NEIL LENNON and Dan Petrescu could come face to face in a fortnight as their sides meet in the Champions League third round Qualifiers, assuming they can negotiate their respective way through the second leg of the second round this week.
Celtic are let’s say the bookies favourites to be there, after thrashing the Estonian Champions Nomme Kalju 5-0 at Celtic Park on Wednesday. For the former Chelsea star, his chances are tougher to call. His CFR Cluj side takes a 1-0 to Israel this week and Maccabi Tel Aviv will perhaps fancy their chances of overturning that narrow defeat to make it through to play Celtic.
However if CFR Cluj do get through Lenny and Petrescu may take a few moments to discuss their agreed position on UEFA’s disrespect for the Champions of nations like Scotland and Romania. Both men have made their positions clear this week on this matter.
Petrescu was first to have his say, as The Celtic Star reported on Thursday.
“I do not like the competition. I watch Ajax play in the preliminaries. What is this? They played the Champions’ semi-final and they are in the preliminaries. The champions of Holland. God forbid! Why are they not directly in the group stages?
“Let’s also respect the countries. All countries deserve a team in the Champions League in a tournament that is called the Champions League.
“It’s not normal what’s going on. Romanians have to be appreciated. We fight like a lunatic one year, we become champions and then wake up every two days on planes. We don’t even make money. We have to be respected to be in groups too,” Petrescu said.
Now Neil Lennon has had his say. The Celtic manager is angered by UEFA forcing Celtic to play four qualifying rounds to enter the group stages of the so-called Champions League, despite Celtic’s hugely impressive run of Championship wins in Scottish football. Celtic will fly out of Glasgow on Monday en-route for Estonia and what should be a formality but that has not taken the edge of the Celtic manager’s anger at the way European football’s governing body is squeezing Champions from the so called smaller nations in favour of squeezing in as many clubs from their favoured nations, even when there is little footballing merit in doing that.
“It’s damaging the game the way it’s set up just now,” Lenny said yesterday to the media as reported by Scottish Sun.
“If you finish fourth in certain countries, you qualify and that’s unfair. Winning the title in any domestic league is difficult. People sort of poo-poo what we do.
“Juventus, Bayern Munich, Barcelona, Real Madrid have all dominated the landscape in their own countries for a while. We’re the same, so why should we be treated any differently?”
UEFA’s favoured nations, as we mentioned during the week, are allowed four sides to walk straight into the Group stages. Celtic knocked out RB Leipzig from Europe last season and won the Scottish Premiership, the Germans went out of Europe and didn’t come close to winning the Bundesliga yet they walk straight into the Group Stages while Celtic’s playing 8 qualifying matches.
Valencia may have got the better of Celtic in the Europa League knock-out stages in February but they ended up trailing eventual Spanish Champions Barcelona by 26 points, yet straight into the so-called Champions League Group stages they go.
It’s the same in Italy where Inter Milan, the club Celtic defeated to become Champions of Europe in 1967, finished last season 21 points behind Juventus. ‘No problem,’ was the message from UEFA, ‘welcome to the Champions League Group stages’. On it goes, Tottenham may have got to the Champions League Final last season, having not actually been Champions of England in the lifetime if most people reading this, and they ended last season 27 points behind Manchester City – Group Stages guaranteed though through their league position.
It’s just not right. Celtic may be getting the benefit of adding some large gate receipts over the summer but players like Callum McGregor, who played more minutes of professional football than anyone
else in the game last season, Kieran Tierney and James Forrest not to forget skipper Scott Brown are being asked to do too much in what is now an 11 month plus season for Celtic players.
When Stuart Armstrong left Celtic to join Southampton he made the point that the Celtic players were facing to deal with one season rolling into the next with just a few weeks break. It is too much.
Scotland have not qualified for a major tournament this century. With Celtic dominating the Scottish game players like McGregor, Forrest and Tierney need to be playing for the national side and they need to be fresh and at their peak. How can this happen when Celtic are playing 8 games just to get what RB Leipzig and the rest get for free, by invitation only, from a money grabbing UEFA?
Last summer Celtic were actually playing in these qualifiers while four of our players were still representing their countries at the World Cup in Russia. Had Scotland qualified then that number of players missing could have reached a team-full, yet UEFA would have still insisted on us playing these qualifiers.
Something needs to be done about this, perhaps fans from the smaller nations getting together for a joint protest.
Also on The Celtic Star today…
Preston’s loan move for Scotty Sinclair rejected by Celtic…see HERE.