CELTIC’S 6-1 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona should not be interpreted as evidence of a nosedive in the quality of Scottish football according to Terry Butcher, who takes his Hibernian team to face Neil Lennon’s wounded champions at Parkhead tomorrow.
Celtic were already out of Europe after a disappointing Champions League group campaign before they headed to the Nou Camp, but Wednesday night’s heavy defeat again raised questions about how Scottish football is viewed externally, especially as Lennon’s team had gone into the game on the back of 7-0 and 5-0 wins over Hearts and Motherwell respectively.
When asked if Celtic’s record-equalling defeat in Europe
reflected badly on the Scottish game, Butcher insisted: “No,
I don’t think it does.
“They had to get through three qualifying rounds to get to the group stages. The group they were in was very competitive with three other previous winners [Barcelona, Ajax and AC Milan]. So, with the squad of players he had this year compared to last, it was always going to be a difficult challenge. It’s disappointing but any team can lose like that to Barcelona, they are just an incredible machine.
“Even with so many players out Barcelona are still well capable of punishing any team in Europe by that amount. It was a one-off performance. If there had to be a resolution hanging on the result from Celtic’s point of view it might have been totally different, but they were out of Europe anyway, and Barcelona needed a point which was probably the worst thing from Celtic’s point of view. Had they not it might have been different.
“But, in relation to the Scottish game, I am really annoyed when people say that’s a damning verdict on Scottish football. I think that is totally wrong. Scottish football is a unique place, a unique environment we work in. And what Celtic do in Europe is the icing on the cake for our league. Our league is very
competitive, you ask the players who are in it, you ask the people who take part in it. It’s a great place to work and a great place to enjoy football.
“Celtic have been marvellous in Europe for the Scottish game. One result doesn’t make them have a shocker every year in
Europe. They don’t.”
Last season, Celtic had more shockers on the domestic scene, frankly. One of these was when they lost at home to Butcher’s Inverness only three weeks after putting Barcelona to the sword at Parkhead. But this time the Hibs manager is wary of a backlash.
“It’s not nice to lose six goals and it’s not nice that they could have conceded more. They will be hurting and judging by the comments from Neil [Lennon], he’ll be hurting. He will demand a response on Saturday.”
The Hibs manager added: “Neil can completely change his team from Wednesday night, [Emilio] Izaguirre was suspended and he could use Charlie
Mulgrew and Kris Commons.
He may change it around but there’s a load of things he can do. I don’t think midweek will have a bearing on the game.
“I know my squad, I know how we are going to play and what we are going there to do so we’ll look forward to it. I know the resilience we have here, we need to be strong and difficult to beat and we’ll see how we get on the longer it goes.”
Butcher was asked if he would consider “parking the bus” in order that his side’s “resilience” extends to them remaining unbeaten after the fourth game of his tenure; one win and two draws his record to this point.
“You would think it would be the done thing for us to park the bus, and it would be a big double decker with the wheels blown if I could,” he said. “Judging by the [low] amount of goals we’ve scored this season then you’d think 0-0 would be the best result we could aim for. But I never see things like that. We will play a certain way, we have a game plan which has been expressed to the players and they are happy with it. We will certainly be hard to beat and hard to get through. But we have players who want to attack and want to score. We have players who haven’t scored so far this season and want to score. If we can get good crosses into the box as we have been doing and have a
belief then we have a good chance of scoring.
“When we beat them [with
Inverness] we didn’t park the bus or play defensively. We passed the ball well and the longer it went without Celtic scoring just added to our own belief we could do something. We played well that day.
“The thing about playing Celtic is you will get opportunities to pass the ball and build attacks so players enjoy it more. You do get the ball, but it’s the qualities you show when you have the ball which matters. It’s about being brave, sharp and alert.”
The very qualities, indeed, that Lennon lamented his side lacked in Barcelona in midweek. And that, when finding yourself the long-odds team in any encounter, can make a world of difference.
Gary Locke, who saw his young Hearts side dismantled 7-0 by Celtic in the Scottish Cup at the beginning of the month, shared Butcher’s views that the Nou Camp defeat should be kept in perspective.
“Barcelona playing like that could beat any team by that scoreline, it’s like when we played Celtic,” said the Tynecastle manager. “Celtic are a not a bad side just because they got a heavy defeat, they have more than matched the top teams in Europe for the last three, four years. Looking at Wednesday’s result Celtic were not at their best, we weren’t at our best against Celtic and they were brilliant against us. These results can happen but it was a freak result.”