Petty Charlie Nicholas writes off Celtic's Europa League campaign; it's not as simple as that

By Euan Davidson

November 24, 2020

Charlie Nicholas claims Celtic’s Thursday trip to Sparta Prague is “insignificant”.

In his Scottish Daily Express column (24/11 print edition, page 55) the ex-Celtic striker claimed: “Celtic travel to face Sparta Prague this week in a game which already looks insignificant.”

It’s a damning verdict of Celtic’s progress in Europe so far, with the Bhoys only picking up 1 point from a possible 9 in the tournament so far, but even in a tough group featuring Lille and A.C. Milan, there is time to turn it around.

Celtic’s best result, a 2-2 away draw with Lille, showed the best and worse of Celtic this season; enterprising up front, creating chances and seeing plenty of the ball in spells, but equally sloppy and lacking in concentration at the back, surrendering a comfortable lead after half-time.

However, with three games still to play, and Group H still open, there’s nothing insignificant about Thursday’s tie.

Odsonne Edouard in action for Celtic / (Photo by RUSSELL CHEYNE/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

Still an open group

A win would vault us into third place, with an unpredictable fixture between A.C. Milan and Lille the same night. If the group’s French and Italian representatives were to draw, or Lille opened up a lead at the top of the group, there’s a real opportunity for Celtic to progress.

It’s hypothetical, of course, but to say the game has no significance is petty. We’ve certainly come back from worse.

Hoping that the 4-1 humbling was an aberration as opposed to a realistic sign of where we are now, we’re still in with a shout. A win on Thursday changes everything.

More factors to consider

Every positive result in European competition is a good thing. With the club currently ranked 42nd in the UEFA Coefficient Club Ranking, just below the likes of Lazio and Monaco, we have a real opportunity to take advantage of the declining fortunes of clubs such as Schalke 04 and Valencia over the next couple of years.

Boosting our coefficient means an easier route to the riches of the Champions’ League, as well as improving our chances of progressing from the group stages in either the CL or the Europa League. It also, for better or worse, helps out our domestic competitors, which has a knock-on effect when considering TV deals.

This is also a very young team, and top-level experience will help our younger players enormously. European competition’s effect on Odsonne Edouard, for example, has been obvious. Ditto Kieran Tierney, now at Arsenal, who flourished on the big stage, most memorably in our 3-3 draw with Manchester City. It’s this kind of experience that’s the making of top players.

Kieran Tierney battling Raheem Sterling / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

Charlie Nicholas, to be fair to him, does make some decent points in his article, talking about the misuse of our summer signings, the tactical problems under Neil Lennon and, regrettably, Rangers’ good form.

But a European game for Celtic being “insignificant”? I’m sitting there and I’m thinking “no”.