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Mulgrew: 'None of this is our fault. We are not embarrassed by it'

IT'S all over, bar the shouting and, of course, a hearing in the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Charlie Mulgrew says he is not embarrassed by Celtic's reinstation to the Champions League. Picture: SNS
Charlie Mulgrew says he is not embarrassed by Celtic's reinstation to the Champions League. Picture: SNS

The Champions League reprieve for Celtic has condemned Legia Warsaw to the Europa League and sparked bitter outpourings from Poland that are understandable but misplaced.

A 6-1 aggregate victory normally leaves restricted scope for debate but Legia Warsaw's fielding of an ineligible player had to incur a sanction and precedent suggested it would be a 3-0 victory to the Scottish champions in the second leg.

The pain incurred by Legia may seem disproportionate to the crime but it is in line with UEFA disciplinary procedures.

It has left Celtic in the qualifying round of the Champions League but also at the centre of a storm that may have started in Nyon but gained strength in Warsaw. This was an administrative error by Legia but there has been a campaign to make it Celtic's problem. It is not. The club did not bring the matter to UEFA's attention, did not appeal, did not complain.

Of course, the club has benefited. A Champions League play-off tie has landed in Celtic's lap but any suggestion that they should brush it off is ludicrous.

Charlie Mulgrew, the club captain, addressed the matter simply but correctly last night. "None of this is our fault," he said. "We know we can play a lot better than we did in those qualifiers and Legia were a decent side but what's happened since isn't down to us. The fixture is there [against Maribor] so we can't go out there feeling sorry for ourselves or embarrassed feeling that we shouldn't be there."

He also pointed out the immediate reality. "The fans will expect us to put on better performances and we'll expect that from ourselves as well so we just need to get up and get on with it, do our best and hopefully be involved in the Champions League. There's a long way to go though, we've still got to qualify by beating Maribor and that will be difficult."

The home tie against a highly competent Slovenian side will be played at Celtic Park.

"Playing in your natural surroundings and your home pitch has to help. I know Murrayfield was called our home tie but it wasn't really home for us. Being used to the surroundings at Celtic Park and everything that goes with it on a match day will hopefully help a wee bit," he said. "I'm not making any excuses for the games at Murrayfield because everything was great there. The staff were brilliant and the pitch was great but there's nothing like playing at Celtic Park."

As he was speaking, the fallout from Poland was hurtling through social media. It is impossible not to sympathise for Legia although their strategy of trying to draw Celtic into the melee was doomed to failure.

Henning Berg, the Legia manager, admitted he had telephoned his Celtic counterpart, Ronny Deila, after the initial decision was made. Berg said: "It was a powerful conversation between us. I was disappointed that people in Celtic could not answer emails or phone calls from our club.

"All they had to do was speak to us - they didn't change their opinion, so why should they hide it? Celtic surprised me that they could not settle the matter in a different way."

Surprised? If so, he would be shocked by there being a murder in Taggart. Celtic's reaction to the Legia saga was the only one open to a public limited company and a member club of UEFA.

Talk to Legia? To say what precisely? Commiserate or patronise?

Offer to withdraw? That would be an excellent board meeting and one that might just draw the ire of the shareholders. A public limited company agrees to dismiss the possibility of about £15m in revenues because they are uncomfortable with a ruling made by the authorities that is in their favour. Good luck explaining that one to the auditors when the accounts are signed off.

Then there was possibility of contesting a play-off. This falls very snugly into the category of "making it up as one goes along".

The reason there is a UEFA is so that rules can be made and enforced. These rules can be debated and punishments challenged, even ridiculed. But the alternative is to indulge in anarchy. The prospect of a play-off match, arranged by aggrieved party and sympathetic Celtic, does not survive scrutiny.

First, both clubs would be saying they did not agree with UEFA's ruling and wanted to find a way around it. This would bring to the fore one salient inquiry: what is UEFA for? A body that guards its powers assiduously would not be pleased by such independent action.

The truth is that it was Legia's right, even duty, to challenge a ruling that saw them thrown out of a competition so cruelly.

It was Celtic's fate to be the beneficiaries of that decision but it was also the club's responsibility to adhere to professional practice.

Everything else is sound and fury.

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