LAST week, Celtic posted record profits of £71 million for the last financial year, leaving them with a bank balance of more than £30 million. Those results emphasises the gulf between them and the rest on the domestic scene.
Those results also show that the club have got the cash to bring in better quality to help improve their performances in Europe, where they return to continental competition on Thursday in the Europa League last 32 when they face Zenit St Petersburg.
It makes it even more baffling that they have held back investing more significantly in their squad, not only for this weeks tie but, more importantly, ahead of the Champions League qualifying rounds, where they have to come through four ties starting as early as June if they are to make the group stages.
Defensively, Celtic have had their troubles this season on the continent, conceding twenty goals in the Champions League group stages, and those woes have continued into the domestic game.
Derdryck Boyata has been suspect in continental competition this season and is now injured and his regular partner, Jozo Simunovic, has also looked dodgy and has serious doubts over his fitness, given that he, frequently, is unable to play two matches in a week.
With midfielder Nir Biton filling in at the back whilst the other centre back, the now departed Erik Sviatchenko, was also unavailable due to injury, the need for a new centre back became urgent as Celtic just done enough to finish third in their group and drop into the Europa League.
Rodgers has brought in two centre backs, German Martin Compper from Red Bull Leipzig and Jack Hendry from Dundee. However, Compper is ineligible to play in this seasons competition, and also hasn’t played for the club due to injury, whilst Hendry has been playing for a side struggling near the bottom of the Premiership table, plus goes into Thursday’s game with just one Celtic game under his belt.
Going into a game of such magnitude with the inexperience of Hendry, the injury prone and suspect Simunovic and 19 year old Kristoffer Ajer, for all he’s been impressive is still inexperienced at this level, is hardly ideal and Celtic will have to find a way to protect their ropey defence if they are to go to St Petersburg with a clean sheet. Given the positive financial position, it’s baffling that Celtic didn’t bring in a defender of better quality than a 33 year old who can’t play in Europe this season and a defender from Dundee, with all due respect to Hendry who has potential. They don’t need to break the bank but a defender for around £5-6 million would surely have been within Celtic’s ballpark figures to come in and improve the side for the Big European games, where the club are going to be judged on going forward.
Another option could’ve been to bring in a quality defender on an 18 month loan. The example of Charley Musonda, brought in from Chelsea to get European and first team experience for the remainder of this season and the whole of next season, emphasises that this was another route Celtic could have gone down, bringing in a player from one of the elite clubs in Europe and improve their teams chances on the continent.
One thing Rodgers will have to consider is a change of philosophy for these Big European games. The expansive style, playing out from the back, works against the domestic teams but they have been heavily punished on the bigger stage against opposition with superior quality. If Celtic are to progress, they will have to find another way to get themselves past a team who have spent in excess of £80million rather than be expansive. Of course, they don’t get the chance to practice an alternative tactic in Scotland as they are always on the front foot, so it is understandable to a degree that Rodgers sticks to his principles.
What is in Celtic’s favour this week is the fact Zenit go into the game without a competitive match under their belt since December, with the Russian league not starting until the first weekend in March. They will be hoping to capitalise on the rustiness of their opponents if they are going to have any chance of getting through to the last sixteen and will be looking to James Forrest in particular to utilise his pace to cause Zenit a lot of problems. Forrest has been, arguably, Celtic’s most consistent performer going forward and his confidence going into the game will be high having scored a hat trick in the weekend cup win over Partick.
Even though Zenit have a lack of match sharpness, it’s going to be a tough task for Celtic to overcome Roberto Mancini’s men. They will need their defence to be completely switched on for the whole 90minutes and not make any mistakes if they are to have any chance of progression.
Celtic’s financial position is in good hands and they deserve all the credit for where they are off the pitch. If they are to make progress in Europe, ultimately where they and Brendan Rodgers will be judged going forward, they need to spend some of that cash they have in the bank to give themselves a better chance.
Of course, spending more cash is no guarantee of progression when you consider the riches of other clubs, who are able to use Celtic’s cash as spare change on one player. However, if they are wanting to better than fall into the Europa League and progress to the last sixteen of the Champions League going forward, they need to bring in better quality, especially at the back, of they are to meet their future European goals.