Celtic have important lessons to learn from this week's Europa League action

By Euan Davidson

March 20, 2021

For Celtic supporters, watching the Europa League rattle on is always tinged with disappointment.

A sense of “why isn’t that us?”, if you like. Not qualifying for the Champions League is one thing. We don’t have the budgets of Manchester City, Juventus and the rest. The Europa League, though? Barring a few big names, the Bhoys wouldn’t look at all out of place in the latter stages.

So, there are lessons to be learnt across the board. Watching the likes of Slavia Prague (dreadful, dreadful football club), Dinamo Zagreb and Granada progress to the the Quarter Finals [UEFA] should inspire the Celtic board into some kind of action. Even Brendan Rodgers and a team of fantastic talents couldn’t get past the last-32.

That’s… well, not embarrassing, but certainly concerning. Given the knock-on effect of European progress, you’d have thought the board would be more fussed. Higher calibre games mean higher revenues, a better reputation and increased pulling power in the transfer market.

Let’s look at a couple of teams and see what lessons can be learned.

Roberto Soldado scoring for Granada CF in the Europa League / (Photo by Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images)

Celtic are much bigger than Granada CF, yet it’s the Spaniards in the Europa League Quarter-Finals

How much do you know about Granada CF? Would it shock you to know that they were recently in the second tier of Spanish football?

Under boss Diego Martinez, the Andalusian side have had an unlikely revival. Granted, they’re boosted by the resources of Chinese company Desport. Even then, their squad is worth only worth £15m more than ours, according to Transfermarkt. What’s going right for them?

They’ve recruited well. The likes of Jesus Vallejo, Maxime Gonalons and Domingos Quina have been brought in from Real Madrid, Roma and Watford respectively. On paper, the side looks like a mish-mash of loan signings and has-beens, but Diego Martinez is getting the best out of unheralded names. Roberto Soldado, for example, is thriving this season, with 10 goals in total at age 35.

Kenedy, a serial Chelsea loanee, has made strides in La Liga, while there’s a real Spanish core to the team. Their strategy is risky, overall, but by taking informed punts on players with damaged reputations, Granada have found some joy. Their stadium holds less than 20,000, but it’ll be them who face Manchester United in the Quarter Finals.

Scenes after beating Mourinho’s monied Tottenham Hotspur / (Photo by Goran Stanzl/Pixsell/MB Media/Getty Images)

Dinamo Zagreb: bizarre circumstances but incredible young talent

If you didn’t already know, Dinamo Zagreb beat Spurs convincingly on Thursday night [Sky Sports]. That was remarkable enough, but they did it without a manager. Zoran Mamic quit in the build-up to the match, having been handed a four-year prison sentence [TalkSport].

Yet, Dinamo were comfortably better than their monied opponents. Part of that is down to outstanding youth development; their squad is a who’s-who of future stars. Goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic will be at a top European side before too long. Ditto Luka Ivanusec, a former Celtic target. Bruno Petkovic, Lovro Majer captain Arijan Ademi; there are so many Dinamo players who spent time in the club’s development sides en route to first-team success.

Dinamo understand that their recruiting power isn’t particularly powerful. There won’t be huge stars coming to Zagreb, so the development of youngster is absolutely vital. Clubs like Ajax and Barcelona are always examples of clubs going about youth development “the right way”. But Dinamo deserve their props, too.

Mainly because it translates to success.

As Brexit looms, a focus on keeping our talented academy players must be prioritised.

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