Ajax head coach Frank de Boer believes Celtic have joined his club in struggling to live up to former European glories because of a decline in domestic standards, writes Stephen Halliday.
De Boer, who spent six months in Scottish football with Rangers in 2004, feels the absence of the traditional rivalry provided by the Ibrox side has been the most significant factor in Celtic’s diminished continental status in recent years.
Despite dominating Dutch football during his five-year tenure, Ajax have joined Celtic in becoming more accustomed to the Europa League than the Champions League.
The two former European champions meet in Glasgow tonight both seeking their first win in a Europa League group surprisingly dominated by Norwegian side Molde. “It’s a little bit the same in Scotland as happens in Holland,” said de Boer. “Normally, Celtic dominate in their own league but it’s difficult to get good results in Europe.
“It’s a pity they haven’t been able to play against Rangers in the last four seasons because that brings something extra to the league. Otherwise it is 99 per cent that Celtic will win the league again. It will be good for the competition when Rangers are back and able to fight for the title again.”
De Boer has never failed to guide Ajax beyond the group stages in European football since taking charge in December 2010.
“It doesn’t feel good to have that possibility this time,” he admitted. “We really feel the pressure coming into the game because Ajax are expected to win every match and do well in Europe. I think my team have the quality to play in the Champions League in the future but they are very young right now and mentally don’t always make the right choices on the pitch. So it’s a bit early for them.”
Like his Celtic counterpart Ronny Deila, de Boer has problems in midfield with first-team regulars Riechedly Bazoer and Daley Sinkgraven both ruled out by injury.
“We are in the same situation as Celtic, although maybe they are a little worse,” said de Boer. “Their entire first choice midfield is missing and losing Scott Brown is a big blow for them.
“But they have a good squad and players I like. Leigh Griffiths is a good striker, his heart is in the right place and he always wants to score goals.”