It is a year to the day since Brendan Rodgers took over at Celtic Park. It’s almost impossible to believe. So stark has the transformation been that a lot of us still can’t quite wrap our brains around it, or how we could have been transformed so quickly.
We owe Brendan the greatest debt because of the way he’s motivated this team of ours and turned it into this winning machine. We are entitled to be proud to have him as the manager and to cherish every moment he spends here. The credit for this campaign belongs to him. He is the architect of the unbeaten run, the double so far, the treble which we’ll almost certainly claim next week. The man is a genius. This is his victory, as much as it is anyone’s.
And yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, this is one of the things that gives the media hope for a brighter future in which Sevco can challenge us; they raise the spectre, constantly, of Brendan leaving us before ten in a row, in spite of the contract he’s signed which commits him to us for that term.
In addition to that, they’ve forgotten something that ought to be obvious at a time when Celtic is celebrating the 50th anniversary of our most notable success thus far; the club was here before Brendan Rodgers and will be here when he and others have left forever.
This article will be a briefer one than it wants to be; I’ve toiled with the idea for it for a whole three weeks since we obliterated Sevco at their home ground.
I will write the longer version, but whenever I start I feel a creeping sense of dread which I only ever get these days when trying to write short fiction; the dread of something growing beyond my control. As every short story wants to be a novel, so too the article I conceive of wants to be a book, a non-fiction one about the Twenty Year War (as I’ve taken to thinking of it) and how we won it.
But broken down to the core, the thrust of my argument is this; the roots of this miracle season reach back a long way, to Fergus himself, and to decisions made through the years. Brendan has put the finishing touches to work that was started a long time ago, and although he’s clearly the right man for this moment in time, the machine was built in advance of him and it was simply waiting for the right hands to flick all the switches.
We are, without any doubt, the club now that Fergus McCann conceived of way back in 1994, and I am thrilled that he’s still around, with us, to see it.
This is his victory, and it is a total and crushing one.
I hope he stays healthy for the ultimate expression of it in four years.
The time between his arrival and now hasn’t all been plain sailing; indeed, as I’ve said before, I regard the period between Fergus’ departure and the arrival of Martin O’Neill as dark days beyond measure. To me they were the worst times of all. It didn’t matter that it was a brief period between Wim leaving and the Irishman arriving; the darkness seemed as if it had come down hard and who the Hell knew when – or if – it would end?
In addition to that, we had to put up with three years when the loathsome Walter Smith lorded it upon his return to Ibrox, and those were the years when my faith was rattled like never before, in the vision and what I took to sarcastically calling The Strategy.
And yet, it was a strategy.
There was always more going on than met the eye, and now that we’re here we can actually see, with the benefit of hindsight, how the path was formed.
Were there mistakes made? Hell, yes. Ronny was one of them, although when he was hired I thought I saw good reasons and intent behind the appointment. I didn’t believe, as some did, that it was a cheap option. It was just a very risky one.
I wrote an editorial at around the time most of us realised that the Ronny experiment had come to an end and it wasn’t going to work out, where I called for someone – specifically Dermott Desmond – to come forward with a plan and the leadership the club was crying out for.
I don’t know whether he took the lead in appointing Brendan, or whether that was a team effort involving everyone at Celtic Park – I’ve heard different versions – but for the first time since Martin was at the club we have the right man at the helm at the right time and everyone is working together, towards a vision that has never looked more clear.
It has been an incredible year, both on and off the pitch. The management team and those above them are all performing at their absolute peak. The Sevconites who think that all of this is down to the transformation one man has wrought could not be more wrong. No-one would have done a better job than Brendan, but there are a host of top bosses who would have come to Parkhead and who would have won this league out of the park.
When Brendan goes we will be in good shape. If the club keeps moving forward like this we’ll be able to attract someone of equal calibre. The fundamentals are right, and that’s the result of twenty years of building and working.
We’ve constructed a training academy, a scouting system that is still turning up gems, an infrastructure the envy of many a club and a ground whose frontage is a growing work of art, and the best of it is yet to come with hotels and bars to be added next. The plans for all this were laid at least a decade ago; this is a long-term work in progress which is spellbinding in its ambition and potential for our development.
The professionalism of the commercial team is second to none in football on this island; I genuinely believe that. That they’ve managed to get so much money from sponsorships and such like, when we don’t have the exposure of the EPL, is astounding.
I don’t believe anyone could do better.
They have worked a minor miracle.
The stadium itself gives us a massive structural advantage over any prospective challenger and that is a situation which is unlikely to change in our lifetimes. Fergus saw that even then, and the financial edge it gives us is enormous, and with the possibility of extending the main stand still a realistic goal for the future we could move even further ahead.
None of this was accidental. We didn’t luck into on any of it. This has all been thought through. It has taken a while, but the best things do. Look at the Great Wall of China. It’s the only man-made structure visible from space, and it was built in the same way you or I would one in the garden; one brick at a time. That’s how all of this has been done, piece by piece, but to a well laid, well thought out, fully costed, and therefore sustainable, plan.
This is how a club like ours attracts a guy like Brendan in the first place. We handed him a perfect machine.
We gave him control of a vast, powerful, enterprise. Our first team squad was packed with talented, international, players. It didn’t need ripping up. It only needed someone who could get the best out of it. A few additions later, and it’s a juggernaut.
The media doesn’t want to accept any of this, but their living in denial won’t change one part of it. Success didn’t just happen here. This is the culmination of more than twenty years of blood, sweat and tears, a lot of tears.
Brendan took us to six in a row, but the road goes back further than that, past Ronny, past Lenny, past Mowbray and Strachan and Martin and Dalglish. Back past Barnes, Jo Venglos and even before Wim. This success actually had its roots in what Tommy Burns started – his appointment was perhaps the best thing Fergus ever did, no matter how that relationship ended – and with the man with the bunnet himself.
Like I said, I’ll write the longer version of this, when the season ends, but for now it’s enough to say that the feeling of satisfaction we’ll all have this time next week won’t be the result of a treble, or the making of history, or anticipation of the next campaign … it will be a deeper emotion, with deeper roots.
It will feel like the antidote to the nine in a row years at Ibrox, to a decade of cheating, to the knowledge that even as they spent money they couldn’t afford to exorcise the ghosts of Lisbon that they were destroying themselves even as we were building for today.
We won the war, folks.
This is how it feels to be Celtic.
It’s a victory twenty years in the making.