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Tie might be over but Celtic can derive value from defeat

Let's not be too critical.

Celtic gained considerable credibility for their performance, despite the scoreline
Celtic gained considerable credibility for their performance, despite the scoreline

Celtic should be commended for a magnificent and unexpected journey. Cut away all the noise and you are left with significant achievement, pure and simple. The glass is absolutely overflowing.

Without Rangers, Celtic have rescued the 2012/13 Scottish season from the threat of nine months' worth of meaningless fixtures. The remaining three months will show what it would have been without their European campaign, and I'm not confident. Celtic have no more than two or three cup games left; Rangers have nothing; both will run away with their league titles. The rest have the Scottish Communities League Cup final without an Old Firm club to look forward to, and the possibility of the same in the Scottish Cup.

Celtic took a Scottish team into the last 16 of Europe's premier club competition and did not look out of place. They beat Barcelona and won in Moscow. For a representative of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League to do that is astonishing. They have shown everyone in football how to run a club in a modern and prudent way. England's much-vaunted Premier League is a financial basket case, both relatively and absolutely.

Neil Lennon was right to say that the pressure faced in Champions League qualifiers was much more intense than they endured against Juventus this week. Those games in late summer were the difference between paradise and inferno. All those associated with the club sweated blood, yet the team made them look much more routine than they were. This year it went well but it cannot be sustainable that Celtic – and others – are forced to run business models that turn on a couple of games of football. UEFA is delinquent in allowing this state of affairs to exist in countries such as Belgium, Netherlands and Scotland.

On Tuesday, Celtic played very well and gained considerable credibility. In terms of passing, possession and movement, they were surprisingly good. The early goal certainly calmed Italian nerves; without it I think Juventus would have had a good hour of anxious revisionism as Celtic dominated possession. "So they can play? It's not just defence, setpieces and a kick-and-run counterattack. And this noise is a bit off-putting."

Antonio Conte acknowledged that he has never experienced an atmosphere like it. A poorly-prepared team could lose a several goals in that arena, he said. Celtic didn't look out of place. Their tactic in squeezing Andrea Pirlo with Kris Commons worked. The artist was more or less nullified. Juventus received immense praise in Italy, which is telling; it isn't ever offered when the opposition is without quality and merit.

The fact is that Italian teams are never poorly prepared. Four World Cup wins, several major finals and multi-titled club sides; the Italian school of football is Europe's most successful. Just ask the Germans. Great tactical study precedes each game. Not just to play well, but to win. Make your talent play; nullify theirs. It is clinical, verging on the cynical. Lets call it professional. It can be forgiven in the face of dollops of class and style.

Gary Hooper wasn't playing against Clydesdale Bank Premier League defenders on Tuesday and I'm sure he knows the difference now. In most UK teams, the defence will have weaknesses, either individually, or as a collective. Patrick Evra of Manchester United is poor in the air at the back post; it was exploited by Real Madrid and Cristiano Ronaldo. Celtic can get caught under the ball; it was exploited. Their defenders think they can dribble more than they should; it was exploited.

And Conte is a workaholic. He was prepared; he knew what colour of boots the Celtic players' wore.

And so to the angst over wrestling in the area. It is true standards differ from country to country. In Italy it is far worse but, surely, the issue is not black and white. Is it acceptable that a goalkeeper is actively blocked in coming for a ball? It happens all the time to poorly-prepared defences; a point well illustrated by Celtic in Europe this year. Did people expect Juventus to let it happen to them? Hooper was not going to be allowed to obstruct Gianluigi Buffon. We are not in Primary 7. I accept each sees this debate with his or her own eyes. I am more sanguine; I remember that a very soft penalty award against Spartak Moscow opened the way for Celtic to be involved on Tuesday. Fans sense of injustice is always a one-way street.

Either way, Celtic and Lennon should learn and move on. Don't deal with life as you wish it were but as it is. As they say in the United States to young college football players: "Forget all that; you're in the NFL now." The big boys play rough. If you don't want to play, stay in the SPL.

Finally, what has been a bit lost in this fantastic week is the astounding financial performance of Celtic. Scottish football, even at its best, never vomited vast revenues. Yet, from significant losses in 2003, Celtic have changed strategy and financial mindset and, within a decade, eliminated that debt and have developed a very substantial asset value in their young squad. Peter Lawwell has made a very big reputation for himself, too.

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