Martin Donaldson with A Celtic State of Mind – Another Champions League exit. Will we ever learn?

The dust has settled on another Champions League qualifying campaign. The annual inquest of our failure to qualify for the world’s premier club competition can be as easily predicted as a leaked team sheet from the Celtic Park dressing room. As with Cluj last season, big money signings (in our current market strategy) were left on the bench to allow other players to be shoehorned into a system and line-up that baffled many fans before kick-off.

The big build up to these matches is often the highlight of the start of the season; an expectant crowd filling the bars of the Gallowgate, fans meeting and sharing stories on the Celtic Way, You’ll Never Walk Alone and the burst of noise as the players break out from the pre-match huddle. That has all been replaced by the sound of an empty stadium echoing to the tactical guidance of coaches and players from the side-lines. Fans log in from home (if they can) and watch a delayed version of the events from our spiritual home. It is easy to see why there is a lethargy about the coming season – it’s just not what we know as fans. The players – professionals as they are – still feed off that energy that filters through from the stands. Does anyone else find themselves walking into the kitchen and doing something else instead of sitting glued to the match for 90 minutes? I know I am finding it hard to watch on TV.

On the match itself, anyone reporting could have used their copy from the last two seasons following the defeats to Copenhagen, Cluj and AEK Athens. The report would likely only need some small name changes to the clubs and a couple of players. Chances not taken, playing against a relatively well organised team and, probably most frustratingly, getting ourselves in a position to take control of the match but again being the architects our own downfall.

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What Comes After 10?

The match became a side issue with the usual autopsy that follows year after year on our European travels in August. The press conference post-match from Neil Lennon shifted the questions from the pitch to what might be going on behind-the-scenes and, in particular, within the dressing room. Accusations of some players not wanting to commit to the club will be hard for some fans to stomach, but to share it so publicly after a disappointing night only fuelled the anger of fans further.

Players have a right to look beyond the gates at Celtic Park, however while they are contracted and selected to play there should be no obstacle in delivering on the pitch. There is no excuse for the space afforded on the edge of our box that led to the first goal and to be exposed by a clearance for the second goal looked amateurish. Players getting sucked out of position and ball-watching will be punished at most levels. Barkas would be right to be furious with his defenders, but as the the new Bhoy, he may struggle to get his voice heard in a dressing room which looks to be infected by dissent. If the comments made at full-time from Lennon are true – and there are a few players making noises in the dressing room – that will leave new or quieter players shrinking even further into their jerseys.

It just never happened for Celtic on Wednesday night, but that story is becoming all-too-familiar and, perhaps more worryingly, readily accepted. There will need to be some big discussions going on around Celtic Park and Lennoxtown in the coming days – mending what appears to be a broken dressing room will be key to any success in the season ahead.

Martin Donaldson

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