Devil’s Advocate – League Cup | Strategy | Europa League | Scottish Football

In this Cynic feature, instead of asking our panel of writers their own opinions, we take some questionable opinions and ask the panel to defend them in a short paragraph or less. I’m Stephen Russell (@SJRussell23) and joining me is Eoin Coyne (@toomanybigwords), Matt Evans (@SkylandsCSC), Ronan Kearney (@Kearney1085) and Sean McGinlay (@seanjmcginlay).

Celtic should exclusively play fringe/reserve players in the league cup

Coyne: There really is little point in attracting good youth prospects from EPL clubs only to then just ape them by never giving the kids a chance. The league cup is the perfect platform to introduce them into the first team framework whilst keeping the squad players involved as well. There has to be balance, the team has to be able to be competitive or the experience will only last one round but it has the potential to be very beneficial.

Evans: I thought it was a clever move by Brendan Rodgers to give Scott Bain the Scottish Cup matches a couple of seasons ago, while Craig Gordon played the other matches. Not only did it give a player some very rare minutes, it gave Bain the confidence he needed to excel when he was called upon to take the number one spot on a more permanent basis. Without being able to evaluate a player on a consistent basis, how do you know whether they’re any good? How can you get the best out of them, or from a different perspective, how can you show their ability to other teams who might want to buy them? Here’s my League Cup squad: Hazard; Frimpong, Elhamed, Simunovic, Taylor; Bitton, Connell; Shved, Ntcham, Morgan; Bayo.

Kearney: Celtic have won the last three league cups. What was the biggest story of last year’s victory for us? The emergence of Ryan Christie in the Semi Final against Hearts. He can be defined as a fringe player at that moment in time. His emergence from that game into the player we know him as now was undoubtedly helped by his appearance that day. Frimpong, Bayo, Afolabi, Oko-Flex and Dembele should all get a run at some stage – let them sink or swim.

McGinlay: It is quite simple really. Yes we should. We have developed a squad that can thrive at all domestic levels even with a full team rotation, we are stacked in every area of the pitch whether that be with youth prospects or with players fighting to break down the door to the first team. The league cup is the perfect breeding ground for experience against compact defences and the physical challenges domestic football with offer. And we’ll still go on to win the trophy anyway.

A fairly easy one to defend first, given the successes we’ve seen against Partick Thistle this week. Frimpong had a strong debut while players like Bayo, Rogic and Sinclair began to show Lennon why they should be included more regularly in the match day squad. For the early rounds, these players should always be enough to see us through the round but the question is more relevant around the latter stages of the tournament.

The notion of 10 in a row has little to no bearing on Celtic’s long term strategy

Coyne: Celtic have to look beyond 10IAR, that is an isolated, one-season deal but the saga of football rages on so, as ever, we’ll have to be planning for the future. The Champions League restructuring is coming and Scott Brown will need replacing which will be a mammoth task, as will be replacing Christie, Ajer and Eddy when they’re all poached away. All of these things will need to be addressed whether Celtic end up winning 9, 10 or 25 in a row. 

Evans: To the complete contrary – 10 in a row is a short-term goal that actually hinders long-term planning. Although on paper the ten is mostly artifice – no award from FIFA will be forthcoming, and it won’t make any headlines outwith the UK – it’s a major deal where the long history of Scottish football is concerned. And being this close, Celtic need to make the league trophies this season and next season their top priority, even putting Europe on the back burner for a couple of years. Said differently, if the ten doesn’t happen this time round, it very likely never will in any of our lifetimes. Whether or not Celtic win ten in a row or lose the flag this season or next, then, not now, will be the point to discuss long-term strategy. 

Kearney: What happens after 10? 11? 12? 55? The long term strategy of the club is being successful at home and trying to make an impact in Europe whilst developing younger players and selling them on at a higher price. We cannot become so obsessed with the idea of 10 in a row that we move away from this ideal. If Rangers managed to win the league this season or next, our plan still remains the same. We cannot allow our future to be dictated by the past.

McGinlay: It is clear that the club reached a crossroads during the recent summer window. They realised that the club liked guidance, structure and an overall vision that would lead Celtic above and beyond a potential 10 titles in a row. It is clear from the business done to improve the development side and with the positions filled that Celtic see a long term vision ahead. A vision that looks at having experienced players in starting births and a youth prospect behind them who can gradually, with a scheduled programme, overtake the experienced player within 2/3 seasons. This is exactly what was required and it is exactly what has happened.

In all fairness to the Celtic board, it must be difficult to find a balance between the short term needs of 10 in a row and the long term strategy required for a successful football club. The passing of 10 in a row may be more beneficial to the club in that certain decisions with the future in mind may become easier but also I highly doubt that we’ll see anything even close to as significant as reaching 10 in a row would be in our lifetimes. Here we fucking go.

The Europa League is a more beneficial tournament to Celtic than the Champions League

Coyne: Ship enough hammerings and you do begin to ask yourself just how this chasm is ever realistically meant to be closed. At least in the Europa League the games have been competitive but to go from Champions League group stage regulars to ‘decent Europa League side’ does sound like something of a fall. I believe the players will get more from a tight, well earned 1-1 away at a very good side like Rennes than from a demoralising 7-1 or 5-0 humping at the hands of a financially doped PSG. No shame in being a decent Europa League side.

Evans: Although the money’s nice, Celtic have now been able to open a parallel revenue stream through player sales. This serves as insurance for missing out on the £25 million or so earned from the Champions League. In 2012/13 Celtic were not selling players for that kind of money, so CL qualification was much more important. But recent Champions League appearances were poor, with the rare victory not making up for crooked losses. So the Europa League is clearly more at Celtic’s talent level – Rennes is right at or barely below our level and Lazio is slightly above it. Although they are glamorous places to lose, you don’t learn anything from losing 7-1 in Paris or 6-1 at the Nou Camp – you learn from tough draws away in Rennes.

Kearney: We are a Champions League club. But we are miles away from being a Champions League team. A couple of seasons in the Europa League will do the likes of Christie, Eddy and Ajer the world of good. There is no way that a 7-1 pumping in Paris benefits anyone. We came out of a tough group last season and I fancy us to do so again this season. The confidence that will give these players will embolden them for the future.

McGinlay: Unfortunately this is our level now. And it has as much to do with the elite becoming awash with cash as it is Celtic’s reluctance to take the next step when the likes of Ajax were doing so. Either way, the Europa League allows for a more level playing field which in turn allows Celtic to breed domestic talent and younger prospects into European football without being completely whitewashed by a PSG for example. The competition offers more unique ties that will continually test the club to prepare for the unknown, it gives us a better chance of actual success in making a real dent into the competition and most importantly it is more enjoyable.

Judging by our panel’s answers, the main draw of the Europa League is not getting rattled 7-0. A big plus in my opinion. I think it’s unfair to compare our current position in Europe to where we’ve been in the past given the hyper-inflation of world football at the highest levels but it is a sickener to not be included in Europe’s elite competition. The Champions League will always have more allure and the Europa Conference League set to start in 2021 will maybe leave us more chance of a trophy but the Europa League is a good level for us at the moment to test ourselves and compete.

Celtic’s domestic dominance weakens the image of Scottish football

Coyne: Image is everything in shallow times and the SPFL does not seem to have been competitive in quite some time. Of course, it is common now to see one club streak out ahead of domestic rivals and amass numerous titles – mostly due to European money but specifically that fat CL cash – but because Scottish football is close to England it suffers from an extremely unfair comparison. That said, if even a handful of the other SPFL clubs could get their shit together and be competitive for more than a month at a time that would also help the situation somewhat. 

Evans: Anytime an entire footballing league fails over ten years to mount a truly serious challenge to their champion club, it’s not a great look. Although Aberdeen and lately Rangers have been credible second-place squads, they have ultimately been comfortably seen off eight years running. Even given a few bites at the apple, Aberdeen were unable to improve themselves and do what was needed when the chips were down against Celtic, and Rangers the same. In addition to league dominance, Celtic haven’t lost a cup match in three years, and that’s in two different domestic cups! So yeah, a lot of it is both Celtic’s financial dominance and their ability to translate that into a formidable squad – but some of it is also the ineptitude of the rest of the league.

Kearney: The Scottish top flight has been a two horse race in the eyes of so many for so long. in the 2000s we had to compete with Premier League clubs for players. Now, we are losing out on players to teams from the Championship who can pay more than we can. The perception is that you come to Celtic for 4 league games a season and hopefully a run in Europe past Christmas. This is totally unhealthy for the future of the club and could do with changing. As long as they don’t win the league though!

McGinlay: Being an Englishman I see first hand how Scottish football is viewed outside of the bubble. It is laughed at and mocked on a daily basis. And yes Celtic’s domestic dominance does weaken the image but I have two points for that. Ha ha ha ha and I don’t give a rat’s arse. 

It’s definitely a good point that the rest of the league continuously let down the country in European competition. We haven’t been without our embarrassing moments but we have singlehandedly been carrying the coefficient for a while and only recently with positive results from Rangers also does it show any sign of increasing. Maybe a better image in the league will help improve the mid table clubs in Scotland and maybe our dominance does impact upon that but, to be completely honest, that isn’t our fault. We’re class and we can’t help it, insert shrug emoji.

If you have any points you’d like to challenge our panel with, don’t hesitate to let us know in the comments below, on the Patreon app or on Twitter @90MinuteCynic or @SJRussell23. Thank you for reading.

Despite growing up, and now studying, in England, Celtic have always been a huge part of my life. I first watched the team with my dad; I fell in love and then there was no turning back. Torn between a statistically enhanced footballing style and a good, old-fashioned get-it-in-the-mixer-and-score style.

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