A European disaster or a sign of things to come?
Celtic, Aberdeen and Motherwell were never going to have it easy in their respective Champions League and Europa League fixtures but as Sigma Olomouc scored a fifth goal at Pittodrie on Thursday night only the most pessimistic would have predicted the result as it was. It wasn’t the defeat at Pittodrie that was the surprise, that alone would have been a disappointment, but the manner of the defeat must send alarm bells about the future participation of Scottish clubs in this season’s European competitions.
Motherwell unquestionably faced the hardest task of the week with a trip to Romania to face a Steaua team who had already dismissed The Steelmen as absolute no hopers, even going to the extremes to suggest that Motherwell’s 8-1 win against Flamurtari was a betting scam organised by the Albanian club because according to the Steaua boss ‘that’s what teams from Albania do’.
Aside from the ludicrous statements Motherwell were never expected to get a result in Bucharest. It is a credit to new boss Jim Gannon that with a first team almost entirely rebuilt with youngsters and players from the English lower leagues that he managed to get his team over the shock of their 1-0 defeat to Llanelli in Airdrie. It is sad though that Motherwell’s six game run could turn out to be an epic European adventure on the landscape of Scottish football.
It may stand the team in good stead to have had a competitive pre season as both the players and manager will be match sharp and know exactly what to expect from each other. In Jim Gannon, Motherwell have appointed a young manager who comes to the SPL with a good reputation and there is no doubt that he will be determined to be a success so that he can eventually make his mark down south again.
While Jim Gannon can take solos in the fact that his team are slowly taking shape, Mark McGhee and the Aberdeen fans must be worried about how their season is shaping up. No team should be conceding five goals at home unless there is a huge gulf in class, by which I mean Real Madrid deciding they fancy a trip to Stair Park or Borough Briggs one pre-season. Bookmaker’s making Scottish teams favourites never generally goes well and although many were expecting a tough game nobody could of predicted a 5-1 defeat for the not so ‘Dandy Dons’. It is a shocking result. A result compounded by the manager’s continuous failure to land his targets and the still lingering spectre of Aberdeen being McGhee’s second choice.
It could be argued that McGhee has over estimated the name Aberdeen Football Club when reality they find themselves in the same position as the majority of the SPL. He has not been the most discreet or realistic in his transfer movements either. Stephen Hughes was never even close to signing and missing out on Reda Johnson may never have occurred if he had been more covert in his operations. McGhee needs to make changes and quickly, limited budget or not, the Aberdeen board may be hindering his progress claiming the collapse of the TV deal has severely restricted their budget but they are not the only ones. The majority of SPL sides, as shown by Kilmarnock’s withdrawal of a position to Gary Locke, are in the same position. When a player as respected by his manger, as much as Jefferies respects Locke can’t be guaranteed work then it highlights how deep in the brown sticky stuff Scottish football is in.
Aberdeen fans however see themselves as one of the bigger fishes in the pond and to see Hearts, Hibernian and even Falkirk signing players while the Pittodrie squad remains depleted will begin to rankle. Luckily McGhee will be able to use his legendary status to allow him room to breathe. Time will tell if going back will work for McGhee but the job in hand has turned out far tougher than he’s imagined.
Tony Mowbray will be heartened to see his team compete against a very good Dinamo Moscow side. Its retrospective now but Celtic got the toughest draw possible. Celtic weren’t outplayed by their Russian counterparts but there was an obvious gap in sharpness and fitness. The Russians are halfway through their season while Celtic were playing in their first competitive game of the season. It is perhaps unfortunate then for Mowbray that this game had not come a month later. However he must be wondering what he had done to deserve his big summer signing miss not just one but two absolute sitters than would have even had Peter Van Vossen and Harald Brattbakk wincing. One thing is certain Mowbray should not need to say anything to fire up the Frenchman for the second leg in Moscow. He is yet to score in a Hoops jersey and until he does the question mark will remain over his head.
Celtic have the best chance of getting through out of the three Scottish teams in action. Aberdeen require a miracle while Motherwell will need a miracle on a slightly smaller scale. If Mowbray can continue to work his players hard for the next week and get a good performance from them in the friendly against Sunderland at the weekend he can use that momentum to potentially pull it off. Motherwell will be happy to have had a run in Europe as the manager tries to build for the new season but Aberdeen after their humiliation have to re-evaluate their plans for the season ahead.
One thing is certain Scottish teams in the proper stages of European competition look set to become a novelty as opposed to a regular occurrence. Many will point to youth development and financial prudence as the way for Scottish clubs to blossom in Europe again but that will take time and for the foreseeable future any victory should be applauded.