Legia Warsaw boss Henning Berg admits his side made a mistake by fielding an ineligible player but believes UEFA's decision to throw them out of the competition goes against every sense of fair play.
Manchester United legend Henning Berg is furious with UEFA’s decision to reinstate Celtic to the Champions League at the expense of his Legia Warsaw side, following a ‘technical mistake’ which saw them field an ineligible player.
Legia had won the third-qualifying round tie 6-1 on aggregate but brought on Bartosz Bereszynski for the last four minutes of their 2-0 second-leg victory at Murrayfield, while he was supposed to be serving a suspension following a red card for violent conduct in last season’s Europa League.
Uefa punished the Polish club on Friday by awarding the game 3-0 to Celtic, meaning the Scottish champions progressed to the final qualifying round on away goals, despite losing the first match in Warsaw 4-1.
Berg did admit that his side made a mistake, but labelled the decision a ‘disgrace’, believing it to go against everything the game of football stands for.
‘It’s a disgrace for UEFA to make a decision like this, with these consequences,’ he told Sky Sports News.
‘What has happened is unbelievable. We had a player from last year playing in the Europa League and suspended for three games after a red card. This season he did not play in the first two or in the initial match against Celtic, so he was ready for the fourth game and should’ve been ok.
‘The technical mistake by our administration was not to submit the squad for the games against St Patrick’s for him to serve his suspension. This mistake with him not being on this paper has taken away our chance of getting into the Champions League, which would have been a dream for this club and these players.
‘We worked so hard to get into the position. We played two fantastic games against Celtic and then everything is taken away.
‘We admit the mistake. We made the mistake with the papers. It’s just a little small technical mistake and the consequence for us now is not for us to be able to play in the Champions League. It’s very, very difficult to take and I think it goes against every sense of fair play and competition.'
Berg went on to cite the example of Debrecen, who were fined £15,000 in 2010 but allowed to remain in the competition despite make the same error, after UEFA ruled that the club had “no interest in fielding this player for the three last minutes of additional time, when the score was so clearly in its favour”.
‘There has been a case like this in 2010 with Debrecen from Hungary,’ he said. ‘They also used such a player and their case wasn’t as strong as ours, but UEFA said that because they acted in good faith it did not affect the result, so for them to make a different decision this time, it’s very difficult to take.
Berg further stressed how unfair he felt the ruling was, while adding that it could now have long-term ramifications for the club.
‘We think, most importantly, it goes against the intentions of football. European football should be about fair competition and fair play, so when an unfortunate technical error is made like this it’s difficult to take.
‘It makes a big difference on how we want to build the club. We’re a big club in Poland, who’ve won the league two years in a row. We are building and progressing and I feel it’s devastating for the players who’ve worked so hard too. There’s not been a Polish team in the Champions League for 17 or 18 years and we had a good chance, but now it’s been taken away from us.’
Asked if he felt UEFA would make the same decision had Celtic made the error, Berg was unwilling to speculate but did add that his club would be doing their utmost to get it overturned.
‘That would only be speculation, so I don’t want to go into that. I can only look at the facts and I can see that the Debrecen’s case was similar to our case, and we feel that this is not the right decision or in the interest of football or fair play.
‘We have financial fair play rules which clubs are breaking but still get to play in the Champions League and just get fined, so for our little club to make his administration error is devastating for the players.
‘We will be appealing all the way and go as far as we can because we don’t think it’s the right decision.’
Celtic are now scheduled to face Slovenia’s Maribor in the play-off round for a place in the group stages, though whether Legia’s appeals will get them anyway remains to be seen.