Coming out of the Dundee Utd match, I was furious with the way the team had played. We had drawn the game and put ourselves under needless pressure. Since then, we’ve won four on the bounce and most critically, three of them were away from home at tough venues.
The early season cloud this whole club was under – and especially our manager – has lifted almost entirely. There is still pressure from the media, but it’s far less than what it was before because they sense that something fundamental has shifted in the title race.
Way back in the sands of time, when Brendan Rodgers was being denied his second manager of the year award because winning a back-to-back treble was “expected” of him and Celtic, although no other club in history had ever done it in before in Scotland, we were told that those awards went to bosses who exceeded expectations.
When Callum Davidson didn’t win it last year, it was no wonder that a lot of us cried foul. The decision to give it to Gerrard was ridiculous when one considered the assets the St Johnstone boss had to work with. Gerrard is a media darling. The idea that they will treat him according to the same standards as any other manager is silly, as we all know.
Part of it is Ibrox, of course. But part of it is just the name. It makes our desperate hacks weak at the knees. You only had to read the coverage of his first press conference – gushing fan-boy garbage most of it, some of the most absurd writing I’ve ever read – to understand that.
Ange Postecoglou came into Celtic late in the summer, to undertake a rebuilding job that most of us thought was verging on the impossible. He had to impose his will on a team which may not have gotten behind what he wanted to do.
He had to sort out the dressing room and move on those who were not committed to the cause. And he had to do it all without the support of a single coach who knew him or the backroom infrastructure he had a right to expect.
No head of scouting. No head of medical. No sporting director or director of football. A club in utter turmoil, reeling from shock after shock after shock. A dressing room split against itself and needing a major personnel overhaul. No captain. It was the most daunting task any Celtic boss has ever faced upon taking up the job. Almost all agreed he needed time.
But the hacks turned on him immediately. No allowances were made for any of it. When we went out of the Champions League, as almost every journalist in the country expected us to, he was asked if the result was “catastrophic.” He swatted that aside, but he marked the card of the one who asked it, and understood that this was what he’d have to endure.
Midtjylland, the team who beat us, wouldn’t live with us now. We’d blow a side like that out in the first leg, and the second would be a mere formality. It is a credit to Ange that he steered us through two Europa League qualifying ties which were horrifically perilous; that he did so with a certain amount of style speaks volumes for what he was already building.
We don’t get credit for that. Ange didn’t win a single bit of respect from the hacks, and especially not when we lost our first two Group games. But the truth is, we were brilliant going forward in the first of them, in Spain, and only some defensive lapses, understandable as new players were only just coming together, outdid us in that match.
Our start to the season, prior to this winning run, has been talked about and done to death. We have dropped points in four games, losing three and drawing one. As bad as it sounds, in the first two defeats there was some mitigation. Only the Livingston result looks, in retrospect, to be a real shocker and one that the team has done well to bounce back from.
When you consider all the pressure that has been put on a new boss, in a strange country, with a mammoth job in front of him, it is almost beyond belief that an established manager with a settled team is getting a free ride despite form which is nearly identical to that which Ange has at the moment and in many ways is much worse.
One team has clearly, obviously, progressed. The other has clearly, obviously, gone backwards. Yet the press barely acknowledges which is which. Here’s the thing, and this is what everyone knows; the team that’s gone forwards is us. The team going backwards is theirs. This is the great unspoken truth of Scottish football. What will it take before they face up to it?
Their team is not scoring goals as freely as ours. Their defensive record in Scotland is worse than ours. Anyone who saw Aberdeen’s two goals last night would have been slack-jawed at how amateurish the defending was. Yet it’s Starfelt, our player, who is under constant scrutiny. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so depressingly expected.
Gerrard has dropped points in four matches, just like Ange.
Three of them have been at home, in contrast to our three lapses away.
We had the tougher away run to navigate.
They are just about to enter theirs, and it must look like the Ninth Circle of Hell from their dugout.
On top of that, they exited the Champions League in truly slapstick manner, losing home and away to Malmo in spite of having a settled squad which they had added players to.
In the context of their financial predicament, you might have considered that result “catastrophic” but of course that word was never put to Gerrard. They scraped into the Europa League by virtue of a single goal win and a draw against Alashkert.
In the Groups they, like Celtic, lost their first two games by whilst we were up against sides from Spain and Germany, they lost to Lyon at Ibrox and then away in Prague. Gerrard’s start to the season has been dire.
If we are considering the circumstances in which these two men have had to work, if we consider that one of them inherited a shambles and the other has been sailing, all summer, in the calm waters and basking in the warmth of media aplomb, it is quite obvious which of the two has had the more impressive run of it so far. But he’s been the target for the media’s scorn, whilst the other gets to continue reclining in the pool of their affections.
But not for much longer. Because anyone can see that Gerrard is floundering. Anyone can see that there is trouble ahead at Ibrox. And anyone can see that Ange Postecoglou is the really exciting manager in the game here, building the really exciting team.
There will be slips along the way. Of course there will. We know it, and the manager knows it and all the players at Celtic know it. But this side has already shown the mental fortitude to handle adversity and come back stronger, so I have little doubt that when the bad days come that we will shake them off and get up and keep moving forward.
Pressure doesn’t seem to rattle this guy at all. Gerrard doesn’t take it nearly so well. His saving grace is that he’s so rarely put under any. That’s going to change as this season goes on; indeed, it already has. If we win on Saturday we’re top of the table, for 24 hours at least.
Not bad for a team that was six points behind just a month ago, and who’s manager was having to take questions about the league race being over. The tide has turned, and it’s turned in our favour. The remainder of this year will hammer that home in a way that not even Gerrard’s most grovelling media lickspittles can ignore.