Dermot Desmond has claimed that the current Celtic team would beat the side that reached the UEFA Cup Final in 2003.
It is quite a claim from Celtic’s biggest shareholder, revealed during an interview with The Athletic in one of his longest ever public discussions about the club.
The 20 year old suggestion of Celtic joining the English league is aired but it’s his thoughts on the current squad that are likely to fire up most debate among Celtic supporters.
Over the last 15 months Celtic have lost at home to Cluj, Copenhagen and Ferencvaros. When Neil Lennon was on the park rather than the touchline he helped to knock out Liverpool, Stuttgart, Celta Vigo and Blackburn from the UEFA Cup.
There is a huge difference between the results of 2002/03 and 2019/2020 but Desmond believes that it is more of a mental block that question of ability.
The Athletic reports:
“Europe is so important,” he says, “as a yardstick of our football progression. On a sporting level, I think the Celtic team we have now is as good as at any time in the last 25 years, no doubt, and that’s even without a player like Henrik Larsson. If you asked me if the Celtic team today would beat the one that reached (the 2003 UEFA Cup final in) Seville, I’d say, ‘Yes’.”
The Athletic suggests then-manager Martin O’Neill might not agree with that view. Desmond responds, laughing: “Martin would disagree with anything that disagrees with him. Martin would tell you that without Larsson or Chris Sutton or Lennon, the rest were rubbish. So I’ve got eight against three.
“So I don’t think the quality of football has deteriorated. What we’ve got to learn is to cope with the pressure of playing in Europe. That’s what I’d say and I think that’s a psychological thing rather than a competitive thing. If you talk about the matches we lost in the past couple of years in the Champions League, they were lost despite us dominating possession, or whatever other measure you want to use – except goalscoring.
“And that is something I think is more of a psychological blockage than our football capability. That is something management have recognised and we will do something about it.”
Later today Celtic will find out who they or Riga will face in the Play Off stage for the Europa League with this season’s final being staged in Warsaw rather than Seville.
CELTIC team v Porto: Douglas; Mjallby, Balde, Valgaeren; Agathe, Lennon, Petrov, Lambert, Thompson; Sutton, Larsson.