For all this Family has been through over the past couple of years, having our every success belittled, being told we’re in decline, force fed this “you need Sevco” garbage, and for all we’ve had it hammered across to us again and again that we’ve got to know “our place”, as if we were second class citizens of a minority in a fascist land, underneath all of it were strong fundamentals.
As I said in a piece earlier today, we are the biggest club in this country by a wide margin. What the fans craved most of all wasn’t the recognition of our enemies – we’ll never get, don’t need it and wouldn’t want it – it was the regard of the rest of the world again.
The second we appointed Brendan Rodgers in the summer we took a step towards getting it back.
We have always been a special club, but we’ve often not been a special football club.
We’ve sold ourselves short at times and given ourselves numerous handicaps via policy and overall strategy. There were appointments and changes which might have ended well, but they were risks we didn’t have to take and ought not to have, and we paid the price for doing it.
As I’ve said before, as history has proved, when we’ve shown desire we have scaled the heights. Our most expensive side and management team was also our most successful since the Lisbon Lions; those of us who wanted the return of our ambition knew it would look like this. Full houses. Glory nights.
Top players and a top boss overseeing the transformation.
What none of us expected – I don’t think I’m wrong here – is for the transformation to have been quite this advanced so early in the day.
Most of us thought it would be many months before we saw a change this profound.
There was even some suggestion (I know, I was one of the ones who made it) that we might not see the best of this team until next season.
Indeed, the thing that will scare our potential rivals most is that, actually, we might not. Because as good as most of that performance was, I think we’re capable of playing better. I think we’re capable of really putting together something special, something that, at least in Scotland anyway, might well prove to be absolutely unstoppable.
There was that dreadful second half spell when we fell asleep – utterly, completely, and unforgivably asleep – but it was a blip in the road. Last year we would have folded the hand and chucked it. European football is about mentality. The fear in the stands was genuine at 3-2. Because we’ve been here before and it’s all too familiar to us. The collapse could have come. Last season it would have come, as sure as anything could be.
But things have changed.
Are we there yet? Have we made the Groups? The answer is no, of course we’ve not.
But we’ve seen signs, and they are not simple signs of progress, which we would have accepted and welcomed only months ago. What we’ve seen here are signs of transformation. Watching the first 45 minutes was like watching a different Celtic team from last year.
Watching them in the latter part of the second half was a masterclass in tactical switcheroo.
The weaknesses we knew about, they still exist. But even then you see the solutions are there too. Brendan took off Lustig when he’d been done one time too many. He brought on a striker to chase more goals when other managers would have stupidly sat back and held on for the single goal home win. Dembele’s goal rewarded that courage. His football in the lead-up to Brown’s goal was excellent too. This is what we’ve waited for.
What a performance this was overall.
This team never gave up.
It never stopped fighting.
These players refused to quit.
We played magnificently in parts, and with a little nervousness in others, but over the course of the night we showed more than we have in years, since Neil’s triumphant Barcelona beating season, and perhaps even before that.
We’re not seeing little changes. We are seeing huge changes.
We are not seeing small tweaks in the system but a complete overhaul and transformation of it.
The cynics – and there were many, everyone from embittered hacks who said Celtic was a step down to those who lamented Rodgers lack of trophies (as if their own idol came to Glasgow weighted down with them) – are already largely silent, bewildered and terrified.
It’s already clear to them that Rodgers was brought here for exactly this, not for a faceoff with their favourite NewCo.
Sinclair was brilliant. Toure was commanding. Dembele was wonderful. But the nine players from last season’s team who started the match were equally impressive. That’s the measure – the real measure – of what this guy has done with the team.
Get ready for a very, very special season in Paradise.
In Brendan We Trust.
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