Celtic have announced that they will take on a series of glamour friendlies at the start of the new season, as part of the International Champions Cup.
The tournament is run by Relevent Sports, whose chairman Charlie Stillitano recently caused ripples within the Parkhead club and throughout Scottish football after revealing he had been in talks with English giants about a revamped Champions League which would favour the traditional big hitters and big spenders from the continent’s more lucrative leagues.
But, announcing the 2016 line-up for the summer tournament, which will be played in stadia throughout North America and Europe, the current EPL leaders, Leicester City, and Celtic were listed as two of the ten teams, alongside Barcelona, Inter Milan, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Liverpool, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea.
Celtic, who would have to fit the glamour games around their Champions League qualifiers if they hold off the challenge of Aberdeen and win their fifth consecutive Scottish Premiership title, would take on Barcelona, Inter Milan and Claudio Ranieri’s surprise frontrunners.
The defending Scottish champions will play host to Leicester on Saturday, 23 July. Seven days later Celtic will head to Dublin to take on Barcelona at the Aviva Stadium. And, marking the start of the season of the 50th anniversary of Celtic’s 1967 European Cup triumph, the club will tplay against the club the Lisbon Lions defeated, Inter Milan. The game will take place on Saturday, 13 August, with the venue still to be confirmed.
It was only last month that Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell was reported to have warned fellow Scottish clubs of the dire consequences facing the game in this country if they were to find themselves shunned in any restructuring of the prestigious Champions League, which would separate out what they consider the wheat from the chaff by revoking places for the league champions of certain nations and making it an invitation only affair.
Reminding fellow Scottish top-flight teams that there would be a financial and footballing impact, he and SPFL’s Neil Doncaster had travelled to Geneva earlier this month to stress their opposition to any breakaway led by main clubs in Spain, Germany, England, Italy and France. They have also been working behind the scenes to rally support from the other second-tier countries such as Portugal, Holland and Belgium as they seek to safeguard their place at the top table.
The Parkhead club’s recent European struggles have cost the other Scottish clubs around £250,000 in bonuses, while there is also the recognition that the Premiership champions would commandeer one of the limited Europa League spots from other SPL teams if they were excluded from the Champions League .
Stillitano had stoked many of Lawwell’s concerns when he spoke out on the issue after meeting with the likes of Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City, claiming that the bigger clubs from the more noteable leagues deserved a larger share of the cash from the world’s most prestigious club competition. He also spoke of the gulf in spectator appeal between some of the sides from the five main leagues, compared to those from Holland and Belgium.
But, after Celtic were given a place in this summer’s International Champions Cup, Lawwell released a statement which said: “Celtic is proud to enjoy its own global profile and we are sure our involvement with the biggest names in the game will only increase interest in the Club on a global stage.
“It is magnificent news that our supporters in Scotland and Ireland will be able to enjoy such exciting matches and we are sure our participation will be warmly welcomed by our fans who will look forward to Celtic meeting such a high calibre of opposition in Barcelona, Inter Milan and Leicester City.”
While, ultimately a meaningless series of friendlies, the pre-season event is a lucrative and high-profile venture, with the ten participating teams amassing a total of 190 domestic league titles, 246 domestic cup titles and 36 European Cup/Champions League triumphs between them.
Even as he announced this summer’s ICC, Stillitano was still focusing primarily on the teams from the top five nations. “This is the best roster of teams in ICC history and having them start their 2016-2017 campaign playing against each other will be a treat for both fans and the players,” said the Relevent Sports chairman.
“Matches like Bayern Munich and Real Madrid at MetLife Stadium [in New Jersey] and Chelsea v Liverpool demonstrates the elite competition.”
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