CELTIC legend Davie Hay has experienced the European rollercoaster as a manager and a player.
The club ambassador, 74, insists this season will be an acid test of how far Ange Postecoglou has progressed since his arrival in June last year.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE, Hay, speaking to author Alex Gordon, who co-wrote the icon’s best-selling autobiography, ‘The Quiet Assassin’, said: “There can be little doubt that the Premiership title was the priority target last season.
“Anything Celtic picked up in Europe would have been seen as a bonus. Only the most optimistic of fans would have hoped for the team to make a dent in this arena in a campaign of so much upheaval.
READ ALL ABOUT IT…Davie Hay with author Alex Gordon at a Celtic book signing.
“Let’s face it, the manager inherited a shambles. The team hadn’t so much failed the previous term, but flopped spectacularly.
“The European experience was a painful one. Dismissed by unseeded Ferencvaros in the Champions League qualifying round in the east end of Glasgow and then a Europa League campaign to embarrass everyone, finishing bottom and losing home and away to AC Milan and Sparta Prague.
“One win against French side Lille in Glasgow and a draw away from home.
“That’s not the Celtic team I grew up with. I joined when Jock Stein’s men had become the first UK club to conquer Europe in 1967.
“Back then, if a club knocked out Celtic there was every chance they would go all the way and win the trophy.
“For instance, AC Milan beat Celtic 1-0 on aggregate in 1969 and lifted the silverware with a 4-1 win over Ajax in the Final.
SORROW IN THE SAN SIRO…Davie Hay in action against Feyenoord’s Wim Van Hanagem in Celtic’s 2-1 extra-time loss in the 1970 European Cup Final in Milan.
“A year later, we were beaten 2-1 in extra-time by Feyenoord in the Final in the San Siro in Milan and the season afterwards we went down to Johan Cruyff-inspired Ajax 3-1 on aggregate. The Dutch then beat Panathinaikos 2-0 at Wembley to be acclaimed best in Europe.
“Twelve months later, Celtic were knocked out on penalty-kicks by Inter Milan after a goalless aggregate and they lost to Cruyff and Co 2-0 in the Final.
“You get the drift. If Celtic were beaten in Europe it was normally by a top-class team who had a great chance of actually going all the way in the competition.
“That hasn’t been the case in recent years, but Postecoglou and his players have the opportunity to restore a bit of the club’s credibility in this arena this time around.
“This is a different ball game. Last season was all about getting the jigsaw put together. The Celtic fans I know were not too perturbed about Europe.
DUTCH AND GO…Ange Postecoglou shouts out instructions as Celtic win 3-2 on aggregate against AZ Alkmaar.
“Yes, it delivers a level of excitement that is difficult to match in the domestic game and, as everyone knows, European nights under the lights at Celtic Park offer an experience second to none.
“The flags were not fluttering at half-mast in Glasgow when the team were beaten by Bodo/Glimt in the Europa Conference League. I can recall the city in mourning, enveloped in gloom and doom on the occasions we were handed our jotters in Europe.
“As a Celtic payer back then, there was no hiding place. Inquests into your failure were held by everyone, every defeat was dissected, reasons for a loss were demanded.
“My old team flew out to the Arctic Circle for the second leg on the day of the game. They were 3-1 down from the first leg and 90 minutes away from the exit.
“Back in the day, everything would have been done to reverse that scoreline. Last season was different.
HUNGARIAN RHAPSODY…Kyogo Furuhashi flashes in the opener in the 2-0 win over Ferencvaros.
“There can be no argument the manager sent out a team to win the tie in difficult circumstances, but that was hardly the ideal preparation.
“I think we all understood the position. It was February and Celtic had gone to the top of the table for the first time in 18 months with their superb 3-0 victory over Rangers at Parkhead at the start of the month.
“Their next league game was due against Hibs in Edinburgh three days after the European tie and Easter Road would have been viewed as an extremely difficult venue.
“The focus was clearly on the championship and no-on could blame Postecoglou if that was the way his mind was working.
“Celtic looked a little leg weary in Leith and achieved a goalless draw. It turned out to be a point won and not two dropped as things proved at the climax of the campaign.
PAUSE FOR APPLAUSE…Filipe Jota sits it out after scoring a superb goal in Celtic’s late and dramatic 3-2 loss to Bayer Leverkusen in Germany.
“That was then and this is now. Expectation levels have risen somewhat. And I am sure that is something an ambitious and enterprising manager such as Postecoglou will embrace in his usual fashion.
“The supporters have seen what players such as Kyogo Furuhashi, Filipe Jota, Josip Juranovic, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Joe Hart can deliver at domestic level.
“The fans have enjoyed the skills of quality performers such as Reo Hatate, Matt O’Riley, Daizen Maeda, Liel Abada and Giorgos Giakoumakis in a championship and League Cup-winning crusade.
“Plus we are all eager to see what the likes of Aaron Mooy, Alexando Bernabei and Yosuke Ideguchi may be able to contribute as the season unfolds.
ON THE BALL…captain Callum McGregor is ready to mix with the European big boys.
“Plus we have homegrown talent such as captain Callum McGregor, Anthony Ralston, Stephen Welsh and James Forrest to look out for as well as David Turnbull and Greg Taylor who have looked energetic and enterprising.
“So, there is a lot to be excited about as we await this evening’s Champions League draw in Instanbul. This is an acid test for Ange.
“It’s all-change from last year and this time we have a realistic chance of showing what Celtic are all about on a platform where the spotlight never dims.
“At this stage of Ange Postecoglou’s progress, I don’t think we can ask for anything more.
“Bring on Europe’s finest and let us measure ourselves against the big boys.”