Kevin Graham with A Celtic State of Mind – Champions League and Celtic Blues

The fact that we are playing competitive football doesn’t feel right – It’s too early. Some international competitions hadn’t fired their confetti cannons by the time that we rolled into Bosnia. Last weekend, South Africa beat hosts Egypt in the African Cup of Nations where they proved that organization and everlasting effort can beat the predicted outcome. It was a beautiful watch.

Brazil won the Copa America, their first trophy in 12 years, against the always smartly-attired and brave Peruvians. The Gold Cup recently ended with Mexico winning their 8th title, and there we were in Sarajevo playing out a comfortable but shaky away win. The schools have just gone on holiday. Our sun loungers haven’t been chosen. Wimbledon hadn’t even finished.

I have felt a distance from Celtic this summer. From the way they appointed Neil Lennon, to the new kit (which really shouldn’t bother me, but it does), to hot tubs, to pillows, to Monopoly, to £660 day trips to European games sees me wonder what the hell we are doing. The feeling of being a disposable reference number has never been greater.

That distance and annoyance at the above have probably come from the stress caused by Brendan Rodgers’ departure and the poor football we served up for the majority of last season. I needed the break and all this is too soon for me. I need to feel Celtic again and maybe Mikey Johnston’s brilliance in beautiful Sarajevo will be the start.

I ask myself every single season why do we invest so much emotion and importance in the Champions League? A competition that is bloated, greed-filled and weighted in favour of the elite few? We are energetic participants in this smoke and mirrors trick of inclusivity.

Most seasons I harbour some hope of European success. That is whatever I see or claim that to be dependent on our circumstances that season. I do believe that we are in a very successful European period in relative terms. The Champions League is losing its appeal though. I would much rather that UEFA either revamped the Champions League to Champions only (NEVER gonna happen), fired us directly into the Europa League for being champions of Scotland or get on and create the European elite super league that some desperately want, and leave the rest of us to get on with it.

I’m not ready to return to the game. Six weeks since the treble treble and the start of the new era and the start of the transition doesn’t seem long enough. I feel the players are not ready. No matter how professional they have been in preparation. There is continuity but there are also differences. Missing characters in the dressing room. A different voice instructing them at this time of year.

The club isn’t ready. We are spinning plates, and mind-reading players’ and clubs’ intentions when it comes to buying and selling. The team that took to the field on Tuesday won’t resemble the team this week, next month or on the first of September. How can you be prepared for the season with so much uncertainty? Yes, there are things we could do better but the circumstances UEFA fire us into year after year is the main cause of the chaos.

We have no power unless we spend over the odds. We ask clubs and players to make decisions early. Cut their holidays short, make quick decisions when they have time to consider and fire them into a highly-pressurised situation where they will be judged quickly. With that in mind, I welcome our new signings, Christopher Jullien, Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo and Luca Connell and wish them well with all the hope in my heart. They have proven already that they want to be here. They have taken the plunge; see us as a place where they want to play football before knowing what European competition we will be in.

But I can’t spend my hours worrying about how they have played previously. Or what type of player they are. Or watching their YouTube clips or basing an opinion on their football manager stats. Moaning that they once made a mistake in a game you saw but weren’t really paying attention to. The club has scouted these players and they meet the criteria they were looking for and their vision for the club. As it is their vision, not our vision.

What they did previously doesn’t really matter. It’s what they do going forward that counts. This is a new club. It’s a new country. A new manager and new tactics. A whole new world where only the laws of the game are the same but sometimes strangely applied.

We shop in a certain market where players will have faults. I think that we need to be asking the right questions to get the right answers when we are scouting and recruiting players to ensure that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.

When we have asked questions previously some of the answers have been: Scott Sinclair, Kolo Toure, Jonny Hayes, Charly Musonda and Jack Hendry. Marvin Compper was also an answer. Have the questions that we ask changed? Only game time and performances will tell.

Attending the game this week might get my enthusiasm back but it doesn’t mask that we are rebuilding and the club has a lot of work to do to close the distance I feel.

Kevin Graham

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