In the aftermath of last night’s Progres denying match where the Ibrox NewCo struggled to a draw against the might of Luxembourg, Steven Gerrard lamented the tactics of his opponents by moaning about the pitch and the heat in the dressing room.
He has no idea what heat really is, and over the course of the next few weeks Celtic is going to turn it up to the maximum.
The Ibrox boss is in a pressure cooker, and we’re about to slam the lid shut and twist the dial up to High.
Over on CQN, Paul Brennan posted an excellent piece today about the danger in the coming campaign, and he posed a question; just what was it that made the difference in 1997 when we rose to stop the Ibrox ten in a row juggernaut?
I have always thought it was because we simply stopped caring.
The other day, I listened to the podcast at the Scottish Football Monitor and it was instructive to hear the ever-excellent David Low talk about the atmosphere at Parkhead at that time. Fergus and his people had just one goal, “to make Celtic the best club they could be.”
In other words, we stopped looking across the city and focussed only on bettering ourselves.
Wim was brought in to give us a new focus, and a continental style.
He was also supposed to lay the foundations for a long term plan; it was this failure, ironically, that led to the divisions which caused him to leave at the end of the season. Fergus was said to be shocked at how little forward thinking was actually being done.
And this in itself offers the proof that stopping ten in a row could not have mattered less to the Celtic board at the time, who saw it as a mere distraction. Was Fergus happy we won the title and changed history? Of course he was, but he would have carried on undaunted regardless.
He had a club to rebuild and he point-blank refused to imperil that process.
A lot of our fans still don’t realise just how lucky we were.
The best thing Fergus did was keep the pressure off the management team and the players.
There were no huge expectations on these guys; we learned our lesson from having Tommy Burns in charge for the nine season.
You can be too involved. You can be too swept up in it all.
At Ibrox the board itself thinks of nothing but stopping us … they have never tried to “be all they can be” because to them that means being Rangers.
But that club was built on sand.
All the success at Ibrox during those days was constructed out of debt.
If a certain bank had not been giving a certain businessman a blank cheque, there never would have been a Rangers nine in a row in the first place. Their fans have never quite grasped that; the club they aspire to be never existed to begin with. It was a phantom, a shadow on the wall.
This is the kind of pressure that crushes managers, even experienced ones, and Gerrard has a solitary year in the dugout. He is not remotely ready for what is about to befall him, and he’s going up against a team of winners led by a guy with the third best managerial win ratio in the history of our club.
In short, he’s facing people who do know pressure and how to handle it.
Celtic is facing its most important season in many a year and we’re ready for it. You can see it in the players and in the manager, and you can feel it in the support. We’re prepared and we’re confident, on the back of a third domestic clean sweep.
On top of that, the house is secure. Celtic is a well-run, well-funded operation which is working at near peak performance. If we make the Group Stages of the Champions League that brings even more cash to the club, and enhances our attractiveness to players.
Gerrard is sitting on top of a volcano, and at the heart of the club is a man who will put his own interests first. If it looks as if his rookie boss cannot deliver, then I have no doubt that King will sacrifice him to maintain his own chances of survival.
If he thought the heat in the away dressing room at Luxembourg was bad last night he has no idea how hot his own is going to get in the next few weeks and months.
Lennon knows, because he’s been over the course already.
Our players know because they keep on doing it under pressure, and even won a treble last year after Rodgers left.
This is our nine in a row year, but we were built for this pursuit and it comes at a time of dominance the likes of which no club in Scotland has ever seen.
This is why we’re champions.
It’s why we’re going to stay that way.