THIS cost-of-living crisis is all one big vicious circle. With buying power on the decline and the cost of power on the increase, your correspondent has had to find new and novel means for topping up the meter and keeping the lights on. Under the wind of advice from a government minister to simply get better-paid work, I floated into the sports editor’s office with a big grin on my face and what I felt was only too reasonable a demand in my pocket. I left wondering whether I would have any paid job left by the end of the week. So as one door closed, another opened, and I remembered an offer to mark exams for the university – a paid-by-the-paper job, which, given that is the nature of my main earner, I thought I was perfect for.

But in came that vicious circle again. As the papers piled up on my desk, the dishes piled up in the sink with my domestic duties hitting the slide. Meanwhile, the phone on the other side of my desk continued to vibrate, shriek and wail with calls from Herald Towers. I realised quickly that I was facing three options: I could quit everything; I could quit something; or I might be jettisoned by powers outside my control. But one thing was for sure, I couldn’t keep everything going.

This week, both Celtic and Rangers were unceremoniously dumped out of Europe after failing to keep up their end of the bargain in their moonlighting jobs in the Champions League.

Drawn in by the riches on offer, this stage is the pinnacle that these sides aim for every year as the gap to the wealthiest clubs on the continent continues to grow.

What is success for these clubs at this level? And at what cost is success in Europe earned? Glasgow’s big two have reached the final of UEFA’s second-tier club competition on three occasions in the past two decades (Celtic 2003, Rangers 2008, Rangers 2022). No mean feat. In each of those seasons, the club reaching the UEFA and Europa League finals failed to pick up their domestic league title. As for success in the Champions League: Rangers were the first Scottish side to progress from the group stage in 2005/06. How did they fare in the league that term? You guessed it: second place. Celtic, under Gordon Strachan, reached the last-16 in back-to-back seasons in 2006/07 and 2007/08 and won the league title in both of those seasons. Likewise, under Neil Lennon, they managed second spot in 2012/13 in a group that included probably the best club side in a generation in a Lionel Messi-led Barcelona, whom they famously defeated 2-1 at Celtic Park, and clinched the league title at a canter with Rangers consigned to the bottom tier following liquidation.

How, then, did Strachan and Lennon mastermind such success at Europe’s top table? In the 2006/07 group stage, the former guided his side to a 1-0 victory over Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. A stunning 30-yeard free-kick from Shunsuke Nakamura with less than 10 minutes left sealed a dramatic victory in front of 60,000 in Parkhead. Celtic had Artur Boruc to thank for saving a late penalty from Louis Saha. The following season, Strachan’s side defeated AC Milan 2-1 in Glasgow on their way to the knockout rounds. Again, it was a late strike by Scott McDonald that sealed victory at a drenched Celtic Park. In 2012, when Victor Wanyama and Tony Watt earned Lennon’s side a famous victory, the hosts surrendered 73 per cent of possession, faced 14 attempts on target, with an inspired Fraser Forster equal to 13 of them before Messi made for a nervy finish.

Such are the fine margins at elite level, you might say. And nothing can take away from how important those victories were for supporters.

During the period of domestic domination under Brendan Rodgers from 2016-2019, however, Celtic took on a different approach in the Champions League. Determined to stick to his unapologetically attacking style, the Northern Irishman wouldn’t dream of inviting the kind of pressure Celtic endured for 90-plus minutes against the Catalan giants in November 2012 in his first group stage match. His side lost 7-0, the club’s heaviest ever defeat in Europe. Draws with Manchester City and Borussia Monchengladbach were not enough to progress, and they slipped into the Europa League. The following season, Celtic gained just three points in their group with an away win against Anderlecht, suffering heavy 5-0 and 7-1 defeats to Paris Saint-Germain.

So, when Ange Postecoglou’s side qualified for the group stage this year for the first time since Rodgers’ final shot at the competition, the big question was how he would approach it. Would the Greek-Australian stick with his own attacking style, or would he adapt to the increased demands and pick pragmatism? We didn’t have to wonder for long. Against holders Real Madrid in the opening Group F match, Celtic went after their illustrious opponents and for an hour looked every bit as likely to get a result. Ultimately, the La Liga giants’ class and depth showed, and they went on to win 3-0. But the home support applauded their side and their manager off afterwards.

Celtic could have finished with a better showing than the two points they amassed to prop up their section and ensure no European football after Christmas. But given the trade-off often made for European success in neglecting domestic duties, maybe it was a price worth paying.

Rangers, meanwhile, suffered the ignominy of achieving the worst record in Champions League group history: nil-points and a goal difference of -20. And worse yet for manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst is that their league challenge is faltering at present. And with no obstacle to Celtic kicking on as they did at the start of the season before the Champions League moonlighting commenced, there seems to be a clear favourite coming down the back nine.

For me, I’m giving up on the marking and will try to make do with what I have. I’ve decided I’ll tidy up the domicile and try to promote youth in the form of my idle children on the home front.

I’ll offer two further grades, though: for all their efforts, Celtic still finished fourth out of four. The group doesn’t lie and it’s A, B, C or D. I’ll go out on a limb and give Postecoglou a D+ to try to encourage him to do better next time. As for Rangers? They can join that one exam paper on the scrapheap labelled “credit refused” for offering no answers and apparently no signs of working whatsoever.