Celtic’s Champions League qualifying route always comes into the spotlight at this time of the year.
Question marks over why we play so many ties and whether it’s right are always asked. Everyone with a sane mind will come to the same conclusion and agree that it’s ridiculous. Money continues to dictate the direction European football goes in, however, and Celtic are one of the great clubs in the game who are desperately trying to cling onto it.
It’s a view that’s shared over Europe too. Ajax legend Edwin Van Der Sar, for example, was out just yesterday claiming that Celtic shouldn’t be anywhere near this stage (Football Scotland). And it would take a brave man to tell someone like him that he’s wrong.
Celtic defender Jozo Simunovic, however, isn’t keen on getting into the debate. For him and the rest of the players, it’s a case of just getting on with it. Speaking to Celtic’s official website, Jozo said the following:
“The Champions League is the best competition in club football. That’s what we’re always chasing, it’s what we’re always looking for and where we always want to be. In the same way we gave everything in the first game, we’ll do the same in the second, third, fourth, hopefully all the way to qualification.
“It would be better to go straight in, don’t get me wrong. But what can we do? It is what it is, and now we need to prove that we can be there, and that we deserve to be there.
“We prove that by winning games, winning qualifiers, progressing through the rounds, and our reward is being part of it. We’d love to go straight in, but this is where we are. And it’s good for us because we can test ourselves.”
Champions League qualifying route does have its pros
It does get plenty of scrutiny and no wonder. Celtic playing the likes of Lincoln Red Imps and Linfield is a bit of a mismatch over a two-legged tie. But to say it doesn’t have any pros is a bit of a lie.
For supporters, it gets the competitive action underway nice and early. Seeing Celtic play pre-season friendlies is one thing, but it’s a much more enjoyable experience seeing them in competitive football. The qualifiers gives supporters a chance to get back into the swing of things without a longer wait.
For the players, it also helps in their preparations for the campaign. Celtic can effectively use the early rounds as a bit of a fitness builder too. The Hoops have too much quality for the opposition they generally face in these early ties. Playing competitive football early on does help get the intensity levels up quicker.
And, of course, the reward of qualifying for the group stages feels absolutely immense when we do make it. These days, it’s a slap in the face to UEFA. You can see why Simunovic doesn’t have many issues with it as it stands.
Hopefully, in the future, it does change for the better and we don’t have eight games to qualify from. But at the end of the day, it still does have its plus points too.