DID we witness the death of Scottish football as we have known it at Celtic Park on Tuesday evening?
Our national game is, at best, in a dreadful state. At worst, it is in terminal decline.
Celtic’s defeat by Maribor simply served to highlight the widening gulf between our so-called top teams and much of the rest of Europe.
The light nights are still with us but gone are Aberdeen, Motherwell and St Johnstone – consigned unceremoniously to the scrapheap of European failure almost before the Premiership had even begun.
Celtic will plod on regardless in the Europa League – an escape route, it might reasonably be said, for teams with Champions League pretentions but without the capabilities to fulfil them.
Maribor, it is safe to say, will make up the numbers, just as Celtic would have done had they managed to capitalise on Legia Warsaw’s incredible incompetence in fielding an ineligible player and thus forfeiting their right to a final play-off tie.
But, regardless of whether or not Celtic would have been humiliated, they would nevertheless have been £20million richer for the experience.
Regrettably, they will earn a fraction of that sum playing Europa League football, while their Premiership rivals have missed out on sharing a £1.2million bonus.
It seems pertinent at this juncture to beg the question: Why did Peter Lawwell, Celtic’s chief executive, not speculate to accumulate and loosen the purse strings to allow Ronny Deila to strengthen his squad in readiness for their European venture?
Any show of prudence in an industry which took leave of its senses years ago is to be applauded, but at what long term cost in Celtic’s case?
If Henrik Larsson is to be believed, Deila was third choice to succeed Neil Lennon, for the Swede claims he turned down the Celtic manager’s job in the summer prior to Roy Keane also being offered the post.
But is it really fair to point a finger at the Norwegian coach and accuse him of failing in his duty? After all, better, much more experienced managers than Deila have required time to successfully put their plans in motion. Look no further than Old Trafford and Louis van Gaal.
That said, Deila’s thinking in making 10 changes to the team that had drawn the first leg in Slovenia for the subsequent league match at Inverness, had the theorists scratching their heads.
Inverness 1, Celtic 0 delivered a damning indictment, surely, of the strategy.
But I defy any sane-minded Celtic fan to offer me a sound argument for holding the manager solely to account for the team’s failure.
A cancer has been eating away at Scottish football for years, maybe even 127 years, and it is driven by the worst elements and prejudices surrounding the Old Firm.
Celtic and Rangers’ failure to publicly embrace and announce to the world that they desperately need each other to survive has never ceased to amaze me, given the economic benefits both clubs would derive from a closer union.
But for Celtic to have actively encouraged Rangers’ banishment to the fourth tier of Scottish football as a punishment for the many and varied transgressions of certain of that club’s past rulers was nothing short of a form of insanity.
For the past three seasons the top-flight of Scottish football has been haemorrhaging cash at an ever increasing rate, part of the reason being the dramatic fall in attendances at Celtic Park and the ever decreasing number of fans travelling to away fixtures.
Without Rangers to offer a serious challenge, the question is not: will Celtic win the league but rather when will they win it?
I hate to remind the many Celtic fans I warned at the time that their initial delight would turn to anguish, but I told you so.
We were assured by some that Aberdeen and Dundee United would offer a more meaningful challenge to Celtic’s supremacy in the coming months. Really? So explain this one to me: If Dundee United beat Aberdeen 3-0 and are then beaten, in turn, 6-1 by Celtic, what does that tell you?
In truth, not a lot other than that the New Firm lack the strength-in-depth, the nuance and the necessary level of consistency required to pressurise the champions-elect.
But if watching your team slug it out in the race to finish second does it for you, then good luck. I hope you enjoy what has become a rather meaningless exercise.
I congratulate Inverness and Dundee for at least attempting to go back to basics. Their style of play is pleasing on the eye and is a refreshing change from the up-an-at-’em approach favoured by the majority of teams, though whether the average Scottish football fan is prepared to embrace the concept of continental-style football is quite another matter.
How ironic it is that our club football is floundering so desperately at a time when the national team’s stock has risen under Gordon Strachan.
But, without the experience of Champions League football, how will our best players continue to improve and develop?
How also do we change the current mindset that playing for teams in the lower leagues in England is preferable to turning out for a Scottish Premiership side?
Finance is undoubtedly a massive factor in this Catch 22 situation and the cash has damn near dried up.
So, maybe it’s time we took stock and accepted the unpalatable truth that Scottish football is headed for League of Ireland status unless we all pull together and act in a unified manner.
The young are the future of any society and football is no different. There is an increasing need for clubs to grow their own and nurture the young shoots of progress.
There is also a desperate need for those at the heart of our game to rid themselves of the ridiculous notion that the media is the enemy.
Instead of bridling at what they view as harsh, unpalatable truths and reacting confrontationally, the clubs would do well to take on board the comments of those who write about the game and digest these views without prejudice.
Otherwise Scottish football is headed for hell in a handcart