THE Scottish domestic football season may not quite be over yet as the Scottish Cup final is still to be played this coming weekend. For the first time in five years, however, Celtic are not involved so for them, the curtain finally came down last weekend on a season which will live long in the memory, but for all the wrong reasons.
Having carried all before them in the Scottish top division for the previous nine seasons, and having notched an unprecedented quadruple treble, the Bhoys had the chance to create the most sought-after piece of history of them all: 10 league titles in-a-row.
To say that they failed to prepare adequately would be a massive understatement as their title challenge simply didn’t get off the ground this year.
There were so many passengers on the pitch and in the dugout, players who didn’t want to be there, some who thought they were too good for the club and others who lacked the quality and character needed for such a momentous campaign.
Across Glasgow, Steven Gerrard and Sevco seized upon the chance handed to them by Celtic’s arrogance and complacency to easily claim their first ever major trophy win.
In five attempts, the Hoops were unable to claim a single victory against their Glasgow rivals this year, despite outperforming the Ibrox men in a number of the derby games. Mentally, they just weren’t up to the task.
Gerrard’s men ended the season unbeaten in the league and their final winning margin over the Bhoys was an embarrassing 25 points.
Having won every available domestic trophy for four years in-a-row, Celtic ended this campaign empty handed, the first time that had happened in over a decade. In short, this has been one of the most inept seasons any of us can remember.
There is no one single thing that can be pointed to this year which led to such a weak showing.
The coaching was poor, there was a lack of leadership at board level, recruitment was abysmal and out on the pitch the players were just going through the motions. Throw in the fact that there were no fans in the stadium and you get an unfortunate perfect storm from which Celtic started the season badly and were unable to lift themselves.
There is no doubt that the Covid pandemic affected Celtic, probably more than any other Scottish team. They are a club and a group of players that benefit hugely from having fans in the stadium, both in financial terms and also in the lift that 60-odd thousand fervent supporters transmit onto the pitch.
Over the years there has been a distinct feeling that the opposite was the case over at Ibrox, that their support was quicker to turn on their own players and that their frustrations had a negative effect on performances and results. It could be said that they have actually enjoyed not having those distractions this season and improved massively because of it.
When we see just how their supporters “celebrated” their title win on two separate occasions in both Glasgow and on the Shankill, with the resulting violent scenes and blatant Covid breaches, it is understandable that the Sevco players performed better without that type of poisonous atmosphere.
The big question is, can they sustain it for next season or was this campaign, as many suspect, an anomaly?
When Celtic stopped the old Rangers winning 10-in-a-row in the late ‘90s, they did so with a set of players who were largely inferior to those operating at Ibrox at the time.
They over-achieved because they knew how important it was to stop Rangers completing that milestone. Sevco have massively over-achieved this year for the exact same reason. But to continue doing that is not sustainable and in my opinion they will struggle to reach the same heights next year.
For one thing, the bills which have been constantly kicked down the road will now have to be paid and I can foresee some of their better players being sold off to balance the books.
The onus is on Celtic though, and their actions over the next few months will determine whether or not they will reclaim their place at the summit of Scottish football. They are gearing up for a complete reboot of the club, with new faces on the board, a new management structure and a host of new playing talent required to replace those who will be leaving in the summer.
Eddie Howe is still not officially announced as the club’s next manager but I will be amazed if this does not happen within the next week.
Howe knows he will need to hit the ground running so, with the football over for this season, there is nothing to stop him coming in now and preparing the ground for the next campaign.
I can understand the club taking their time over this managerial capture as the last time they acted in haste was in handing Neil Lennon the job in the Hampden Park showers a couple of years ago.
If it takes a little time to cross the t’s and dot the i’s to get this one over the line I don’t think anyone will mind. Now is the right time to make that announcement though, and give the long-suffering Celtic support some good news for a change.
Howe is in the Brendan Rodgers mould, a softly spoken analytical coach who has all the qualities to be successful in the modern era. He will not be the type to get overly emotional and rant and rave at his players and will hopefully be able to bring out the best in some of Celtic’s under-performing stars, in much the same way that Rodgers did.
We all felt understandably let down when the Carnlough man left for a new challenge a few years ago, but I think given his recent successes in terms of winning the FA Cup and his team’s lofty league position he will feel that he made the move at the right time.
Unfortunately, it set Celtic’s progress back by many years but with Howe coming in, hopefully we should start moving forward again.
He will have to do so without the assistance of a man who will surely be remembered as one of Celtic’s greatest ever captains, as Scott Brown last weekend played his final game for the club.
He didn’t have the greatest of seasons this year but then again who in a Hoops shirt can say they did. It would be a travesty, however, if the past season saw any diminishing of his legacy as his trophy haul as well as the overall influence he has had on the club for many years deserve to be fully applauded.
Brown’s biggest attribute is that he made everyone else around him raise their game. His own standards, on the pitch, at training or just around the club, were so high that everyone had to raise theirs just to keep up with him.
It will be very strange to see him back at Celtic Park next year in an opposing team but he deserves to move on to the next step in his career with the best wishes of everyone connected to Celtic Football Club.
It’s the end of an era in more ways than one, but as is the case every season, we will approach the next one with excitement and high expectations.
This campaign is not one that many will look back on with any fondness but we have a lot to look forward to after the summer. By that time I’m sure we’ll all be raring to go again.