What a difference a day makes, 24 little hours.
UEFA's decision to reinstate Celtic to the Champions League over a 'clerical error' by Legia Warsaw has predictably prompted much wailing and gnashing of teeth by lots of misguided sorts, mainly folk who don't particularly like the Glasgow club, but when the rabid and wild-eyed conspiracy theorists stop foaming at the mouth for a moment, they might want to confront a harsh truth: Legia have nobody to blame but themselves.
You can understand why Dariusz Mioduski, a distraught and probably slightly frazzled chairman of the Polish club, was busy hitting out at anyone that moved over his side's demotion to the Europa League play-offs after a 6-1 win aggregate win over two legs, but Celtic have no reason to feel bad after progressing due to the obvious incompetence of their opponents.
All clubs must adhere to the governing body's rule book. That is why they are written up in the first place. Without them, there would be anarchy and clubs could wheel in whoever they liked, whenever they liked. Almost like football in the old school playground.
Legia are planning to appeal as expected, but it all sounds futile because UEFA only adhered to their guidelines. Call it bureaucracy gone mad if you like, or harsh, but it is only sporting fair play.
Especially in such an elite tournament.
The Polish champions fielded an ineligible player in the 2-0 win at Edinburgh's Murrayfield Stadium when unregistered defender Bartosz Bereszynski emerged as a substitute with three minutes remaining.
UEFA declared the match forfeit due to Bereszynski's illegal participation, awarding Celtic the match with a 3-0 success.
It sent Ronny Deila's crushed side through on away goals after the 4-1 win for Legia in the first leg was amended to read 4-4.
Legia Warsaw broke the rules here. The correct decision was reached according to UEFA. It is there in black and white. Nothing else matters.
“Legia have been sanctioned for fielding an ineligible player (article 18 of the Uefa Champions League regulations and article 21 of the disciplinary regulations). The match has been declared as forfeit meaning Legia Warsaw have lost the match 3-0,” said a UEFA statement.
"As a consequence, Celtic have qualified for the Champions League play-offs on away goals (agg: 4-4) and Legia will compete in the Europa League play-offs.
“In addition the player Bartosz Bereszynski has been suspended for one additional Uefa competition match for which he would be otherwise eligible. This suspension shall be added to the remaining two match suspension which the player still has to serve in accordance with the control and disciplinary body decision of 13 February
Some commentators have compared the case to a match involving Debrecen in 2010 who were fined £15,000 for a similar incident, but there is a clear difference in those scenarios. As illustrated below:
Note the difference in wording between Rules 1 & 3 here. Legia come under 1, Debrecen came under 3. pic.twitter.com/5WuQjVtF5t
— SPLstats (@SPLstats) August 8, 2014
Celtic's qualification has nothing to do with shady deals, cheating, lady luck, the rub of the green or a Papal conspiracy (against a side from Poland...). It was not even like a scene from Dodgeball with some sort of UEFA policy made up on the hoof.
This was a fairly obvious stance for UEFA to take, one they decided upon themselves and one that backs up previous punishments.
Analysing some of the reaction to the decision, you would have thought that it was somehow Celtic's wrongdoing. But this had nothing to do with the Scottish champions.
All Celtic did wrong was left out there on the pitch. They were ritually humped over two legs by Henning Berg's team, 4-1 in Warsaw and 2-0 in the second leg in what was basically another away match with Celtic Park out of commission due to the Commonwealth Games.
They traipsed off the park at Murrayfield on Wednesday well beaten and broken, and expecting to appear into today's Europa League final play-off round until it emerged that Legia had broken the rules. And when you break the rules, you must accept the consequences.
From all the literature gathered, Celtic were unaware that Legia had committed one of football's oldest crimes.
Would UEFA have taken similar action against Barcelona, Real Madrid or even Celtic with their huge worldwide fanbase? That is a moot point, but they have doled out similar punishments to other clubs in the past.
Clubs know what the punishment is if they are not thorough with their own squad lists, and who can and can't play.
Legia's secretary was not only culpable in failing to make themselves fully aware of who was eligible, but the team was guilty of general wastefulness when blowing the chance to wallow in double figures rather than declare on only 4-1 in Warsaw.
If Legia had won the first leg 6,7 or 8-1 as they could and should have against a rotten Scottish team, all this reddening of faces and noise would not have entered the equation.
Their own profligacy caught up with them when UEFA made their decision to press the ejector button.
Ivica Vrdoljak missed two penalties. Two penalties with Celtic down to 10 men, and on their knees? The mistakes are all on Legia against a side who could not cope with them.
UEFA's decision is worth around £5 million to Celtic. More if they make it through. When you only earn £3m from claiming the Scottish Premiership, that is a lot of money to enjoy.
Participation in the Europa League group stage is guaranteed until Christmas, but suddenly Celtic find themselves in football's equivalent of Brewster's Millions.
For Celtic, it is like picking up a winning lottery ticket with the prospect of around £20m available for a third straight season in the group stage if they can engineer a path past Slovenian champions Maribor.
They will need a markedly improved performance than than the dreadful fare they offered up against Legia, but they have profited from playing by the rules if not their own play. There is a lesson to be gleaned from that.
Scottish Premiership clubs will be keen to see them make it with £1m doled out between them for Celtic's progress to the group stage.
Legia became the latest victim of a harsh rule book, but they are not really victims here. Not when they failed to follow the rule book.
Not when they were instrumental in their own chaotic downfall.
Rather than Celtic's blunt attackers, that is what has hurt Legia the most.
As they repent at leisure, it will continue to sting for some time to come.
By Desmond Kane
- Sports & Recreation
- Legia Warsaw
- Champions League
- Europa League