Opinion – A Glance At The Europa League Last 16 Draw Shows That Celtic Should Target European Progression

The draw for the Europa League last 16 was made today and there was a real mix of names on show. On the one hand, there are sides like Ajax, Manchester United, AC Milan, Spurs. Those are Champions League level teams. Then there are mid-level sides such as Slavia Prague, Olympiacos, Roma, Arsenal and Shaktar Donetsk. Beyond those names are a list of teams who are very much beatable – Young Boys, Dinamo Zagreb, Granada, Molde, Dynamo Kiev, Villarreal, Rangers.

That latter list of sides indicate that Celtic can reach the deeper stages of the competition, with a bit of luck and ambition. The Bhoys have failed to do so since 2004, though we have reached the last 16 of the Champions League on three occasions. Europa League draws haven’t always been the kindest to us either. We have been paired with Inter Milan, Zenit St Petersburg and Valencia in recent years. We weren’t favourites for any of those and haven’t managed to upset the odds, even with victory over Zenit in the home leg. However, we were presented with a golden chance last season, when, after topping the group, we faced a Copenhagen side that was stricken with injury. This was our chance to go deeper into the competition, but we failed.

I raised the topic on Twitter and Lisbon Lion, John Fallon offered his thoughts.

In the period from 2004 to present we have been excellent on the domestic front, but Europe must now be the benchmark. If we were to build a team capable of qualifying for the Champions League, and finishing third in the group, then we could find ourselves seeded for the last 32 of the Europa League. With progression, the draw could be kind by offering one of the weaker teams, and we would then find ourselves in the latter stages. That trend may even continue, as is the case this year with Granada facing Molde, meaning one of those sides will at least get as far as the last eight.

Aside from the luck of the draw, it is also possible for Celtic to punch above our weight in a one off tie. We have the unique power of Celtic Park and if we improve away form, then anything is possible. Indeed, this season Villarreal eliminated Salzburg, Granada knocked out Napoli and Young Boys cruised past Bayer Leverkusen.

The Champions League late stages are beyond us with the financial gap, but for me the Europa League quarter finals are achievable. Once you get to that stage then anything can happen. The first thing we must do is get our business done early ahead of the qualifiers and then be ambitious in our approach.

About Author

Hailing from an Irish background, I grew up on the English south coast with the good fortune to begin watching Celtic during the Martin O'Neill era. I have written four Celtic books since the age of 19: Our Stories & Our Songs: The Celtic Support, Take Me To Your Paradise: A History Of Celtic-Related Incidents & Events, Walfrid & The Bould Bhoys: Celtic's Founding Fathers, First Season & Early Stars, and The Holy Grounds of Glasgow Celtic: A Guide To Celtic Landmarks & Sites Of Interest. These were previously sold in Waterstones and official Celtic FC stores, and are now available on Amazon.


  1. We have been abysmal in Europe simple as that. A team that cannot defend will never do well in Europe. In fact, we cannot do that well against Ross County.
    A major overhaul is required. Too many passengers this season, who let Neil Lennon down. That said, the manager should have booted the passengers into touch.
    Need a good strong manager and he needs to be given financial backing. NO MORE BISCUIT TIN MENTALITY. Also, the manager and his team pick the signings not the suit wearers in the stand.

  2. I agree, need more ambition & a much better transfer strategy. Should try to get loans from Manchester City. Not much money in the kitty

  3. Sensible assessment of where we realistically can sit within europe. Lets see if the powers at be think we are. Their next appointment of manager will tell us exactly. I dont expect a european heavyweight, because we have never done that. An ex players, for sure, that’s definitely the celtic way. A new CEO as well, wont back a plan that includes risk. No new CEO comes out with hail mary, on day one. So unfortunately I think there will be a freindly face coaching appointment, with a substantial Director Of Football, watching over it all. O’niel or Strachan.