As Celtic took their first steps back into the Champions League on Tuesday night, there was an optimism around the club.
The Hoops were back in the big time, where they feel they deserve to be. The fans were up for it, and confidence was buzzing.
Their visit to Barcelona ended in an abrupt manner. A 7-0 mauling by the Catalans sent the Celts back to Glasgow embarrassed and exploited. The likes of Neymar, Lionel Messi, and Luis Suarez tore Brendan Rodgers’ side apart from the beginning.
There’s no shame in losing to Barca, especially in their own backyard. However, the overwhelming scoreline has brought up a fundamental question, and not for the first time.
Is the Scottish Premiership holding back the potential of Celtic Football Club?
Many aspects affect what Celtic can do about this, but the short answer is yes.
It’s telling how low the quality in Scotland is that Celtic can go from the high of their 5-1 hammering of Rangers to their self-implosion in the Camp Nou.
In Scotland, Celtic just don’t have to get out of second gear. They’ve already beaten their supposed three title challengers since the season began. Two of those results ended 4-1 and 5-1.
It’s clear the Hoops rule the roost in Scotland, but when they go into the Champions League, they have to play at a level they’re not used to.
The same can be said for the likes of Legia Warsaw and PSV. However, Celtic have this problem to a greater extent. They aren’t getting a competitive enough edge domestically for them to jump up in quality and even test the likes of Barcelona.
This isn’t particularly Scottish football’s fault. Indeed, the introduction of Sky TV money and other big companies into the major leagues has left countries like Scotland well behind.
The lack of money in Scottish football also means Celtic can’t buy top quality. Their wage structure has to be measured, and more focus has to go into youth development. The fact they consider a £4m as a huge outlay tells you all you need to know.
But what can Celtic do about it?
Talks have resurfaced in recent months about both Celtic and Rangers starting in a new English league format. However, it’s been well known that many clubs don’t want them in England.
In the past, there has been a discussion of a new Atlantic League, but nothing has ever come from preliminary talks of a new structure to accommodate this.
It’s not as though Celtic haven’t tried either. Chief Executive Peter Lawwell has always stated that the club will always look for opportunities to benefit them.
There’s always the fact that Celtic have a responsibility as Scottish champions to look after their own.
The Hoops are a representative of Scotland and should focus more on improving the Scottish Premiership structure than anything else, according to some.
But what has to be realised is that Celtic can’t do anything alone. TV companies aren’t going to come in and invest because Celtic say so.
As it stands, there is no reason for TV companies to put money into Scotland. They earn enough money off other leagues as it is.
The only way forward for Celtic is continuous Champions League qualification which is getting more and more difficult every year.
However, constant qualification means an increase in annual revenues by £20m excluding the match-day income and competition performance. Money like that is massive for Celtic.
There doesn’t seem to be anything in the pipeline regarding moving nations. So it seems like, for now, Celtic are stuck with the status quo but shouldn’t need to mean consistent hammerings in the Champions League.
They need to focus on building a squad in the coming years. Qualifying for the Champions League will mean better talent will want to come to the club.
But it’s a shame at how far Scotland has fallen as a nation.
Back in the 60s, Celtic won the European Cup, Sky had yet to make English football and other big nations superpowers, and Scotland was producing top players.
The next few decades saw the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, and Alex Ferguson come out of Scotland. The league was in its prime, and there was a competitiveness about the competition
Celtic vs. Rangers was the most competitive fixture in world football. It allowed for Scottish teams in Europe to make that step into the European Cup having played in top gear in their previous games.
Celtic now can’t get into that top gear. Their players don’t get tested enough in Scotland. Even with Rangers back, they’re a shadow of their former selves. Last weekend’s 5-1 success over the Ibrox men showed how easily Celtic are dismantling their main competition.
It also doesn’t help that Celtic are a selling club. Such is the nature of Scottish football; Celtic have to sell a player when a big money offer comes in.
Victor Wanyama, Fraser Forster, and Virgil Van Dijk have all left for Southampton in recent years. Gary Hooper, Adam Matthews, and Joe Ledley also moved down south for paltry sums.
Most of these players were part of the team that secured that memorable 2-1 win over Barcelona four years ago. But at first glance of big money, they were off. Celtic just can’t negotiate the way they would like to due to the league they’re in.
All Celtic can hope to do now is to keep qualifying. By doing that, they’ll be making a fortune in European money and can afford to hold on to their best players more often.
It won’t make them immune to sales. It won’t make them world beaters. But it will minimise the detrimental effect their poor league has on them.