Chris Sutton, writing in his Daily Record column today has claimed Celtic’s trophy aspirations should spread further than domestic success this season, and believes the Hoops can target the Europe Conference League as ‘company Celtic can mix in’ with the likes of Roma, PSV Eindhoven, Marseille and Fenerbahce remaining in the competition.
Celtic play Bodo/Glimt in the first leg of the last 16 play off on Thursday night, and whilst Sutton is adamant the League is the priority and Sunday’s Scottish Cup tie with Raith Rovers shouldn’t be taken lightly, he also feels the Conference League should also be a realistic consideration.
“I understand why the Premiership crown is the be all and end all this season, especially with the Champions League prize at stake for the winners. But I believe Celtic have got themselves in to a position where they should be thinking about winning everything – including the Europa Conference League.
“That would have sounded a preposterous idea back in the summer when Ange Postecoglou inherited a shambles. Yet they are now in a position where they have the squad and the momentum to challenge on all fronts.
“Look, I’m not saying they will win a quadruple and I don’t think the title is in the bag just because Celtic thumped Rangers last week to go top. You can’t write the Ibrox club off yet as they have stabilised after Parkhead and are back in the hunt. It will go to the wire and even if Celtic fall short, there is no denying the progress made this term and the optimism that will remain for the future under this manager. But if I was in that dressing room I wouldn’t be thinking about being second best in any competition.
“Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup could be a tricky test as John McGlynn is a wily manager who will make his side hard to beat. Bodo/Glimt have shocked teams all across Europe this season and will be another difficult tie. I don’t know if fans would rather Celtic made the league a priority but I would be looking to take each challenge head on.
“And I suspect Postecoglou will be the same. He doesn’t seem to have a reverse gear and he will want to keep the momentum rolling. He can rotate more now and you’d think the likes of Christopher Jullien might get a run out against Raith. But it should be all guns blazing against Bodo and see where it takes them.
“There are some decent clubs in the Conference League – such as Roma, PSV Eindhoven, Marseille and Fenerbahce. That’s a company Celtic can mix in though, so why not aim to go far, and maybe all the way.”
There is no doubt Celtic’s main focus will be on the League race and Sunday’s clash with Raith Rovers in the Scottish Cup, however should Celtic negotiate a tricky European tie with the Norwegian Champions, who have only just begun pre-season preparations and are dealing with the loss of key players from last season’s title success, then a Quarter Final slot would have everyone dreaming of the romanticism of a 25 May European Final once again.
And Sutton is quite right, this is UEFA’s third tier tournament, and as such Celtic should fear no side left in the competition, particularly with the sort of form Ange Postecoglou has the side in at this time.
Put it this way, do we think any of those sides left in the tournament would be confident of facing Celtic over two legs and coming out on top? Probably not. As such Celtic have as good a chance as any of progressing, and we should have the ambition to believe we can reach the final in Tirana and lift the inaugural Conference League trophy.