Six league titles in as many seasons, the first domestic treble in fourteen years on the horizon and an alluring invincible season looming. Things couldn’t seem much better for the Glasgow based club but surely this provides the perfect foundations for something more.
Domestic dominance only warrants limited praise, having a monopoly in the Scottish Premiership has a tendency to become more tiresome than impressive, despite the ‘better than Rangers’ silver lining to it all. For Celtic to stretch their ascendancy and show signs of further ambition, they must look to emulate the European glory of the 1966-67 season.
Admittedly, their lone golden star was gained under different, simpler circumstances, the competition at the time consisted of just 32 teams without the need to trawl through qualifying rounds. And yes, it’s perhaps a case of ‘easier said than done’ but success in Europe has more significance and importance than simply reliving former glories, and must be a prospect worth serious consideration.
The current squad, for the first time since the Henrik Larsson/John Hartson era nearly fifteen years ago who achieved a UEFA Cup final, wields some of Europe’s finest attacking talents and an arsenal of journeymen needing to be utilised whilst still on the books.
The mesmerising displays of Moussa Dembélé and the revitalised Scott Sinclair provide dynamism and goals up front, with the pair’s tally coming to an eye-watering 53 so far this season. Tom Rogic, James Forrest, Stuart Armstrong and most notably skipper Scott Brown have all been playing out of their skins in midfield and the perhaps understaffed defence still boasts the best defensive record in Scotland.
The necessity to keep such players at the squad is imperative and obvious, such talent has been tipped to travel across Europe to more attractive clubs yet Celtic must maintain this group for at least a season more.
Brendan Rodgers and the clubs hierarchy need to conjure up a fine sales pitch in the post-season period to ensure this. Financial incentives won’t cut the mustard as many of the bidding clubs will have deeper pockets, Celtic must find that other angle to work with – a project, an ambition, a quest for triumph in Europe coupled with guarantee playing time is the only remaining route.
Do not mistake this suggestion as delusional, I am not suggesting Celtic should aim to win the Champions League in the coming season or even make it to the latter stages of the tournament – they just need to put their mark on it. Whether this means a surprise qualification to the last 16 or a third place finish proceeded by a respectable Europa league run – either avenue will be an improvement on recent seasons and will represent the direction of the club to the players, and most importantly, the fans.
Predictably this will also increase the club’s appeal for new players and the available balance allocated to first team signings. Winning the Scottish Premiership earns a humble three million pounds, another few million will be added to that for both the Betfred Cup and Scottish Cup (currently in the semi-finals) and TV rights are limited, despite the return of the Old Firm derby increasing revenue this year. On the contrary, Celtic would double that total if they make the knockout rounds of the UEFA Champions League and earn a similar amount for making the final sixteen in the Europa League.
Some may argue that qualification to the Europa League will provide a more realistic platform to establish ubiquity amongst Europe’s top names. Regardless, the need for this is reinforced by too many factors to be considered fable.
Celtic, much like Ajax, Red Star Belgrade and a few others, are at a stage where they risk falling into oblivion, where domestic trebles are not well-respected and record breaking seasons are forgotten to outsiders. They have a duty to put their name on the map again, to represent their country at the highest level and show that clubs outside the ‘big five leagues’ can still accomplish European glory.
The timing couldn’t be better; a squad rich with genuine talent, an economic situation belittling previous seasons, a manager well respected and esteemed – circumstances are idyllic for Celtic to prosper and flourish.