Scott Brown has reportedly claimed that this is the strongest Celtic side he’s been a part of.
That’s a pretty big statement. Before we examine it, let’s look at what Brown actually said. When asked the question he said “It’s certainly up there.” It’s not an unequivocal endorsement of that view, but it’s close enough to one for us to examine it more fully.
Brown has been at Celtic for twelve years now. He has seen managers and players come and go. He has played in sides which did amazing things, including beating Barcelona and winning an Invincible treble. He is qualified to make such a judgement.
He was signed by Gordon Strachan, who had already dismantled one of the great Celtic sides, the one that got us to Seville. He never played alongside the luminaries of that side, like Larsson, Sutton, Hartson, Thompson. His debut season was the one where we came back from the dead to retain our title on the final night at Tannadice.
That was the team at the end of the Strachan cycle; it is obvious that this was never going to be one of the great Celtic teams, or the strongest. That team was on the downslope when Brown arrived, and the next couple of years proved it.
We lost the title the following season, as a consequence of dropping points in four of the last seven games.
The limitations with Strachan’s team were readily apparent. What was to come next was equally horrendous of course; we lost the next two titles, one with Mowbray’s team – by no stretch of the imagination a strong squad – and then in Lennon’s first full season.
By the end of that season we actually had a notable squad; Ledley, Commons, Hooper, Ki, Kayal and Izzy were all that club when the curtain fell. The trouble was, we didn’t significantly add to that squad in the following campaign, with no Rangers in the league.
Yes, we brought in Wanyama, Forster, Lustig and Wilson – one free, one on loan and one for a nominal sum – but none of those guys was at his best yet, and I doubt Brown would class that as a particularly strong Celtic team although even looking at it now you can see the outlines of one.
It was the core of the team – without Ki, who left in the following summer– which beat Barcelona.
But let’s not forget, that team included Efe Ambrose and Miku in the starting eleven and had Charlie Mulgrew playing in midfield.
With the game finely balanced we brought on a youth striker.
The other subs that night included Dylan McGeough, John Herron, Markus Fraser and Paddy McCourt.
A great team in some ways … not a great squad.
The year after that was a transitional side; we lost Wanyama, Hooper and Wilson. We brought in Van Dijk and Griffiths. We also squandered millions on Boerrigter, Balde and a guy called Teemu Pukki. There was also an Israeli midfielder called Nir Bitton.
Which of all those teams was the best squad? The Barcelona team or the one that Lennon built to replace it? He left at the end of the campaign, and Ronny came in.
No-one would class any of the Ronny Deila sides as particularly great … a lot of his signings just didn’t work out for a start, and although the first season was pretty much excellent by the second things had started to slip. Key players were still leaving, and the occasional gem – like Armstrong – coming in to replace those heading for the exit.
Crucially though, by the time Ronny left he had bequeathed us a team with a lot of potential, although much of it was still unrealised.
Look at his second season signings; Simunovic, Boyata, Christie, Sviatchenko, Roberts … he added quality. He also made players – really good players – out of Forrest, McGregor, Rogic, Armstrong … and he gave a debut to a young kid called Tierney.
But the only real competition as far as the strongest team goes is Rodgers’ first season in charge and not just because we won the Invincible treble and qualified for the Champions League Groups. That was a bloody good team, with many players in it at their absolute career-best. Consider the quality we lost out of that side too.
No Armstrong now, no Roberts, no Dembele, no Lustig, no Tierney and no Boyata. Can this current Celtic team really be stronger than that one?
It depends how you look at it.
Forrest has just gotten better and better, and would Roberts have got in the team in front of him? We don’t know yet what kind of player Shved is going to be but he comes with the right pedigree. Mikey Johnson has emerged and Ryan Christie has grown into the player we all hoped he could be. We’ve signed Ntcham. Odsonne Edouard has emerged as a superlative talent. The backline looks strong, with Jullien in particular already looking like a real find. Abd Elhamed is on the brink of cult hero status already with the way he plays football.
I’ll tell you this; I am more comfortable with the cover we have in most parts of the pitch than I have been for quite some time.
I don’t know if this is the strongest team – as in best starting eleven plus subs – we’ve had since Brown has been at the club when Moussa and Eddie were both in the team we certainly had a better forward line and Kieran was at left back – but the squad, overall, is up there, like he said.
The key thing is how many players have grown into their roles and become better. This is the factor, for me, that makes it a good argument. We have strength in depth, more of it than I can remember in a long time. Our captain may just have a point here.
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