A film of the calamities that have befallen Celtic during a series of expeditions whose latest renewal was staged three nights ago would be no “short“, but a full-length feature, complete with appropriate title: Misadventures In Milan.
The northern Italian city seems to have been taking revenge on the Scottish champions for the 46 years since Jock Stein’s team of heroes had the temerity to deny Internazionale the European Cup in Lisbon. How else to explain a record that shows no victories and only ultimate failure from the six visits they have made since?
These reversals even include their second European Cup final in 1970, against their then unknown opponents, Feyenoord of Holland, a match for which the Parkhead side were odds-on, but still managed to lose after taking the lead.
Even the goalless draws achieved against Milan (quarter-finals) in 1969 and Inter (semi-finals) three years later proved to be worthless, as the home legs of those ties were lost, the first to a goal gifted to Piero Prati and the second in a penalty shootout.
Celtic may have suffered from a severe dearth of goals and points on these trips, but there has rarely been a shortage of misfortune, a trend that showed no sign of going out of fashion on Wednesday. But, while sympathy for Neil Lennon’s players on this occasion could certainly not be said to be misplaced, it should be tempered by recognition of the deficiencies that led to an undeserved 2-0 defeat.
Only the bone-headed would take issue with Lennon’s claim that he was in charge of the more fluent and forceful team, giving them lengthy periods of ascendancy that were unprecedented in this stadium. But it would be an exaggeration to argue that Celtic made numerous scoring chances and simply failed to take them.
What their cleverness, aggressiveness and slickness brought was advancement into very promising, even threatening, areas, only to result almost invariably in ugly profligacy. In this respect, Adam Matthews and Mikael Lustig, frequently marauding free down the right, were criminally culpable of the misdirected cross.
The most convertible opportunity came to Scott Brown, whose dilatoriness over Kris Commons’s perfectly-weighted through ball raised the thought that Celtic would surely have profited had Commons found a way of making the pass to himself.
Celtic fans, however, should be gratified by further evidence from the occasion of Lennon’s growing astuteness and deepening intelligence. It was clear from Celtic’s overall performance that the manager had scrutinised Milan and concluded that he had the equipment to fix them.
Only someone who recognised a rival’s flaws and his own team’s strengths would have adopted such an aggressive attitude to what has always been perceived as a battle in which to circle the wagons.
It should not be assumed that they have cut a template for the rest of the group campaign, but the club’s followers should draw encouragement from the obvious development of Lennon as coach, tactician and analyst. There is little doubt, either, that his players, generally speaking (Shakhter Karagandy in Astana remain an exception) are highly stimulated by the Champions League experience.
Celtic’s unarguable misfortune at San Siro came with the home team’s goals, while lost opportunities were their own work. Their play certainly did not merit defeat, but, like Milan, they did not deserve to win.
Chiles does Sir Alex a massive disservice
Adrian Chiles, who is to football presenting what the late actor, Richard Harris, was to singing (being hopeless did not prevent his doing it in public), must have left viewers baffled in midweek by what could possibly constitute his idea of under-achievement in the game.
In his introduction to the Manchester United-Bayer Leverkusen match, Chiles thought the most intriguing aspect of the event was “how David Moyes will cope with the Champions League, a tournament his illustrious predecessor could only win twice”. Here is an observation, with its allusion to the accomplishments of Sir Alex Ferguson in Europe, that begs to be ridiculed from any number of angles.
There is, in the first instance, its basic crassness, the kind of perverse notion that could only flow from one whose experience and appreciation of the relentless demands of the world’s premier club competition are about as deep as the average veneer; for example, a West Bromwich Albion fan.
In addition, there is the implicit belittling of Ferguson’s work, the powerful hint that to triumph twice in the Champions League hardly deserves a line of heralds trumpeting from the ramparts. And, above all, it hints that, if Ferguson could lift 13 Premier League championships – by common consent in England, the toughest league on the planet – he ought surely to have bettered a mere brace of European titles.
In fact, Ferguson, along with six others, is joint holder of the record number of successes in the European club championship in the format that was adopted in 1992. Bob Paisley’s three European Cup wins with Liverpool distinguish him as the only triple scorer in the history of the tournament. Winning more than one Champions League is a distinction that has eluded such luminaries as Marcello Lippi, Fabio Capello and Louis van Gaal.
From an admittedly parochial perspective, the discovery that Scotland lies sixth in the all-time list of managers who have been acclaimed champions of Europe surely warrants a little preening. The endeavours of Ferguson, Jock Stein and Sir Matt Busby brought four triumphs, leaving them, predictably, behind Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and England.
In the interests of deep satisfaction, however, it should be stressed that, although English managers have achieved seven titles, they, like the Scots, number four: Paisley, Brian Clough, Joe Fagan and Tony Barton. Perhaps David Moyes will handle the Champions League well enough actually to give the Glasgow and Lanarkshire boys the edge.