Celtic would do well to recall their 2007 upset of Europe’s champions before they take to the field tonight, as Craig Fowler recalls
DO Celtic have a chance tonight? Manchester City have some of the best players, and arguably the best active manager, in world football. They are unbeaten thus far in the world’s richest league. Celtic have a squad which cost less than £20 million to assemble. By comparison, Manchester City’s team cost nearly £500 million. That’s a 2400 per cent increase. City won their first group game 4-0. Celtic lost 7-0 to Barcelona. The signs aren’t positive.
But, of course, the actual answer is yes. We like to pretend we’re experts in everything football, but our collective record with the bookmakers would show such weekly hubris to be misguided. You should always expect the unexpected in football. Celtic’s history in the Champions League would testify to that.
We all know about the Barcelona game. No-one thought they had a chance - even if it had taken an injury-time Jordi Alba goal to separate the sides in the away tie - yet Celtic notched a famous victory.
But, I hear you say, that was a much stronger Celtic team. This current side would have no chance. It’s a fair point. Fraser Forster and Viktor Wanyama would each go for fees topping over £10 million. Giorgios Samaras and Kris Commons were still in their prime, while Efe Ambrose still looked like a competent defender alongside Kelvin Wilson. They shouldn’t have been beating Barcelona, but they were a stronger squad - even if they did start with dud loan signing Miku in attack.
There is another famous Celtic Park victory, one that helped foster the ground’s reputation as a European fortress in the late 00s, which could arouse hope ahead of tonight.
When Milan came to Parkhead in 2007 they were the reigning champions of Europe, yet they went home with their collective tails between their legs thanks to a Scott McDonald winner, which enabled Gordon Strachan’s side to snatch a late 2-1 victory.
Here’s the Celtic team from that game: Boruc, Perrier Doumbe (Kennedy 79), Caldwell, McManus, Naylor, McGeady (Nakamura 85), Hartley, Donati, Jarosik (Killen 84), Brown, McDonald.
And here’s the Milan team: Dida (Kalac 90), Oddo, Nesta, Bonera, Jankulovski, Ambrosini, Gattuso, Pirlo, Seedorf (Gourcuff 55), Kaka, Inzaghi (Gilardino 76).
The defence isn’t vintage Milan, yet Oddo, Bonera and Jankulovski were all international footballers (the former two were Italian, Jankulovski from the Czech Republic) with at least 10 caps each. And just look at that front six. When Massimo Ambrosini is the weakest player in the unit - he of two Champions League final wins, four Serie A titles and 35 caps for Italy - you know it’s a strong group. They were a truly formidable side and Celtic stood up to the challenge. They were hungry, they were confident, they were determined. They won the battle and ultimately won the war.
If Celtic are going to get something tonight they’ll have to do likewise. Brendan Rodgers is very a popular man among the Celtic support. When his reign at Celtic comes to an end, the kind of flowing, attacking football he brought to the club may see him stand in higher regard than both Strachan and Neil Lennon, two men who had great success in the Champions League but wore down supporters with some workmanlike performances against run-of-the-mill opponents on the domestic front.
For Rodgers to get to that point, he’ll have to show he’s capable of rebuilding Celtic’s Champions League reputation, and to do that he’ll have to organise a disciplined defence. You don’t beat Barcelona, Milan, or even Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City without one. If can manage that before kick-off tonight, Celtic will have a puncher’s chance.