competition, a move which would cripple UEFA. And here lies the problem.
This idea that the Champions League in all its elitist horror is incapable of change however,is nonsense.
Let us not forget that it wasnt so long ago that the Champions League (European Cup as it was then known) was just that, a tournament governed by UEFA which catered significantly for the league champions of Europe, regardless of league seeding or any perceived elitism. A European Cup of genuine champions who produced winners as varied as Steaua Bucharest and Red Star Belgrade before the days of TV money toxified the integrity of the competition.
Essentially, if the fault of the entire tournament is in its fetish to cater for elitist teams from the leagues that are part paved with gold in the forms of TV money and cash injections from Abu Dhabi and the like, then the underlying reason for this is beyond football and belongs to the cultural family of unregulated profit, grotesque need for greed, supersize status and the ‘too big too fail’ mentality.
PSG, Man City, Bayern, Juve, Madrid and even Barca, are examples of the Champions League elite teams who represent the bandit to the hostage that is the UEFA governing body in this sorry tale of money and elitism over talent and fair playing fields..
If any further, and slightly depressing, reading is needed to further highlight the extent to which the elitist nature of the Champions League enables the already rich teams of the TV money leagues (Eng, Spa, Ger etc) to stretch their dominance over the rest of Europe’s actual league winners, then a 5 minute scan of David Conn’s Sports Blog in the Guardian is well worth a read. (https://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2018/mar/15/champions-league-elite-few-uefa-president-aleksander-ceferin)
He uses UEFA statistics as well as those from the financial world to fully exemplify the widening inequalities which exist between such teams and the ways in which the relatively new UEFA president, Aleksander Ceferin, is fighting the good fight in addressing the dominance of the dollar over footballing talent via salary caps and regulation of playing homegrown players.
Two very good ideas in my opinion.
As a Celtic fan there is no ‘happy ending’ present here, after all, we are a very large fish in a very parochial pond where TV money will never be part of the ecosystem. However, neither should it be an ‘angry ending’.
It is simply far too easy to get annoyed at an early exit of the Champions League and to blame the board, the back line or individuals like Boyata.
It is he who possesses the lazy intellect who stops the thought process there; the sharper mind steps back and asks ‘why’ do we immediately point to money and investment when concluding why we fail in a Champions League which, in all honesty, is never intended to cater for teams such as ours in the first place?
In doing this we quickly come to realise that the structural forces present in relation to even gaining entry to the champions league, despite us winning our domestic league at a canter, are staggering – elitism, financial exclusion, extra ‘qualifying’ rounds and overall being part of a system that prioritises the team with the larger bank accounts rather than the teams with the most successful domestic talents.
Additionally, one of the few times we have parachuted from the Champions League at the qualifying stage, referring here to the Basel game in 2002/03 season, we then went on to dominate the UEFA Cup and add Seville to the Celtic story.
When I view our current european competition status from this perspective I am happy to declare that Celtic FC, a team of fine talent worthy of winning the Europa League if we so desire, are a proud and humble Europa League team.
Bring on Thursday!