How much worse can it get for Celtic? Is Wednesday's loss to Midtjylland even the nadir?

Imagine you are close friends with a Celtic fan and you wish to console them. Yes, this isn’t an easy scenario to envision. The nature of football fandom means that, even if we have a lot of love and respect for those close to us who support another team, the default setting is still to mock them mercilessly in times of hardship, hopefully to the point where if they lash out or slink off in a huff as either is viewed as an additional victory.

Ange Postecoglou watches on as Celtic are eliminated from Champions League qualification. Picture: Getty

So let’s pretend you aren’t infected by the sociopathic tendencies which naturally come with our shared obsession. You want to be there for your miserable friend. You want to make them feel better. But… what on earth can you tell them?

Wednesday’s defeat to Midtjylland was a horrendous result for the Parkhead side. In isolation, there are plenty of reasonable excuses to be made. Celtic were going into the game without two of their marquee signings. A lot of key players had truncated pre-seasons. They had to field a ridiculously young defence. And, let’s be fair, they could easily have won the match comfortably if James Forrest had tucked away his chance at 1-0, or if the team as a whole had made their domination count in the first leg. Throw in the fact the Danes are a decent side and Ange Postecoglou was coaching in just his second competitive game and, for any number of clubs in this situation, it could be easily explained away.

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But this result didn’t take place in a vacuum and it wasn’t a sucker-punch aberration. This was a culmination of years of mismanagement from those in charge at Celtic, which has seen them miss out on the £30 million-plus prize pot of making it to the Champions League group stage for four consecutive years and surrender the Scottish football crown to arch-rivals Rangers despite previously holding a seemingly insurmountable advantage. And the really scary thing for the club’s supporters? This might not even be the nadir.

Celtic were already at a disadvantage when it became apparent the long-term strategy of ‘let’s just win ten-in-a-row and think about it later’ disintegrated in the early months of last season. They needed to bring in a new manager and, with several stars wanting out of Parkhead, a whole raft of new players as well. Getting into such a mess from a position of unrelenting power was ridiculous enough, but what has happened since beggars belief.

The search for a new manager was put on hold for several months while the board stubbornly clung to the past incumbent for reasons only they could fathom. They then played the role of desperate suitor for several weeks, chasing after a man in Eddie Howe who, it turned out in the end, didn’t fancy them back. Finally they brought in Postecoglou on June 10. This was three-and-a-half months since Neil Lennon departed and about seven months since it became patently obvious the former head coach’s position was untenable.

They still had a month to properly strengthen the squad ahead of the Champions League openers, and they failed to do so. Sure, they’ve signed six players so far, but two of them, Kyogo Furuhashi and Carl Starfelt, weren’t purchased in time for them to be available for the two-legged tie, while another three (Liam Shaw, Osaze Urhoghide and Joey Dawson) are “projects” who won’t contribute much in the present.

As things stand, with the league season beginning on Saturday, Celtic still require... *clears throat*... a goalkeeper, at least one centre-back, two right-backs, a left-back, a defensive midfielder, another attack-minded central midfielder, a left midfielder and, assuming Odsonne Edouard is sold at some point this window, another striker.

It has been a particularly tough summer for transfers with the combination of the Euros and the ongoing pandemic. But, again, this isn’t an isolated case. Fans and managers have long grumbled about the inactivity from those in charge at Celtic Park when it comes to recruitment before the season gets under way. It’s continued mismanagement and, somehow, they don’t seem to learn from it.

That’s why it’s so difficult to make any Celtic supporter feel better about the current situation. Postecoglou is clearly a talented coach and with great experience, but he doesn’t have much of the latter when it comes to British football. To give him the best possible opportunity to succeed, he needed a solid structure behind him. He certainly doesn’t have that at the moment.

The club, despite apparently searching for months, still haven’t hired a director of football, which naturally leaves fans to believe those behind the scenes tasked with finding new players are the same who helped bring the likes of Vasilis Barkas, Jonjoe Kenny, Diego Laxalt, Shane Duffy, Vakoun Issouf Bayo (etc etc) to Glasgow. Even if large amounts are spent on signings, is there any trust they’ll be good?

Further up the pecking order, Postecoglou has a recently-hired chief executive in Dominic McKay, procured this year from the Scottish Rugby Union, and a boardroom full of characters the fans insist aren’t fit for purpose.

After the now-seemingly daunting task of going to Tynecastle for the league opener, Celtic face Czech side Jablonec as they look to at least minimise Wednesday’s embarrassment by reaching the Europa League group stages. There’s no guarantee that’s going to happen. After all, this is an opponent who finished just five points behind Sparta Prague last term – the side who thumped the Hoops 4-1 both home and away.

Postecoglou has to pick up the pieces and glue what little he has back together. A couple of other disastrous results in the next couple of weeks and this season could be a write-off before it’s even started. And then what next? In football, at times of great pressure, something has to change. The fans would like it to be the board, but more often than not it’s the manager – and this Celtic manager needs time and support to turn this ship around.

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