The breathless rush to acclaim Ajax’s extraordinary elimination of three-in-a-row Champions League holders Real Madrid as evidence that Brendan Rodgers was wrong to suggest Celtic had reached the limit of their current European potential is not entirely without merit. But it’s also more than a little simplistic.
While it’s fair comment to suggest that Ajax’s progress to the last eight of the Champions League provides encouragement to other ‘big clubs from small nations’ who have been left trailing in the financial wake of European football’s superpowers in the modern era, dig a little deeper behind the storied Dutch club’s achievement and you’ll find it was hardly done on a shoestring budget.
Ajax shelled out around £45 million on new players this season, more than half of that sum on Daley Blind and Dusan Tadic from Manchester United and Southampton, respectively. They have outspent Celtic consistently in recent years, yet in the previous two seasons they failed to reach the group stage of the Champions League where they were actually outperformed by the Scottish champions.
With £39 million in the bank, Celtic supporters have a decent case to make when they call on their club’s board to invest more in the transfer market. But Ajax’s recent experiences also prove that it’s not simply about how much you spend, it’s about how you spend it.