Nothing Celtic can do to bridge football's class gap

As Dermot Desmond watched Celtic being skewered by Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday night, the Irish billionaire '¨may have been moved to reflect that even in the world of high finance which he inhabits, there are still haves and have-nots.

Craig Gordon of Celtic looks on in despair as Mikael Lustig scores an own goal during the Champions League  match against PSG.
Craig Gordon of Celtic looks on in despair as Mikael Lustig scores an own goal during the Champions League match against PSG.

Everything is relative, of course, and Celtic’s current dominance of Scottish football is rooted in the backing provided by major shareholder Desmond and whose continuing investment allowed them to recruit as high profile a manager as Brendan Rodgers just over a year ago.

But the opening night of this season’s Champions League group stage simply underlined that there is little more Desmond, Rodgers – or anyone else – can do to bridge the gap which now exists between clubs which operate in Celtic’s domestic environment and those at the very elite of the European game.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Paris Saint-Germain’s elevation to that band of clubs has come as a consequence of the almost unlimited spending power of their chairman, Nasser Al-Khelaifi, head of the Qatar Sports Investments group, who have bankrolled the record-breaking and eyebrow-raising recruitment of Neymar, Kylian Mbappe et al.

Craig Gordon of Celtic looks on in despair as Mikael Lustig scores an own goal during the Champions League match against PSG.

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in the Celtic Park boardroom on Tuesday when Desmond and Al-Khelaifi had a blether. We can only guess if the words “Financial Fair Play” passed either of their lips.

The new reality of the Champions League, regardless of Uefa’s attempts to make it more inclusive, is that the group stage is now less competitive and more predictable than ever.

In the previous dozen seasons, the number of group-stage matches won by four goals or more has dramatically increased. In 2006-07, only four games saw victories by that margin. Since 2013-14, that statistic has been in double figures every season.

Celtic have now been on the wrong end of three such whippings – their 6-1 and 7-0 defeats to Barcelona in the Nou Camp in 2013 and 2016 preceding Tuesday’s record European 5-0 home loss.

Craig Gordon of Celtic looks on in despair as Mikael Lustig scores an own goal during the Champions League match against PSG.

But Rodgers’ men are not alone. Qarabag, of Azerbaijan, who also emerged from the “Champions Route” of qualification designed to see more of the smaller nations represented in the group stage, were thumped 6-0 at Chelsea on Tuesday night.

Along with Celtic, APOEL of Cyprus and Maribor of Slovenia, their Champions League group stage campaign is likely to boil down to collecting several million pounds of appearance money and hoping to snatch third place in the group which would extend their European campaign into the knockout phase of the secondary Europa League beyond Christmas.

Rodgers has previously expressed his desire to establish Celtic as last-16 regulars in the Champions League but it may be that the realistic limit of his club’s ambitions now lie with that pathway into the Europa League.

While the morals of PSG’s spending power can be debated and will be indeed be formally investigated by Uefa, there was no doubting the beauty of the football they brought to the east end of Glasgow this week.

If the power, pace and precision of their £420 million front three of Neymar, Mbappe and Edinson Cavani was the headline act, the supporting act of midfield trio Marco Verratti, Thiago Motta and the exceptional Adrien Rabiot were every bit as impressive. Technically, PSG were outstanding in every department.

The manner in which they played the ball out from the back drew applause even from the home fans. It was a quality underlined by Brazilian central defender Marquinhos, whose imposing physical attributes were matched by a pass completion rate of 100 per cent from the 66 he attempted.

“They are probably up there with the very best teams I have faced in my career,” said Celtic’s experienced 
Swedish international defender Mikael Lustig.

“It was really hard. We knew we were up against a very good side. They have world-class players in every position. They are probably better than Barcelona last year. They have no weak links. Every single player is unbelievable on the ball. We probably created a few more chances against them than we did against Barcelona – but they are an amazing team. If you spend a lot of money, it is no shock that you will have a team like that.

“But we were poor in the first half. We didn’t look like ourselves. In the second half we were a bit better, but they are on a different level.

“Is it impossible to bridge that gap? You need to have a bit of luck with the chances you 
get.

“You need to keep a clean sheet for as long as possible, too, but I don’t know. It’s happened before when we have played in Europe against top teams and lost big. Against PSG, if we turn up and have a bad day, and they 
have a good day, then that result 
happens.

“That’s the way it is but we feel like we could have created a few more chances against PSG if we’d played well. But if they turn up and play to that level, then it’s hard to stop.”

Celtic now face a key fixture on matchday two in Group B when they travel to Brussels to face Anderlecht, who lost 3-0 at Bayern Munich on Tuesday, on 27 September.

“We have to be prepared for that game,” admitted Celtic defender 
Jozo Simunovic.

“It is the game where we can look for points. We will do everything to make sure we will do that.

“We can learn a lot of things from Tuesday. We will analysis things with the coach and make sure we are at our best for the next game. We have to look forward and learn from this type of game.

“We have to be better.”