THE bad news for Celtic is that they out of the Champions League. The good news is that they will be back in it after the most brief of interruptions. Celtic have left before the ides of March but they will return to club football's premier tournament during the Glasgow Fair.
As breaks between campaigns go, there is hardly time for a half-time analysis. The Scottish champions will be back in the swing of the Champions League before a ball is struck in the Open at Muirfield.
It is tempting to view the rest of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League as a series of warm-ups for the trials of the qualifying matches that mean so much for the club in terms of finance, reputation and the ability to sustain supporters through a season.
The good news is that Celtic are improving, were largely defiant last night and have a side that is strolling towards a domestic title. The bad news is that two of the figures central to the club's Champions League fortunes may not be teeing off for Celtic as the events at Muirfield dominate the sporting scene in the wider world. Last night might have been the last hurrah for Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama in European competition for Celtic. The Nigerian made an early farewell, leaving at half-time, presumably because of injury. Hooper featured in the seminal moments of the match, all to his disappointment.
Both may now be considering futures that do not include Champions League music being followed by a loud rendition of You'll Never Walk Alone.
Wanyama will not want for suitors with his cameo role last night illustrating his strength. Playing in the centre of defence, rather than his preferred midfield slot, the 21-year-old was assured in possession, obdurate in defence and was as easy to knock off the ball as a tank with its handbrake on.
Wanyama has been inconsistent this season, not a surprising fallibility for a player of his age who is spending his first season at a club. But it may also be his last. Major clubs have identified him as a formidable defensive midfielder who has the capacity to improve. His flaws are obvious in that he can lose concentration and that he allows an opponent to run off him, occasioning the odd yellow card for puling back his rival. But his present level of attainment and his potential ensure that he is passing through Glasgow and Celtic.
Hooper is in the same category, though he may have to settle for a smaller club than that of Wanyama. The Englishman has performed with distinction on foreign duty, most particularly in the 3-2 win over Spartak in Moscow, but last night he was both careless and unlucky. His mis-control in the first half led to Fabio Quagliarella shooting, Fraser Forster palming away and Alessandro Matri putting a cairn on the mountain Celtic had to climb.
Hooper followed this by creating evidence to show Gianluigi Buffon has lost little of lustre when the striker diverted a Kris Commons shot and the Italian turned the ball over the bar. The Englishman's desperate and failed attempt to connect with a Georgios Samaras cross served as a motif for his night.
The most notable contributions afforded by Wanyama and Hooper in a summer when Celtic contemplate the awful trials of qualification may be purely financial. But Celtic can be forgiven for waving them a fond farewell. The ethos of the club is now to nurture and sell on players and both came in at a combined cost of just over £3m. A substantial, perhaps five-fold profit can be made if both depart.
Celtic, too, would be selling at the top of the market for both players. Hooper, although less than devastating last night, has enhanced his reputation this season and Wanyama has made the impact of a rogue meteorite.
The cautious among those with Celtic sympathies may advocate that this is the time to sell. The embodiment of this notion is found in the diminished figure of Emilio Izaguirre. The Honduran was linked speculatively and perhaps absurdly with Manchester United early in his Celtic career but now looks a candidate for a rest, perhaps a prolonged one. His duties as an attacking full-back mean he can look culpable when the opposition exploits space behind him. This is not entirely his fault, though there is a suspicion that he does not track back with the eagerness of his ventures forward.
Much worse is his inability to defend a diagonal ball. This has cost Celtic in recent matches at Motherwell and St Mirren and he was to blame for the second goal last night when he was caught under a simple ball.
In an attacking role, he can be erratic in crossing and he drew Hooper's ire when he chose to go long into the box when a chip to the near post would surely have produced a dividend. The Englishman pointed forlornly at the space and the Honduran turned and jogged back to resume his defensive duties.
There was a football lesson in all of this as Izaguirre must improve his awareness in defence and his execution and in attack.
There may be a financial one, too. Izaguirre's stock has fallen. As the disclaimers have it, the value of players can go up as well as down. Past performance is not a guide to future performance.
There is a time to take the money. It is likely to come in the summer for the stock marked Wanyama & Hooper.
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