CARL STARFELT went from scapegoat to champion in a whirlwind first season at Celtic.
The Swedish international centre-back arrived in July in a £4.2million switch from Russian cracks Rubin Kazan and made his first-team debut within 48 hours of touching down in Glasgow.
It was hardly ideal preparation, but new boss Ange Postecoglou did not have too many alternatives for his central defensive partnership.
He had watched youngsters Stephen Welsh and Dane Murray being rag-dolled by powerhouse frontman Michail Antonio in the pre-season match in Glasgow that saw Davie Moyes’ Londoners saunter to a 6-2 victory.
PRIZE GUYS…Carl Starfelt holds the Premiership trophy as Josip Juranovic, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Greg Taylor, Anthony Ralston and Stephen Welsh share the joy.
Kristoffer Ajer had left for Brentford and the squad was short of numbers with Nir Bitton being utilised in an emergency.
Starfelt went straight in against Hearts at Tynecastle, endured a torrid 90 minutes and the Edinburgh team won 2-1 with a last-gasp goal.
As far as first impressions went, it was not ideal.
However, the the 26-year-old back-four performer buckled down and played his part in the remarkable rejuvenation of the Hoops who went from abject also-rans in the previous season to be crowned champions for the tenth time in 11 years.
Plus a Premier Sports League Cup was delivered six days before Christmas with a comeback 2-1 victory over Hibs at Hampden where another new Bhoy, Kyogo Furuhashi, took centre stage with a second-half double salvo.
TANADICE TRIUMPH…Carl Starfelt takes the ball out of defence watched by Joe Hart in the background as Celtic achieve the required point to lift the Premiership silverware.
Reflecting on his debut banana skin, Starfelt said: “I don’t think I thought this far ahead, to be honest.
“Of course, I knew that when you come to Celtic you have the demands on you and the goal will always be to become the champions.
“Obviously, we had a bit of a rough start, but we always kept believing in ourselves and in the team.
“I think that makes it even better.”
Pressure was heaped on everyone at Parkhead in the opening months of the campaign when Postecoglou’s side lost three of their six opening league games and dropped two points to Dundee United at Parkhead in another frustrating encounter.
However, following the dsimal 1-0 reveruse against Livingston in September, the Hoops embarked upon a remarkable 32-game unbeaten league run to bring the crown back to Paradise.
RISE AND SHINE…Carl Starfelt leaps high to flick on a corner-kick in the 2-1 Premier Sports League Cup Final win over Hibs in December. Cameron Carter-Vickers and Nir Bitton add their height and weight to the raid.
Starfelt said: “Everyone doubted us, a lot of people didn’t think it would be possible for us to stand here as champions, but here we are and it just makes it even better.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better first year of my Celtic career.
“Obviously, this was our goal all season. We knew it was going to be tough, but now we stand here as the best team in Scotland and champions.
“It has been an incredible journey and we have enjoyed every moment of it. Also it was very nice after putting in all this hard work all year to be able to celebrate it in style with the fans.
“You can see how much it means to all the Celtic fans. It really is the best feeling.”
Starfelt, speaking to the Daily Record, added: “I think this can just be the start.
THE SWEDE AND THE SILVERWARE…Carl Starfelt carries the League Cup with David Turnbull and Josip Juranovic in attendance after the Hampden victory six days before Christmas.
“A lot of players made their first year in the Celtic jersey this time and, even though we came together pretty fast, I think many players will only get better.
“And then we have the Champions League to look forward to next season, as well. We know that’s a very tough competition, so we have to improve.
“I think for sure that it’s possible. The demands at Celtic will always be so high and we will always strive to do so.
“You have to bring your best game in these matches. Also as a team you have to really perform.
“Playing in Europe this year with this team and this manager I think will be helpful for us going forward and playing these big European matches. I can’t wait for it.
“The home games especially will be absolutely amazing. You have to be at your very best. One foot wrong and anything can happen.”