This time last year, it was obvious that 2021 was going to be a year of change at Celtic.
It had to be. 2020 was ending so disastrously nothing else was possible.
Within weeks, Lawwell’s departure was made public and Lennon was shown the door.
Many us thought that a whole lot of others should have followed them both. We still do.
The shambles that engulfed us in the early part of 2021 didn’t seem to be indicative of the sort of sweeping reforms we had all expected though.
The pursuit of Eddie Howe was a botch-job right from the start. We ought never to have allowed that farce to go on as long as it did.
Whether Ange was a well-thought out alternative or a panic stations last-ditch appointment is still something I’d debate. I think he was the latter. The links between the Lawwell operation and the City Group are obvious. The only other manager part of that stable who had a record of success and who was a realistic target was Ronny Deila.
Here’s the thing, and it’s the important thing; once we made our choice, once the amiable Aussie had offered his thoughts and laid out his football philosophy we backed him, and we backed him hard.
There are still people in our support who sneer at the idea that we fully supported Ange in the last transfer window. I don’t know what they would have done differently except spent more money, much of it just for the sake of it.
Ange was allowed to sign twelve players. He was allowed to spend real cash.
Yes, it was partially funded by the two big sales but we knew that would be the case anyway.
Coming out of a bad financial year – our first in a long, long time – there were going to be pressures on us, but we forged ahead with Ange’s plan for the squad and it paid off.
To have backed him in this fashion, this early, for this window, indeed to have done so before the window is even open, is outstanding and it shows you that in fact we’ve learned real lessons after all. I think there will be other signings. The need in certain areas is still obvious. But a number of things are already clear to see.
First, Ange is most definitely running this show.
These are his players. These are players he knows and is comfortable bringing here and betting big on. Instead of people pondering these signings and asking who really made them, we can just enjoy them for what they are; pieces of the manager’s jigsaw. This, on its own, represents a sea change in how we do business.
Secondly, the system seems to be working. For that, this blog gives immense credit to a man we’ve scorned up until now; Michael Nicholson. We’ll get to a more thorough examination of that tomorrow maybe; for the moment, he should be congratulated. This blog did suggest that there was no barrier to us bringing these guys early enough that they could have played had we been hosting our rival’s tomorrow, and it looks like that was the plan all along.
Work permit work has been done behind the scenes, days ago. The contracts were tied up probably weeks back. The players are already in Europe and two of them have been for days. This is as smooth as any signing operation I can remember in years, and we’ve announced all three of them, with perfect choreography, in a single day.
So whatever is being done differently behind the scenes, it’s working. Whatever other business is to be done, I think we can assume it, too, will be done in a better fashion than the slapdash manner we’ve gotten so used to in the last few years when everything remains in flux right up to the final possible day. I don’t know what Lawwell’s thinking was in dragging business out the way he so often did, but I know that it was costly in more ways than one.
Third, there is some joined-up-thinking in evidence here, at last.
The manager has the players in so quickly that he can do proper forward planning, using this break period and the next 18 days to properly integrate these players into his squad. The football department and those who run the club as a whole are working with better synchronicity than we’ve seen in a while.
And you know what that means for the summer? It means proper preparation for the season. I don’t expect to have to play qualifiers, but if by some curse we do we will be more ready for them than we have been in years.
All too often, it is the summer months which have shown how out of whack the CEO and the manager have been … it may well be that this represents the biggest and most fundamental change of them all, and if that’s the case then Nicholson will very quickly have proved himself a much better choice for the job he holds than this blog ever thought possible.
A football club’s operational level is a machine built from various parts; it is vital that those parts work as one. It has been a long time since any of us thought that this was the case at Celtic Park, and we’ve had ample evidence to support the view that this breakdown was real and that it was actively harming us. Rodgers left, at least in part, because of that.
Celtic is a better organisation than it has allowed itself to look in recent years. Our failures have not been failures of size or scale or structure but of leadership. We have been abysmally directed from the top and that was always going to percolate down at some stage and cause us major problems, and this time last year we could all smell the rot.
That smell is gone today, and so much more with it. This feels not like an ending but what New Year should be; a fresh start. It’s the sort of beginning to a year which presages nothing but good times. It is the best possible way to introduce 2022.