Money isn’t everything

Even in these days of billionaire plutocrats, owners who spend infinite millions, money is not quite everything, as both Chelsea and Manchester City stand in humiliating evidence. By Brian Glanville.

In May 1967, Celtic memorably and historically became the first British team ever to win the European Cup, beating rich and mighty if somewhat suspect Inter (referee bribery then a speciality) in Lisbon. That team, supremely well managed by Jock Stein, once the Celtic centre half, achieved its triumph with a side wholly made up of players from in and around Glasgow itself.

Not so today in this cosmopolitan football age, in which a gallant and initially unfancied team has fought its way through to the first eliminating round with players from all over the football world; though there is a presence of Scots and English onto the bargain. When the group games began who would have given Celtic a hope against the giants of Barcelona and the expensive stars of Portugal’s Benfica, with Spartak Moscow no mean opposition?

By comparison with Europe’s leading teams, Celtic if not impoverished were almost indigent. Gone were the days when they could command outstanding talent from around and in Glasgow. Yet, in the event, they put together a team whose whole was hugely greater than its parts, which proved the virtual equals of any of the opposition, not including Barcelona, arguably the European Cup favourites.

Much credit for Celtic’s success went to their young manager Neil Lennon, a former coach and player. Hardly, as he would surely admit, a giant figure in the image of Jock Stein, promoted from the coaching staff as late as 2010, but a strategist of now proved merit.

Perhaps he had his tongue in his cheek when he recently said that his team’s progress in the tournament was a consolation for the fact that they would no longer face Rangers in the famous and often furious Glaswegian city derby; the largely Catholic club in Celtic against the Protestant oriented side of Rangers; their supporters bitterly at odds and sometimes ferociously since the late 19th century, reflecting the eternal tensions between the two religious groups in Ireland.

The humiliation of Rangers, after their financial irregularities, their astonishing fall from the historic heights of Scottish football to the depths of the local 3rd division, meant that Celtic had no real rival when it came to the Premier Scottish League. Though for all that and perhaps even because of that, some of their matches against local Scottish opposition have been decidedly hard fought.

When it’s come to Europe, however, Celtic have surely surpassed themselves. They were truly unlucky to lose even in the intimidating stadium of Nou Camp, Barcelona scoring the winner in a 2-1 game only in the last minute of injury time, Celtic actually having taken the lead. The superb goalkeeping of 24-year-old Fraser Forster had much to do with their resilience, as it would do in future group matches. Yet Forster, arguably the best English goalkeeper of the moment, given the uneven form of Manchester City’s Joe Hart, was acquired from Newcastle United initially on loan, the Magpies plainly feeling they could do without him; he is now fully a Celtic player.

In those far off 1967 days of glory, who could ever have forecast that a vital goal at Celtic Park would be forcefully scored by a Kenyan in the shape of the 21-year-old Peter Kenyama? In attack, the experienced Greek international centre forward Georgios Samaras, who arrived after difficult days at Manchester City, has been successfully converted into an attacking left sided midfielder. Kenyama was a hero of the victory versus Barca in Glasgow.

Twenty four-year-old Garry Hoopers’ career as a striker seemed to be going downhill after being chosen for the England under-21-team. Celtic signed him from modest Scunthorpe and he has found new life in Glasgow.

So even in these days of billionaire plutocrats, owners who spend infinite millions, money is not quite everything, as both Chelsea and Manchester City stand in humiliating evidence. Chelsea, of course, are owned by the billionaire Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, forever tinkering with his managers who seem to exist in a revolving door.

It was not even enough for him that a supposedly temporary manager in the former club star, Roberto Di Matteo, contrived against all odds and logic to win the European Cup, cleverly cutting his coat according to his cloth, but that wasn’t good enough for the oligarch, who has insisted on expensive arrivals such as attackers Oscar and Hazard in the summer, exposing the side badly in defence. Now that Di Matteo who never had a chance, has gone, Chelsea are out of the Champions League already and Rafa Benitez detested by Chelsea fans for his Liverpool history, is trying to pick up the pieces. At least and at last he seems to have his former Liverpool star Fernando Torres, so dear to Roman who paid GBP50 million for him, scoring again.

Man City’s billionaire owners do not interfere but how long can they persist with a manager in Roberto Mancini, who seems increasingly at odds with his team, which flopped horribly in the European Cup and has now lost the essential derby to United? Fortunes have been spent on Players such as Tevez, Aguero and Dzeko, but to what effect? Borussia Dortmund cost peanuts by comparison, yet they utterly dominated City in their two group games. In France, Paris Saint Germain now have the riches beyond calculation from Qatar yet domestically, they’ve faltered and manager Carlo Ancelotti has been imperilled.