Paris Saint-Germain’s all-black change strip helped lend an impression of sleek, almost sinister, invincibility. Celtic were mugged in their own backyard on a sobering, potentially costly, night for the Scottish champions.
As for Neymar, a goal 19 minutes into his return to Parkhead, his fifth in total against Celtic, meant it was another profitable outing against the Scots. Such fiscal terms are of course very appropriate when used in connection with Neymar, the world’s most expensive player. Celtic are sorely aware of the Brazilian’s value now, that’s for sure. He might be Public Enemy No 1 in this corner of the world but he seems to feast on being the pantomime villain.
He’s now had a hand in 12 goals – seven assists, on top of his five strikes – in five Champions League games against Celtic. He should have had another, firing high over the bar midway through the second-half. But there was still time left for Celtic fans to obtain some satisfaction, a cheer such as normally greets a goal welcoming Neymar’s booking for dissent after claiming to have been fouled by Anthony Ralston, his 18-year marker. The Bellshill defender posted a brave performance on a bruising night for more experienced members of the Celtic team. Even the 56 on the young defender’s back doesn’t get close in millions to the worth of his opposite man.
While acknowledging the recent regeneration work carried out around Parkhead in recent years, it still felt slightly obscene to welcome a player worth £200 million – and probably rising – to streets where real poverty still exists.
A “them and us” theme developed on the pitch just to stress this point. But then how could it be otherwise? Celtic’s most costly players were Scott Brown and Olivier Ntcham, willing, often exceptional workers but who suffered a reality check along with their team-mates last night.
But there was no shame in this. Ten years earlier to the very night Brown was starring in a famous Scottish victory over French aristos in Paris. His victory is still being picked to play on this stage – his image was used in an impressive mock up of “Liberty Leading the People”, a famous painting by Eugene Delacroix commemorating the July Revolution of 1830, unveiled by the Green Brigade before kick-off.
Where ignominy existed was in the fan running on to the pitch to try to aim a kick at Kylian Mbappe just before half-time, with Celtic reeling at 0-3. Like his team, he fell far short, but the invader’s incompetence was welcomed. Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, will already be calculating the cost of an intruder seeking to maim the world’s most expensive teenager. It won’t be light.
But there were better, more hopeful aspects to emerge last night. Ralston looks like he’s stepped out of a 1950s comic strip. Big boned, committed and handed the biggest challenge of his young life by Brendan Rodgers, who’s nothing if not bold, he sought to get to grips with Neymar. Ralston left the Brazilian on his expensive behind on a couple of occasions early on, clearly unfazed by the task.
Like the first acorns, the Champions League theme tune and fluttering of centre-circle flag has become a reliable signal for autumn in these parts again under Rodgers. But this felt like Champions League in excelsis. Even after recent visits here from Barcelona, Manchester City and the rest, this was a bit special. Paris Saint-Germain might not have the history – not yet at least. Last night’s match programme tried to supply them with some, erroneously giving their year of formation as 1870 rather than 1970. The confusion is understandable. Clubs formed in 1970 don’t tend to have amassed enough appeal to submit a teamsheet like PSG did last night, which was worth around £550m. Their front three of Neymar, Cavani and Mbappe alone are worth over £400m. We love to reassure ourselves that money doesn’t always talk, or guarantee glory, but it did last night. Opulence oozed from their pores. They weaved their way out of defence with the nonchalance of seamstresses producing an expensive shawl.
PSG’s strikers had bagged a goal each by half-time. Leigh Griffiths stumbled with the ball deep in the PSG half of the pitch, Ralston got the wrong side of Neymar after Adrien Rabiot’s long ball. 0-1. Mbappe slashed in No 2 a dozen minutes later and then Cavani shot high past Craig Gordon from the penalty spot with five minutes left of the half. But Celtic were not let down on the park, they were let down off it – well actually on it, in a way – because one person in an otherwise superbly behaved crowd could not control his emotions.
Two more goals at the end, an own goal from Mikael Lustig and another for Cavani, sealed Celtic’s worst-ever European home defeat. Eyeing their first European Cup win, it might not be the only piece of history PSG will be creating this season.