Italy, Italy were the famous Glasgow Celtic and were off to Italy! I’m sure we will be hearing a lot more of that in the coming weeks and months as we look forward to our last 16 Champions League (CL) clash with Juventus. Now before the draw was made everyone was saying ‘just glad to be there’ and ‘take anyone as this is further than we could have hoped for’ etc, which is true but when the draw becomes a reality you start to be braver and dare to dream, to let the mind lead you on a merry dance, let it take you to wonderful places and before you know it your asking yourself ‘why can’t we qualify here?’
I myself often suffer from bouts of sleeplessness, just can’t doze off, no matter how hard I try I just can’t get those forty winks I desperately crave. In fact the harder I try to go to sleep the more my brain wants to talk to me and tell me loads of pointless story’s and get me thinking all sorts of crazy things. During one of my more recent all nighters as I tossed and turned getting tangled up in the duvet my mind drifted to Celtic as it often does, this was before the draw had been made but as it was looming large on the horizon my brain decided to take me on a nocturnal trip trough Europe thinking of the sides we could face and how each tie might play out and before I knew there we were at WEMBLEY we had made it to the final! Then just as it thought ‘yes I’ve made it to sleep, I’m dreaming’ that wee brain of mine in my voice woke me up and said ‘waked wakey, your no getting to sleep tonight’ so there I was wide awake and a head full of Celtic.
While the rest of this side of the world was in the land of nod getting those beautiful 8 hours I lay there no closer to discovering who we would be paired with I started to think about OUR team and its merits. I started to think about how far they have come since that first CL night against Benfica when TEN of our young lads were making their CL debut. I started to think about big Sammi’s last min header away to Spartak, about the night we beat Barca about how we kept out nerve in the final group game to qualify from a group that many said we were lucky just to be in and that we would have no chance of getting out of. I thought about our manager, and what the transformation he has had on our club as a whole and I came to the conclusion that no matter who were to draw, we COULD go through to the last 8 and then…? Who knows who knows what effect taking another big scalp in the knockout stages of the worlds finest club, cup competition could have on this young, talented team we see before our eyes. Then I started thinking ‘your definitely dreaming this time son’ but no I wasn’t so I started to ask myself ‘what makes you think we can qualify?’ Two things I came up with. Belief and ability. Make no mistake there’s no limit to how far you can go in football of you have the right mix of those two things.
There’s a fantastic belief throughout our whole Club right now, Lennon shows belief in the players, first of all by playing them week in week out and second of all by rewarding them with new deals when they perform well. The players show great belief in themselves when they go out on the pitch, and display the ability we all know they have, granted they haven’t shown the same belief in every game but when it’s mattered like it mattered in Moscow, like when our backs were against the wall in the Camp Nou, like when we humbled the mighty Barca in our own back yard and when we won the last group game to qualify. That’s when their belief and ability shone through.
We have a young talented squad whose ability can take them as far as they will let it, backed by us, the fans who show our belief in the players by cheering them on and making Celtic park the cauldron that even the worlds greatest fear on a European night.
The only concern I had was the Benfica away game, after which I wrote that the team seemed too scared to win the game, almost as if the reality and enormity of what they could have achieved that night got to them and the froze. Well they are young, who can blame them? that’s out the way now, they have experienced the ‘big stage, stage fright’ that moment has passed and I think that Neil Lennon has instilled in this squad a real belief in themselves and the confidence in their ability to believe that they CAN beat Juventus an CAN qualify for the last 8.
Do I still think we can qualify? Yes, in fact even more so. Why? Well if beating Barca isn’t reason enough then for the reasons stated above and also allied to that, we have faced top of Serie A opposition before and acquitted ourselves really well when we faced Udinese in the Europa league and we are a better side now than we were then, every player knows his job. We have a better squad than we did back then. We have have a better more experienced manager than we did back then, who’s tactics for me have been spot on in Europe so far this season. So bring on Juventus, let them come to the cauldron of noise, let them face Celtic and the 12th man and let us see how much belief in THEIR ability they have, let us seek revenge for that night in Turin when we were so cruelly robbed and cheated. Let our bhoys show us THEIR belief and ability and lets see how far it can take us, until then, don’t be afraid to dream bhoys and ghirls, now I’m away to try and get some sleep!