I can’t really believe I’m writing this given where we were a year ago.
In fact, I can’t remember entering a season with as much optimism since the days of Martin O’Neill, but here goes.
Can Celtic, under the leadership of Ange Postecoglou challenge to win the UEFA Champions League?
With talent such as Henrik Larsson, Chris Sutton, Neil Lennon, Stan Petrov etc, we knew that we could give anyone a game. In fact, I remember our home form being such that the giants of Bayern Munich once celebrated a draw at Celtic Park like they had won the whole tournament.
With a little bit of luck that team of O’Neill’s could have gone very close in my opinion.
This current version of Celtic is still a very new team. A team with a leader who does not accept any limits on what can be achieved. One who is hell bent on taking on all comers by playing football his way. A way which he’s developed and fine-tuned during a coaching career spanning some 25 years – and who has done so with far less resources than he now finds himself with.
This summer is about building on our title winning squad. Adding some key elements to the group to enhance an already high performing set of players. Ange appears to have a board fully convinced by what he’s doing and who are prepared to back his choices in the transfer market.
A NEW TRANSFER POLICY FOR CELTIC?
As a club could we also be moving away from the previous strategy of showcasing and ultimately selling on one or two key players for profit each summer?
Last year we lost big players such as Odsonne Edouard, Kris Ajer and Ryan Christie – and for big money – and of course player trading will always play a key part in Celtic’s bottom line.
However, could we now be seeing a move towards a model of Champions League progression and the vast revenues that can be gleaned from participation in that competition?
Yes there will still be sales – that’s life at any football club – but for the first time in a long time can Celtic look to enhance the squad from a position of strength, rather than accept the first big offer that comes our way? Can we fully support the manager and think big about what he and his players can achieve?
It’s a prospect that excites me and I’m sure many other fans in a big way.
TAKING THE NEXT STEPS
So what do we need to progress in Europe?
Firstly we need international quality players.
To a huge degree we already have a strong element of this within our squad, with a number of players currently representing their country.
Callum McGregor (Scotland), Carl Starfelt (Sweden), Cameron Carter-Vickers (USA), Josip Juranovic (Croatia), Giorgos Giakoumakis (Greece) & Reo Hatate, Daizen Maeda, Kyogo Furuhashi (Japan) amongst others – but we need to add to this.
We need players who carry a real and genuine threat. Players of unquestionable quality.
If Jota signs then he absolutely gives us this – but we need more than just the talented Portuguese winger.
In my opinion, Jota and Kyogo were up there amongst the top players in European competition at times last season, but to take that next step then we need to surround them with other players of similar quality.
We need a coherent system and a coaching team who can support the manager and drill our players to believe in and execute the managers plans. Ange takes the lead in that department and has made an interesting and exciting addition to his coaching staff in the shape of Champions League winner Harry Kewell.
DEFENSIVE MIDFIELD REQUIREMENTS
My only real concern (assuming Jota signs) is the lack of a central midfielder with natural defensive instincts. A “No.6” to use the modern terminology.
Callum McGregor improved as the season went on, and rightly swept the boards domestically at the end of season awards, but at the top level we need to add to this area.
Celtic have been strongly linked with Vinicius Souza of Lommel S.K (who are interestingly part of the City Football Group) and the highly rated Brazilian could be the man to shore up this area.
If you look back on the Real Betis, Bayer Leverkusen, and even the Bodo Glimt games in Europe last season we were exposed far too often and badly punished by having players not showing the correct defensive instinct and discipline in central midfield.
A player of the calibre of Souza would go a long way to correcting that matter and it seems that Ange is definitely in the market for a player of that type.
Kevin N’Doram (Metz) and Mohammad Abu Fani (Maccabi Haifa) have also been linked in this area.
TIME TO COACH THE CURRENT PLAYERS
Unlike last season Ange also now has the luxury of having no European qualifiers to play this summer, with Celtic already guaranteed a place in this group stages of this season’s Champions League.
This gives him the opportunity to spend quality time on the training ground with his players and to further improve them and his playing system during this pre-season.
A number of the players returned to pre-season training at Lennoxtown on Monday of this week, with the international players (who were given an extra break) due to join up shortly ahead of next week’s training camp in Austria.
It’s sometimes easy to forget that most of our team for a variety of reasons were not part of last year’s pre-season with players such as Cameron Carter-Vickers, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Jota only signing on for the Ange revolution on the last day of August for example!
Injuries, late signings, international duty, and early European qualifiers all hampered our planning during last pre-season, and there will now be so much more time for Ange to work with his squad.
He certainly won’t be have his mind in a million different places as he surely did last year when trying to assemble a league winning squad at the 11th hour!
Automatic Champions League qualification will provide two other huge advantages beyond more preparation time:
1. The assurance that the Champions League windfall gives us a sizeable and guaranteed budget to ensure we can confidently target two quality players for each position.
2. The avoidance of qualifiers meaning that for once we won’t be amongst the club’s playing the most games in Europe across a season. This relieved pressure on the fixture list will be very welcomed by Ange and his players.
We also had so many players who played with barely any break between two seasons. The Japanese contingent effectively played an energy sapping season and a half without a break between the J-League and the SPFL.
Other players who featured at the Covid delayed European Championships were also barely given a rest before the 2021/22 season was upon them.
The lack of qualifiers this time around will surely be of benefit the whole squad.
DARING TO DREAM
It’s amazing how different a situation Celtic find themselves in compared to this time last year.
I’m not going to say we will win the Champions League this season – that would just be the Sangria talking – but for the first time in a long, long time I don’t think it’s the impossible dream that it once was.
If we get the last few pieces of the jigsaw right, if we have more luck with injuries than last season, and if we carry that little bit of luck in games that’s sometimes required then who knows what we can achieve.
Personally I can’t wait for the new season to begin. It feels like a very special time for our club under Ange’s stewardship, and it’s the most excited I’ve been about a new season in as long as I can remember.
Bring it on!