Celtic’s hopes of making a memorable return to the Champions League were dealt a devastating blow on Tuesday night.
A 2-0 defeat to Feyenoord signalled that Brendan Rodgers’ men are yet to find the formula to crack the European code. The performance was marred by two red cards and an overall atmosphere that spelt the word “quality” — or rather, the lack of it.
Rodgers has been vocal about the need to inject “quality” into the squad. It’s a word he repeated like a mantra throughout the last week of the transfer window.
Yet, Celtic only managed to bring in Paolo Bernardo on loan on deadline day.
The squad’s lack of depth and match-defining talent was painfully evident against Feyenoord. While the team fought valiantly, and even had moments that could have changed the game, the absence of true quality on the pitch cannot be ignored. It leaves fans and pundits alike wondering whether Rodgers has been given the tools to craft a team that could genuinely compete at Europe’s top table.
Celtic lost Jota in the summer, who was a massive player for the Hoops. The lack of replacement is clear. While Yang and Palma have been brought in, with Tilio also arriving in the summer, none of them possess the same game-defining quality that Jota did, they don’t even come close.
When Rodgers left Celtic the first time, the narrative was that he wasn’t getting backed adequately in the transfer markets. His frustrations were transparent: he wanted to bring in players who could elevate Celtic from being perennial domestic champions to a team that could make some noise in the Champions League. Rodgers returned, presumably with assurances that this time would be different. But has it been?
Looking at Celtic’s squad, the club seems to have settled for a host of players who arguably aren’t of the standard to push the envelope in European competition, they may be in a few year’s time, but not just now.
The players who can help take the team forward in the Champions League are AJ, CCV, Nawrocki, Calmac, O’Riley, Hatate and Kyogo. The drop-off from them to the other four players is massive at the moment.
Of course, the injury situation with Carter-Vickers, Nawrocki, Philips and Welsh at the back doesn’t help at all during the start of this campaign.
The club’s strategy seems to be looking longer term rather than short term, which has its benefits, of course. However, the Champions League is THIS season, not in two years’ time. A blend of signings should’ve been the way forward this summer.
Is Rodgers being set up to fail once again? These are questions that the club’s hierarchy needs to answer, as another lacklustre Champions League campaign will only intensify these queries, especially given the group when Celtic should be competing for European football after Christmas.
The Rotterdam defeat is not the end of the world, nor the end of Celtic’s Champions League journey this season. But it is a glaring spotlight on the deficiencies that have plagued the club’s European aspirations. It’s not about one game, but rather about the environment in which this game was played — an environment that the club and Rodgers are jointly responsible for creating.
As the group stages unfold, Celtic have the opportunity to rewrite the narrative, but only time will tell if they have the “quality” to do so. What is undeniable, however, is that “quality” is more than a buzzword. It’s a crucial ingredient for European success.
The question remains: has Brendan Rodgers been backed sufficiently to add this elusive component to Celtic’s European recipe?