Would a Tougher Domestic League Allow Celtic to Compete in European Tournaments?
Just like Juventus have enjoyed four years of dominance in the Italian Serie A (until this fall, at least), Celtic FC have been the team in the Scottish Premiership over the past four years. Benefitting from the absence of the Glasgow Rangers, who were relegated from Scotland’s top flight at the end of the 2011 – 2012 due to a new corporate identity. But, is their dominance affecting the clubs European performances? Are Celtic in need of a domestic challenge?
The Rangers remain the most successful team in Scottish football history, with 54 titles under their belts. The Celts are getting closer to that count, though, with 46 titles of their own. In addition, Celtic will likely snag a fifth consecutive Scottish Premiership victory in 2016. The Rangers, meanwhile, are still toiling in the second tier, looking for the last promotion back up into the top league that they used to dominate.
A Long-Awaited Return
The Glasgow Rangers were dropped into the fourth tier after their 2012 corporate shake-up, forcing the soccer club to work their way back up the ladder of Scottish football. Last season, the Rangers stalled out in the Scottish Championship, losing the second-tier title to Heart of Midlothian. This season, though, Glasgow are leading the way in the division, with 12 wins and just one loss to their name so far. The 2016 – 2017 season, in other words, could be the Rangers’ long-awaited return to the Premiership.
On one hand, that “long-awaited return” would be bad news for Celtic. The reigning Scottish champions are enjoying their current golden age largely because Glasgow haven’t been around to challenge them. Indeed, the Celts won the 2014 – 2015 Premiership with 92 points—17 more than Aberdeen, their closest competitors, and 27 more than the third-placed team. This season, just 14 fixtures into the 38-game season, Celtic are already six points ahead of the rest of the field. Their closest challengers are Heart of Midlothian, last year’s tier-two champions.
Celtic: Starving for Competition?
Celtic manager Ronny Deila didn’t think his team would face a tougher opponent than Qarabag in the UCL qualifiers, but he was wrong. In the last playoff round, the Celts scored a 3-2 win in their home leg against Malmo FF—a good start, it seemed, for the Scottish club’s group stage hopes. But Celtic lost 0-2 in the away leg, ultimately losing the playoff—and their UCL spot—on a 3-4 aggregate.
The Celts haven’t done any better in the Europa League. Indeed, after four fixtures, Celtic are at the bottom of their group with zero wins, two draws, and two losses. The Scottish champions have simply not been able to hold their own against group mates like Molde, Fenerbahce, or Ajax.
A Big Fish in a Small Pond
These disappointing outcomes are not new for Celtic. Last year, the club bowed out of the Europa League in the round of 32. And in 2013 – 2014, they reached the Champions League group stage only to lose five of their six group matches.
The message sent by these poor performances is that Celtic is a big fish in a small pond. The Celts play very well in the Scottish Premiership because no one really challenges them. Against teams like Barcelona, Milan, and Ajax, though (the clubs Celtic met in the 2013 – 2014 Champions League group stage), the Celts really can’t compete.
Bottom line, the Celts need a tougher domestic league if they are ever going to accomplish much of anything on the European level. So while the Rangers’ imminent return to the Scottish Premiership could torpedo Celtic’s impressive winning streak, a competitive rivalry could be just what the reigning champions need to become a better team overall.
Could the Celts turn things around to reach the knockout stage of the Europa League? Statistically, such an outcome is still possible—though unlikely. Still, root for the football club today, by picking up a new Celtic shirt 2015/16 at Soccer Box!