Celtic have been left to count the cost of their European exit – on and off the field – after wrapping up their Champions League campaign with a crushing 6-1 defeat away to Barcelona.
Neil Lennon’s side were well and truly outclassed at the Nou Camp on Wednesday of last week and finished bottom of the group, meaning they now miss out on Europa League action after Christmas.
And to compound their woes, the Glasgow club have been fined over $60,000 by UEFA after a Bobby Sands banner was unfurled at an earlier Champions League game in Parkhead.
UEFA’s control and disciplinary body found the club guilty of allowing an “illicit banner” to be displayed during the home clash with AC Milan in November.
UEFA’s rules clearly prohibit messages of a political and ideological nature being displayed in a stadium. Celtic fans have been found guilty of breaching the rules on four occasions in the last two years.
Reacting to the UEFA fine, a statement from Celtic said, “Clearly it is extremely disappointing that the club must pay another sizeable penalty following the actions of a small minority, particularly given the previous assurances which were made to the club and the widespread understanding of the likely outcome of such actions.
“Regrettably, due to previous charges being brought against the club, again following the actions of a small minority, the fines imposed by UEFA are increasing in scale.
“It goes without saying that such actions must stop now, before the club receives a competitive sanction or one which would affect our supporters attending European matches.
“We are Celtic supporters and we must now move on. We are sure our fans will come together, unite with the club and support the team with the commitment and passion we are famous for, ensuring that Celtic Park once again provides a positive footballing occasion for all.”
The UEFA fine centers on two images displayed at the Milan game. One featured hunger striker Sands, and the other Scottish nationalist icon William Wallace and a set of lyrics that included the line: “The terrorist or the dreamer?”
The banners were displayed by the Green Brigade fans group. Celtic have already issued precautionary suspensions to 128 supporters after damage to a stand at Motherwell, while 250 season ticket holders will be moved to other parts of the ground or given refunds on season tickets.
Lennon has plenty to think about as well after the 6-1 drubbing in Barcelona when Brazilian superstar Neymar scored a hat-trick on a dismal night for the visitors as they suffered a record European defeat.
“We will have to analyze it and look at the character which was there. The players didn’t do their jobs they were assigned to do,” Lennon said.
“Barcelona were fantastic as we expected them to be but we were very poor. I wouldn’t say some players gave up but it certainly looked that way at times.
“I would never accuse a player of doing that, but [there were] a lot of half-hearted performances and as a manager that was the most disappointing aspect of the whole game.”
Striker Kris Commons believes Celtic’s failure to replace Gary Hooper after his move to Norwich in the summer cost them dearly in the Champions League.
“I think when you are relying on people, midfield quality to get you goals then once they dry up you are looking for a striker,” Commons said.
“In a Celtic team you are looking for a striker to get between 20 and 30 goals a season and at the minute we haven’t quite got that.
“I know people are working hard on and off the field to try and get us the goals but replacing someone like Gary Hooper is going to cost you between six and 10 million and, at the minute, we are not willing to spend that.”
Celtic did bounce back from their European disappointment with a 1-0 Scottish Premiership win over Hibernian at Parkhead on Saturday, thanks to a first goal from Finnish striker Teemu Pukki.
Lennon was in trouble with the referee when Emilio Izaguirre was booked for diving but he later apologized.