Early Doors

Celtic: Progress or decline?

Early Doors

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There's one image Early Doors can't get out of its head - this one.

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It's Neil Lennon in the Celtic dugout, unable to watch Kris Commons's penalty against Spartak Moscow.

Lennon is certainly a strange man, but he is also a strong one, given the terrible abuse and threats he has endured.

So what on earth is he doing not watching his own team take a penalty? For god's sake, man, grow a pair.

As the SPL's TV viewing figures dwindle, now it seems even the Celtic manager can't bring himself to watch Scottish football.

Lennon's off-the-charts passion has brought him an incredible relationship with Celtic's players and fans, but as an outsider ED couldn't help feeling this was all a bit embarrassing.

You're Celtic. One of the great names of European football. Unlike, say, Manchester City, you've been to the sharp end of the European Cup before. Act like it.

Act like landing among the top 16 sides in Europe is something less than miraculous, astonishing, unimaginable. It's only five seasons since you were last there - and less than a decade since you contested a European final.

But maybe Celtic are right - maybe reaching the knockout stages really is a big deal.

Uplifting though their progress this season has been, at the same time it is a tale of decline.

Rangers' plunge into oblivion has rendered domestic competition all but irrelevant - now Celtic can draw with Arbroath on a Saturday while building towards these big midweek crescendos.

While the Parkhead atmosphere is genuinely tumultuous, the condescending pats on the head from a vanquished Barcelona side are proof enough that nobody sees them as a proper threat.

Gone are the days of Celtic as a real force. Now it seems a place as the last-16 team every group winner wants to be drawn against is the limit of their ambition.

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There's no pleasing Early Doors this morning; it now lurches from a team that seems just a bit too pleased to have qualified, to one that seems too miserable at not doing so.

The atmosphere at Stamford Bridge last night was flatter than a Rylan solo (wait, there's more X-Factor!) - this despite, or perhaps because of, Chelsea increasing the goals scored under Rafa Benitez by a factor of seven.

Either by accident or design, there was virtually no singing, apart from the increasingly ludicrous tribute to Roberto Di Matteo on 16 minutes.

The goals brought momentary applause, while stony silence greeted the final whistle. In a word, it was surly.

And as such, it reminded Early Doors of a pouting Tulisa miserably judging Christopher Maloney - making faces and talking out of the side of her mouth.

Both Tulisa and the Chelsea fans might be right, of course. Maloney belongs on a cruise ship. And so, if you're into Fat Spanish Waiter jokes, does Benitez.

But the way the Chelsea fans choose to express their disapproval makes them look every bit as plastic as Benitez suggested when he made that infamous crack about the silly little flags.

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Early Doors was going to spend this morning breaking down Martin Samuel's piece in the Daily Mail suggesting that Joey Barton comes out as gay (link here - avoid if you don't want to give the Mail your traffic), but it simply cannot muster the energy.

As ever these days, Twitter has beaten ED to the punch by getting inordinately worked up about what is widely viewed as a dollop thinly-veiled homophobia topped with a bizarre attempt to get sued by Barton.

Some brave souls leapt to Samuel's defence. The Mirror's Oliver Holt insisted: "He was making a wider point about homophobia in football."

The Mail's consultant sports editor Mark Alford added: "He's making a valid point about football," and, "It's a joke and an intelligent argument."

Mind, neither of them felt the need to let Early Doors in on what the wider, intelligent point actually was. Perhaps if you're too stupid to get it, you don't deserve an explanation.

As ED pondered a point-by-point deconstruction skewering Samuel's poisonous screed, but then it realised. This isn't some great piece of popular art - it's a quick aside designed to get a rise out of people and succeeding.

It's not the ending of the Sopranos; it doesn't deserve frame-by-frame analysis.

So here, in three sentences, is what Martin Samuel was saying:

-When a footballer comes out it won't be that big a deal.

-Given Joey Barton affects to be many other things that he almost certainly isn't, he might as well say he's gay.

-French accents, right? WELL GAY.

What this farrago confirms is that the Mail remains the Magnificent Bastard of tabloids.

Like Sepp Blatter and Luis Suarez, you don't have to like what it does, but you do have to admit it's VERY good at it.

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This from Barcelona after he was carried off in last night's game against Benfica: "Tests carried out tonight have confirmed that the player has a bruising of the bone on the outside of the left knee.

"The rate of his recovery will determine whether he will be available for the next game, on Sunday against Real Betis."

COMING UP: Europa League! Getcha big, juicy Europa League! Bordeaux v Newcastle (18:00), Udinese v Liverpool (18:00) and Tottenham v Panathinaikos (20:05). We've got minute-by-minute commentary on those three, plus live scores from every game.

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