SCOTLAND manager Gordon Strachan has welcomed Uefa’s decision to throw Legia Warsaw out of the Champions League, describing Celtic’s reprieve as a “great chance to go again”.
Strachan admitted the affair was “really cruel” on Legia Warsaw, who confirmed last night that their appeal against Uefa’s decision will be heard tomorrow, but the Scotland manager believes no decision could be made other than demote the Polish club to the Europa league while reinstating Celtic in the Champions League.
“That’s the rules and you have to deal with it,” he said.
Legia have embarked on a desperate attempt to make Celtic give up their spot in the Champions League play-off round.
The Polish champions were expelled from the competition for fielding an ineligible player in the second leg of their qualifying round clash with Strachan’s old side, which they won 6-1 on aggregate. Celtic, who yesterday completed a loan deal for Aston Villa’s Bulgarian midfielder Aleksandar Tonev, are now guaranteed group stage European football in either the Champions League or Europa League.
“It’s a great chance for everyone to go again,” said Strachan, who dismissed Legia’s attempt to encourage Celtic to relinquish their place in the play-off round. “They [Celtic] have got to put this to one side,” he said. “They’re through to the next round, and get on with it.”
Strachan admitted he has a vested interest in the episode over and above his past ties to the Parkhead club, where he was manager for four seasons between 2005 and 2009. “There’s no doubt that it helps the Scotland national team,” he said.
“We play international games and have few players who are used to European football, which is similar to international football. It does help. You just look at how Charlie Mulgrew and Scott Brown have progressed over the years. It helps immensely.
Rangers reached the Uefa Cup final in 2008 and a lot of them were in the Scotland squad at that time. It does make a difference.”
With his own experience of a controversy surrounding an ineligible player while at Leeds United and his past spell as a manager of Celtic, Strachan’s view was eagerly sought yesterday at Heriot-Watt University, where the Scotland manager was helping welcome another year’s intake of pupils at the SFA’s seven regional performance schools.
He could not resist a quip referencing his own disastrous start as Celtic manager, when his side lost 5-0 to Artmedia Bratislava in a Champions League qualifying tie in 2005.
“I’m actually just checking the Artmedia Bratislava team to make sure they were all eligible – I want to wipe that out the memory bank,” he smiled. Sadly for Celtic, who won the second-leg 4-0, there were no registration issues on that occasion.
However, Strachan was at Leeds when the Elland Road club were reinstated in the Champions League in 1992, after Stuttgart fielded an ineligible player in the second leg, which the Germans lost 4-1. A 3-0 first leg victory meant Stuttgart were set to progress on the away goal rule to face Rangers in a play-off. However, it emerged they had played a fourth foreign player in the second leg when only three were permitted at the time.
Uefa ruled that there should be a one-off game played at a neutral venue to decide who faced Rangers, which is how Legia Warsaw co-owner Dariusz Mioduski would like to settle their tie with Celtic.
“I’ve been in a similar position where Leeds United had to play off against Stuttgart after they fielded an ineligible player,” recalled Strachan.
“We were 4-1 up after losing the first leg 3-0 so we needed to score another goal.
“They put someone on with 15 minutes to go to make it three centre-backs and they held out so that was a wee bit different. It popped up that we could get a replay because that was the rule in those days. We got that and got through 2-1. But that was the rules.” On this occasion, Uefa awarded Celtic a 3-0 victory after Legia Warsaw fielded the ineligible Bartosz Bereszynski as a substitute in the last few minutes of the second leg, which meant the Scottish champions progressed on the away goal rule after a 4-1 defeat in Poland.
Mioduski has released an emotional statement calling on Celtic to “act according to the spirit of the game and rules of fair play” and agree at the very least to a meeting in Warsaw or Glasgow to “settle this matter amicably”.
Celtic have been drawn against NK Maribor of Slovenia in the Champions League play-off round on 19 or 20 August, while Legia are now due to play in the Europa League against Aktobe of Kazakhstan.
“Celtic have no part in this at all,” said Strachan. “It’s all down to Legia Warsaw themselves.
“I don’t think that Celtic complained about it, it came from another source, and that’s the rules.
“Imagine Tiger Woods – and I’ve seen it before with golf – lining up to take a putt and the ball moves and he addresses it. It’s a penalty stroke. His opponent isn’t going to say: ‘I think Tiger is a nice fella so let’s just let him away with it’.
“That’s the rules and you have to deal with it. Legia Warsaw can’t make the rules up.
“We’ve all got rules and we stick by them. Sometimes rules can be really cruel to you and there’s absolutely no doubt they’ve been really cruel to Legia Warsaw.”
Meanwhile, Tonev will aim to follow the example of fellow Bulgarian Stiliyan Petrov by becoming a Celtic hero after sealing a loan move to Parkhead. The Aston Villa player will spend the season with the Scottish champions, who announced yesterday that the deal includes an option to buy the 24-year-old next summer.
Midfielder Petrov spent seven years with Celtic before taking the opposite path to Tonev, by moving south of the border to join Villa.
As Tonev prepares for his big chance in the green and white hoops, the winger said: “Joining Celtic is unbelievable, and I feel really good about it.
“I’m delighted to have joined the club and I can’t wait to meet up with my new team-mates and start playing for Celtic.”
He added on Celtic’s official website: “I already knew all about Celtic. Everybody in Bulgaria knows Celtic.
“I spoke to Stiliyan Petrov yesterday and he was very happy for me. He wished me good luck and I hope I can do as well for Celtic as Stiliyan did.”
Tonev has won 15 caps for Bulgaria and Villa hoped he could be a Premier League threat when Paul Lambert signed him from Lech Poznan in June 2013.
Petrov, who was on the Villa coaching staff at the time after an earlier battle with leukaemia, predicted that his countryman could make a substantial impact, but the reality was that Tonev struggled to make an impression in the English top flight.
Celtic manager Ronny Deila believes Tonev has more to offer than he showed in England.
Deila told Celtic’s website: “Aleksandar’s a very quick player and he has two good feet which he can shoot with.
“He has scored a lot of goals during his time at Lech Poznan and I think he can help bring the club forward with his qualities. We can also make him better.”