Jim White

Celtic heroics allowed us to dream

Well, there's a surprise. After Celtic's win over Barcelona, Twitter has been filled with disgruntled Noucampistas pointing up the possession statistics. Apparently it undermines the legitimacy of victory if you only enjoy 18 per cent of the possession during a game. Apparently wins like Celtic's somehow challenge the very spirit of the game.

You wonder when such moaners will learn, as Arsenal surely prove on a weekly basis, that possession alone does not bring the points. There's a lot more to winning than passing your opponents to distraction. And on Wednesday night Barca — in large part due to that most unlikely thing, an English goalkeeper — failed to fulfil the fundamental of the game: they didn't put the ball in the net more times than their rivals.

Just as Chelsea did last year, Celtic beat Barca via the counter-punch and the set-piece. It may have challenged the aesthetic values of those who worship at the tika-taka shrine, but as an approach there was nothing wrong with it. Especially as it brought three points.

But it wasn't the undermining of beauty that made Wednesday's result so uplifting. Anyone with any feeling for the game wants the Barca way to thrive. There is something wonderful about watching Chelsea, the team who used the blunderbuss to power past the Catalans last season, adopt their way of playing this. Everyone wants skill to flourish, excellence to be rewarded. Barca should be everybody's template.

Yet how encouraging Celtic's win was. What was great was the reminder it gave that football remains the most wonderfully unpredictable of sports. The Champions League in particular has appeared bent over the last few years in removing uncertainty from the game. Especially in the group stages its purpose seemed more to ensure the interests of the big battalions were met. The groups were there simply to deliver the top teams to the knock-out, to perpetuate the cartel of European superpowers.

Not on Wednesday they weren't. Barca will undoubtedly progress to the next stage, their onward march towards world domination barely dented, while Celtic are about as likely to find themselves at Wembley for the final next May as Manchester City. But for just a brief moment followers of those clubs outside the ruling elite could dream that the Champions League was a competition open to all comers. For one night money and power didn't count.

What was astonishing about Celtic's victory was not the possession stats, or the manner in which Fraser Forster enhanced his reputation. It was the gap in resources between them and their opponents. If John Henry and the Moneyball aficionados are right about the way sport operates entirely to a monetary beat, then it should never have happened.

With a wage bill roughly a fifth of the scale of the Spaniards, nobody could throw the accusation at the Scots that they were buying their way to a place at the top table. You might be able to say that of Shakhtar or City, but not of a club like Celtic.

You only had to look at the substitutes used by the two teams to appreciate the wealth gap. While Barca brought on Cesc Fabregas, David Villa and Gerard Pique, Celtic called Tony Watt and Beram Kayal from the bench.

Celtic as impoverished outsiders: that may be a description that brings a wry smile to followers of Kilmarnock or St Johnstone. In their home market, Celtic dominate the football economy with a ruthless efficiency, a domination only increased by Rangers' recent self-immolation. As Watt's singing from Airdrie insists, anyone who is any good in Scotland is likely to find themselves eventually absorbed into the green and white.

But in European terms they are a micro business, a fringe enterprise. Sure they may pack 60,000 wonderfully committed supporters into their stadium, but in comparison to their opponents' television-induced money making machine they are the lowliest of underdogs.

And everyone — with the exception of those who toil in their Scottish shadow (plus Rangers fans) — can only have been delighted to see the underdog triumph. Indeed, judging by the gracious comments of Pique and coach Tito Vilanova after the game, there were some in the Barca camp who were not too disconcerted about the result.

They may well have cause to be relaxed about what happened. Ultimately things have not fundamentally changed. The football world still spins on the same axis. It will be Barca, not Celtic we are talking about as this competition reaches its climax next spring.

But for one night only, however, Forster, Watt and Victor Wanyama provided the game with a new cast list. Their heroics allowed us all to dream. And boy, did they give a competition in danger of suffocating under a blanket of predictability a joyful jolt of adrenaline.