And so the most hollow, most predictable of success stories begins.
Celtic start their defence of the Scottish Premier League on Saturday with a home match against Aberdeen, safe in the knowledge that there is not a chance that come May they won’t be celebrating yet another title win.
They know it, the rest of the SPL know it, everyone knows it, but for the sake of it they might as well play the games anyway. Now that Rangers’ abysmal financial housekeeping has brought them the inevitable punishment – demotion to the fourth tier of Scottish football – Celtic have absolutely no competition on the domestic front and the sad decline of football north of the border continues apace.
With the Old Firm no longer inextricably linked, Celtic have it all their own way and the SPL takes another step towards oblivion. With the TV deals with Sky Sports and ESPN re-negotiated, there is going to be a shortfall in revenue for most of the other 11 SPL clubs that means some will struggle to make ends meet, raising question marks over the ability of some clubs to last until the end of the season.
Aberdeen probably won’t have a better chance of getting a result against the Hoops this season. With an early kick-off and Celtic still not at full throttle, they could make things hard for Lennon’s men, who will definitely have one eye on Wednesday’s second leg in Finland.
It is a sorry, sorry state of affairs and one that does nobody any good. It is also why Celtic are making such a big deal of their European exploits. And a 2-1 win in midweek over HJK Helsinki in their Champions League qualifier was as vital a result as the club has had for some time, with the promise of extra money from a good European run much needed with the situation back home as it is.
The second leg in Finland takes place on Wednesday, which means the Bhoys’ opening day match against Aberdeen is a huge inconvenience: Neil Lennon would swap defeat at home to the Dons for a win in Helsinki every day of the week.
Nevertheless, Celtic are incredibly strong favourites at 1/5, with Aberdeen big outsiders at 12/1 and the draw at 17/4. These are the sort of prices we are well used to for home Celtic matches, but maybe this isn’t a bad time for Aberdeen to go to Parkhead.
It was perhaps what Dons manager Craig Brown was getting at when he said in his pre-match press conference: “If someone would have asked who I wanted to play first in the SPL, I would have said Celtic away.”
Even if that sounds a bit like the condemned man saying “if someone would have asked me how I wanted to be killed, I would have said the electric chair”, it does have some logic to it nevertheless.
Brown was quietly confident about what Aberdeen can achieve this season – they are certainly in the mix with several other clubs to finish second behind Celtic – and they probably won’t have a better chance of getting a result against the Hoops this season. With an early kick-off and Celtic still not at full throttle, Aberdeen could make things hard for Lennon’s men, who will definitely have one eye on Wednesday’s second leg in Finland.
Lennon may even choose to rest players ahead of that tie and I don’t see this being the rout that it might be under different circumstances. Having said that, Aberdeen didn’t keep a clean sheet away to teams in the top half last season and there is no reason to suggest they will start now.
And with the markets on a Celtic win too short, I’d advise a little go on the 29/10 that it is a draw at half-time but Celtic go on to take the points.
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