The exoticism of European football has been reduced to a travel bubble, a quarantined hotel floor and a game almost devoid of local colour, but success remains crucial to the ability of Celtic and Rangers to strengthen their squads at a time when even the Old Firm clubs are constrained by financial rigour.
Steven Gerrard and Neil Lennon acknowledged as much ahead of their respective Europa League play-offs on Thursday, when Rangers are at home to Galatasaray and Celtic away to Sarajevo.
“I think I’ve made it pretty clear what I feel we need, but I also respect the board’s position in the current climate and the situation that we’re in,” said Gerrard, who is bidding to steer Rangers into the group stage for a third successive campaign.
“I do think that what we try and do in the final days of the transfer window will depend on whether we qualify or not, but that’s a question for people who are above me at the club.”
Lennon, meanwhile, said, of the consequence of victory in Bosnia on Thursday: “It would be really important and would put us on a really decent financial footing. The money is a by-product of the game really. We’ve not really given it that much thought. I just want us to get through and play well.
“We want to build on the weekend’s performance and come away with a good win. We’re going to have to play really strongly and be really concentrated at set-plays. If we can do that, we believe we’ve got the fire power to win the game.”
The composition of Celtic’s attack remains to be seen. Odsonne Edouard has been lacklustre, Albian Ajeti sustained an injury during Sunday’s 3-0 win over Hibernian at Celtic Park and is ruled out, as is James Forrest, Patryk Klimala has yet to push to the fore of his manager’s thoughts and Leigh Griffiths has scarcely registered as even a marginal figure, having failed to put in an exacting pre-season’s preparation before succumbing to a calf injury.
Lennon did cite Griffiths as a candidate for inclusion but in such neutral terms that it would be a surprise were the striker to feature other than as a substitute.
“He’s ready to play a part. He’s really handy to have around, so he could get game time if we need him,” Lennon said. “He’s doing OK, although he’s obviously not played a lot of football, but he’s been training the past few weeks and has looked more up to speed.”
Success on Thursday would have an effect on the longer-term health of football in Scotland, which could overtake Turkey in the Uefa rankings to secure an automatic Champions League place for the country’s title holders.
“It would be a big boost to the country – something that we haven’t had for a long time,” Gerrard said.
“The teams in Scotland have worked ever so hard, chipping away to improve it. We’ve played our part, so I’m very proud of the players and what we’ve done as a club to improve the coefficient, but the main priority is to always focus on ourselves.
“This is a huge fixture for us and it’s vitally important we get through it and come out victorious. Rangers have big respect for Galatasaray as a team and for all their individuals because they play at a real big level,” said Gerrard, who could reinstate Ryan Jack and Brandon Barker, but has a doubt over Cedric Itten after the striker picked up a knee injury in training.
“The main strength to Galatasaray’s team is the spine. The two centre-backs (Christian Luyindama and Marcao) are big, strong, powerful and quick and that filters right through to Radamel Falcao.”
One potential hazard to Rangers, Arda Turan, has been ruled out but, even without their influential midfielder, Galatasaray remain as potent a threat to the Ibrox team’s progress as any faced in the qualifying stages in Gerrard’s time.
Lennon, too, was properly wary of a Sarajevo team who have the muscular attributes to cause Celtic problems on their Balkan expedition.
“They’ve won their past four games and negotiated the Europa League tie (against Podgorica),” said the Celtic manager.
“They are a big physical team who have made a few changes from last year. They are conceding goals, which is an area we are hoping to exploit.
“We have to play with a real intensity. Riga gave everything last week and you’d imagine Sarajevo will be the same. We have to leave everything out there on the pitch. It’s really important for our season that we negotiate the tie.”