UCL Qualification: MFF v Celtic
After Kevie left what is now known as the Free Culture Sports Show, I more-or-less stopped following Celtic (though with our recent move to football-only, I am going to start following again a bit). Even when Kevie was on the show, he was so disgusted by the treatment of Rangers that he didn’t want to talk about it. Behind schedule(?), Rangers are still in the Scottish Championship after getting destroyed 6-1 on aggregate by Motherwell in the promotion final. Two games in, Rangers are in an automatic promotion spot.
Rangers are important to this story for two reasons. First, the rapid decline of Celtic from making the knockout round of the UCL in 2012-13 to finishing last in their group in 2013-14 to not even making the group stage last year is in large part due to the lack of revenue in the SPFL. While in that time, Celtic has won the league by almost an average of 21 points (read that again), they have failed to dominate domestic cup competitions. In fact, in 2013-14 they failed to make it past the fourth round of either cup competition.
The second reason is more personal, but not entirely personal. My love for MFF was forged in opposition, which is a bit of a theme for me, but too complex to deal with here. In MFF’s case, that opposition was Rangers. Sure, I had played as MFF on FIFA 1o, and learned some of the player names, but I didn’t watch their qualifying match before Rangers. Some of this is just because I didn’t know if I’d be able to find the MFF match in the earlier stages. In hindsight, I probably could have, but it was my first time following UCL qualification.
For the non-personal bit, MFF beating Rangers will not have been lost on the Scottish media and perhaps not many of the Celtic players. That said, maybe I’m giving Celtic too much credit. Like most teams, Celtic has had a lot of turnover since 2011, including the manager.
The more important fact than MFF’s history may be that Celtic failed to make the group stages of the UCL last year. Celtic would not be taking lightly whatever opponent they faced. Many of the players still there will remember last year’s disappointment.
Currently the Swedish league is 20th in Europe and Scotland is 24th. MFF has also been on a roll. Three straight wins. One of them over the Allsvenskan leaders, and two shutouts. Đurđić has 4 goals in 3 appearances since joining on loan. A large portion of the success is bringing in new goalkeeper, and Swedish international Wiland.
I still think Celtic probably has the edge, if for no other reason than many of Celtic’s players have been in this position before. MFF’s turnover has been huge. This is in part because they loan so many players in and out, but the sell-off after the UCL run last year has been immense. While this crop of Celtic players and manager haven’t proven they can make it past this stage, a year under their belt will help the team be more fluid.
Either way, expect the tie to be close, turning perhaps on an injury or suspension. Both teams scraped by in the last round to get here. Celtic is the bigger name of course, especially in the English-speaking world so many will expect them to go through because of that, but MFF has made a European Cup final since Celtic has (1978 versus ’70). Of course, MFF has only made one to Celtic’s two, but in both cases we are talking over 35 years ago. Celtic’s infamous relationship with Rangers may make them a bigger media spotlight, but that does not make them a better team. What makes them the better team is that they’ve had more time together. The Celtic match-up will prove whether this crop of MFF players have finally found their rhythm together and can go on to push for the Allsvenskan title, or if they’ve just hit a purple patch, which will see them crash out of Europe earlier than last year. After the two games, I’ll take a look at how likely this MFF team is likely to stay together in order to make a run for next year.