Paolo Maldini said that every player, if at all possible, should try to taste the atmosphere at Celtic Park at least once.
Xavi Hernández and Andrea Pirlo, no less, ranked it as the best they had ever experienced. Antonio Conte was so moved when he coached Juventus here that he devoted the opening chapter of his autobiography to the place. It is not just the noise, raucous and endless, but the passion that lies behind it, and the power that it generates.
Increasingly, though, Celtic Park is something of an outlier in the Champions League. Increasingly, the arenas that stage the world’s most glamorous club competition are visually stunning, lavishly appointed and architecturally wondrous, but chronically quiet. At Barcelona, no less, the silence has proved so oppressive that a singing section has been introduced to try to spark the stadium back to life.
Only a few — Signal Iduna Park in Dortmund, Napoli’s San Paolo, and Celtic’s home — have not yet succumbed, managing to retain their voice. That they have resisted being silenced has only helped their reputations soar, among fans and players; last season, several Manchester City players admitted to being staggered by the sound and the fury they found in Glasgow.
But by the time Edinson Cavani stooped low to score Paris St.-Germain’s fifth goal in a 5-0 win on Tuesday night, only the noise of the French team’s traveling fans could be heard. Thousands of Scots were streaming from Celtic Park, out into the pouring rain, in dumbfounded silence.
Qatar Sports Investments, P.S.G.’s owner, has not committed more than a billion dollars to the club — including somewhere in the region of $475 million on two players, Neymar and Kylian Mbappé, this summer alone — simply to beat the champion of Scotland.
Routing Celtic does not begin to repay the investment. Just as winning the French championship has become an expectation, rather than an achievement, victory in the Champions League — the yardstick by which all of soccer’s nouveaux riches gauge themselves — has become the new imperative. That’s why Neymar and Mbappé have been brought to Paris — not merely to swat aside some of the competition’s relative minnows in the group stages. Glory, and vindication, lie much farther down the road.
Far greater, far tougher challenges await if P.S.G. is to to end up where it is designed to go; its next Champions League assignment, Bayern Munich in Paris, will be a better indicator of its prospects. But that does not mean this silencing of Celtic Park was entirely without significance, or that it can be written off as a meaningless mismatch, a heavyweight pummeling a fly.
This stadium, after all, has proved too much for even Barcelona in recent seasons; Neymar was on the team that lost here, amid no little acrimony, in 2012. Both Manchester United and, most recently, Manchester City have failed to win here, as have Milan, Benfica and Ajax. The noise can throw even giants off their feet.
In that context, what mattered here was not simply the scale of the victory — thanks to two goals from Cavani, one each from Neymar and Mbappé and an own goal from Mikael Lustig — but the nature of the performance. P.S.G. displayed not a scintilla of nervousness. Even when the crowd was in full roar, when the electricity that so impressed Xavi, Maldini and the rest crackled around the place, the visitors seemed unfazed.
Perhaps, for the likes of Neymar, that ability to withstand pressure, to endure hostile territory, should be the bare minimum. He has played in a Champions League final, in countless clásicos, and carried the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders during a home World Cup. This, by those standards, was a breeze.
But for his new teammates, it began to prove something. P.S.G.’s last experience in this competition was a harrowing one: that humiliating, breathtaking comeback from Barcelona at Camp Nou in March.
What undid P.S.G. that night was not a lack of talent, but an absence of resolve, an inability to cope in unfavorable circumstances. This did not make up for that — not by a long shot — but playing with such poise at least hinted that the psychological scars inflicted that night by Neymar, more than anyone else, were not permanent.
That is the one ingredient that Q.S.I.’s bottomless wealth cannot buy, of course: that obduracy, that strength in adversity. In the 14 years since Roman Abramovich, the first of the new wave of oligarchs and oil barons who have transformed soccer’s landscape beyond recognition, bought Chelsea, the three great parvenus — Chelsea, Manchester City and P.S.G. — have spent more than $3 billion among them on transfer fees, and a great deal more on salaries.
In return, they have won a clutch of domestic championships and national cups; they have transformed each of their leagues, irrevocably altering the balance of power in their homelands. They have, however, won only one Champions League trophy (Chelsea’s in 2012).
That can be largely attributed to the fact that the old elite — Manchester United and Barcelona and Real Madrid and the rest — have done all they can to keep pace with the newcomers’ spending, but it also demonstrates that the ultimate success cannot simply be acquired. It is more than a matter of purchasing the best players and coaches. There are other, less tangible ingredients.
As the second half was drawing to a close on Tuesday night, just after P.S.G. had scored a third goal, a young Celtic fan ran onto the field. He sprinted to the halfway line, stewards trailing in his wake. Once there, he aimed a wild kick at Mbappé, all the frustration and humiliation of the evening pouring out.
Brendan Rodgers, the Celtic manager, condemned the fan after the game, and Celtic is sure to be punished by UEFA for the incident.
But it was symbolic that the kick missed. Mbappé simply, laconically, moved out of the way. Celtic could not touch P.S.G. Its galaxy of stars dealt with everything thrown at them, and got on with the job at hand.