One year ago, we dared hope for an invincible treble but it seemed impossible, even the greats never achieved it. The Lions lost home and away to Dundee United in season 1966-67, while we achieved the treble on only two other occasions. When Tom Rogic dinked a 90th minute winner in the Scottish Cup final you and I knew the level of achievement.
At that point, 2017 went down in our history as a year bettered only by 1967. 2003 came close, but season 2002-03 is remembered fondly for its endearing frailties. Celtic were simply peerless as they secured the club’s fourth treble.
With half of season 2017-18 complete, the first leg of what would be an unprecedented second successive treble is complete, but signs are clear that this team peaked some months ago, despite qualification for the Europa League knockout rounds.
Aware of the exceptional (from a Scottish perspective) demands on his players of completing in every round of cup competitions, a dozen European games and international football, Brendan Rodgers has rotated his squad this season more than any previous Celtic manager. While this was doubtlessly the correct action, performances inevitably took a hit when our two exceptional and experience strikers were watching from the side-lines. In football, you often need to take a backwards step to make long-term gains.
This didn’t really bothered me. I liked watching Odsonne Edouard, Anthony Ralston and Calvin Miller. Being able to win the league while developing talent in this manner is one of the few benefits of being stuck in a small league.
Ultimately, even our top performers struggled to raise their game. Defeat eventually arrived, a timely signpost for the club as they plan ahead.
You and I have studied the structure of the club for many years. We have never known it to be as stable. Income last season topped £90m, the first time it reached this level, and with a fair wind, it could reach nine figures this season.
These riches come with fresh risks. Wage levels have rocketed in line with performances. We can afford our current operating levels – and can even afford an occasional reversal in the Champions League qualifiers, but there is a misalignment at the heart of what we are doing.
In his opening transfer window, Brendan added Moussa Dembele (who was already on the Ronny Deila target list) and Scott Sinclair. Both made a phenomenal contribution to the success which followed. This season, with Scott struggling to recapture his earlier form and Moussa hampered by injury, the big contributions have come from players who were at the club under the Ronny regime. Indeed, of the Celtic team which ended the year, only Olivier Ntcham was a Brendan Rodgers signing.
What we have added since the summer of 2016 is management expertise. Brendan took Ronny’s squad to levels none of us thought possible, but only two of his signings are automatic first-choice.
This is not necessarily against plan. When you sign French youth internationals like Ntcham and Edouard you do not expect them to immediately displace more experienced players. Players do not mature at the same rate – Kieran Tierney got their earlier than Kenny Dalglish, so if the plan is to recruit the best French and Scottish youth talent, patience will be required.
Notwithstanding this, Brendan will want to have more of his own signings grabbing starting slots in the big games. The players who were there under Ronny have made Herculean progress, but that invincible treble was their high point.
On that front, Lee Congerton joined in March as chief scout, a few months after the phenomenally successful John Park era ended. Scouting is as much about relationships as judgement and the environment is not conducive to friendship-making. Park’s job became increasingly difficult, despite his encyclopaedic knowledge of players sound judgement. Over his tenure, the Celtic proposition became comparatively less attractive.
The mere fact that Brendan Rodgers is manager changed this. Moussa didn’t sign for Ronny in January 2016 but put pen to paper for Brendan six months later. It is the job of Lee Congerton to make the most of the Celtic proposition, Brendan Rodgers and Champions League football to deliver players that can push us further in the Champions League.
Nothing of significance has changed in our chances of escaping our playing environment. We will remain in Scotland until at least the bubble inflating football incomes elsewhere bursts, most significantly of all in England. Within months the next England and Wales Premier League TV rights auction will conclude.
Premier League audiences have dwindled since the last rights were issued but Sky TV’s entire existence is predicated on winning a significant portion of these rights. The Premier League is trying to attract bids from Amazon and Facebook, so it is possible rights values could increase despite falling audience figures. But we can hope.
Until then, our role in the world is to dominate the life out of our domestic rivals, qualify for the Champions League and continue to add to the unique story of Celtic.
I loved every minute of being a Celtic supporter in 2017. It was thrilling, captivating and inspiring. Whatever it brings, your club will be an exciting place over the next 12 months. Enjoy it.
Take care and thank you for all your support. I hope you each have a Happy New Year and healthy 2018.
NEW CQN PODCAST OUT NOW! CHRISTMAS JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS
Paul John Dykes and Kevin Graham are joined by Celtic authors, Stephen Sullivan and Stevie Murray for a special festive episode – Christmas Jumpers for Goal-Posts.
Stephen Sullivan is a former Celtic View reporter who wrote the much-lauded Sean Fallon biography, ‘Iron Man’. He is now the editor of FIFA.com.
Stevie Murray has now written two books on Celtic – ‘Ten Men Won The League’ and ‘Kenny of the Celtic’ – and he is a respected and authoritative voice on the club.
Treat yourself to a signed copy of Jim Craig – Right Back to 67 and you will receive a copy of That Season on Paradise signed by Bertie Auld, just order the Jim Craig book at CQNbookstore.co.uk and we’ll do the rest…