The proposed ‘big five’ carve up of the Champions League could leave the title winners of the, near, 50 nations distinct from Germany, England, Spain, Italy and France scrapping it out for 12 places in the group stages of club football’s most prestigious competition. And that could mean Celtic becoming even more pronounced paupers on the continental stage.
There are two utterances made by every overseas player that signs up for the Glasgow club: they want to play in front of 60,000, and they want to play in the Champions League. These days, there is precious little chance of playing in front of 40,000 punters outside of a European night. With the possibility of playing in the Champions League now under threat the fast diminishing attractions of coming to Scotland’s top team would be further reduced.
Dedryck Boyata, the Belgian international who left Manchester City to come to Celtic, doesn’t pretend otherwise. “For any player, the Champions League is always a plus. If it is taken away from us then it will not be a good thing,” he said. “Of course, we would have to qualify first. I have heard what might happen [about the restructuring of the competition] and I don’t think it would be a good thing for any one of us because the Champions League is what players look towards. Players always want to be able to play in European games. If the Champions League is taken away from Scotland it gives players more reasons to get away from Scotland. But Celtic is a big club, a great club. There are still big things to achieve here. But, of course, the Champions League is a big tournament.”
The reason that Bayern Munich are driving the reforms is to increase the number of prestigious games in the hope of ramping up earnings from television rights. German football fears being being dwarfed by the multi-billion pound deals struck in the English game. The issue is exercising minds in Boyata’s Belgium, one of the many second-tier nations where he accepts players’ dreams of competing at the very highest level would be dashed if the Champions League develops elements of a closed shop.
“A lot of players are looking for these kind of games because they are the most important games and you want to be able to play these kind of games,” he said. “If those games are taken away from you, if you only have certain countries who can play in the tournament, I think there would be a lot of unhappy players.”