In Ancient Rome, one of the greatest honours that a general could have was to be awarded a triumph; a parade through the city with the full strength of his army.
All told, it was a magnificent spectacle, and it was considered such a big deal that generals who did not get senatorial permission to do it would wait outside the city, sometimes for years, until the honour was granted.
To enter the city without that permission meant losing the right.
Because the moment a Roman general crossed the boundaries into Rome itself he lost his right to be called Imperator, the status conferred upon him as a commander of the troops.
And once you lost that you were no longer eligible for a triumph.
Thus the honour itself became a weapon in politics and was frequently used to thwart the ambitions of powerful men.
One such attempt was made against Caesar, when he first sought the office of Consul.
He had returned from a military campaign, and had qualified for a triumph.
But his political opponents, fearing what he might do as Consul, forbade the triumph in the belief that he would do what so many others had; make camp outside the walls and huff and puff and hold out until the Senate saw fit to permit it.
Thus his most advantageous political moment would pass him by.
But Caesar never did what anyone expected, and instead of doing as Lucullus and other generals were doing, and had done, his rivals were stunned when he strolled into the Senate house one day dressed in his toga.
Cicero, who was his great rival, understood in that moment that Caesar would take some stopping, because he understood the difference between symbolic authority and true power.
The Consulship was the real prize, and Caesar was perfectly willing to forego all manner of meaningless baubles and honorific titles in pursuit of that goal.
I think of that often when I think about the things that our media and our rivals chose to care about.
I wrote about some of them during the week.
The “80 Minute League Table.” “The Loyalty League Table.” Morelos believing that being ahead of Larsson in the Europa League scoring charts is a goal worth pursuing. The idea that their European result has “rocked Europe” or that it will make any difference to the title race. They act as though these were significant things instead of meaningless fluff.
They act as if they matter more than our having one of the three domestic trophies this season already and are closing in on the other two.
We have a media here which takes all of this dreadfully seriously.
Part of it, obviously, is that they cannot do enough to bolster the Ibrox club., whether as unofficial mouthpieces pushing what they are told or because they can’t see past them.
At Celtic, for the first time in a while, we do seem to realise what the goal is.
Ange looks at the league table and he doesn’t see what the team has accomplished but understands clearly that we haven’t accomplished anything yet.
It’s not done until its official, and it’s not official until we’re uncatchable and there’s a green ribbon on the trophy.
He knows the League Cup is the only tangible, the only one that matters because it’s the only one that is already in the bag.
He doesn’t care who the league top scorer is.
He doesn’t care who has most assists.
He doesn’t care which SPL player FIFA 2022 rates the highest, who Football Manager thinks will win the league if you simulate it or any of the rest of the nonsense that the press seems to think matters so much.
When projections from FiveThirtyEight were being published early in the season saying that Ibrox was 80% certain (or higher) to win the league he would have been brutal in his dismissal if one of our idiot hacks had dared to ask him if he had a comment on it.
If he was asked the same question now, when Celtic is rated at 62% certain to win the league he’d respond the same way.
Because none of this is real.
It’s meaningless guff, but the sort that our press is endlessly fascinated by as though it mattered.
Likewise, with progress in Europe.
When Ange was asked, by a Norwegian journalist, if he thought Bodo could win the tournament his response was telling for its simplicity and insight into his outlook.
“What do I care?” he asked. “We’re out.”
What that tells me is that if we had gotten to the quarters or the semi-final or even the final itself Ange would have been just as disappointed to lose. The only purpose to being in a tournament is to win it, which is something else the press doesn’t get.
The media seems to think knocking out a big club in Europe is the peak of the mountain and that it will shock the continent. The idea would be barmy even if the continent didn’t have bigger things to worry about.
If you don’t go and win the competition you get the same prize Celtic get, the same prize a team knocked out in the first round gets.
When this season ends, the manager who stands there with the trophy will be the winner.
Everyone else – everyone else – will be a loser.
With the victory will come access to Champions League cash and all that goes with it.
Think what Ange could do with that.
Caesar used his one-year term as Consul to cement his position as one of the most powerful men in the Republic.
He formed the First Triumvate with Pompey and Crassus, thus passing the laws he wanted and most importantly got himself appointed to two provinces instead of the usual one on leaving office, and with that strength launched the successful invasion of Gaul and built the vast fortune and the hardened army which later allowed him to usurp the Republic and take over and rule it as dictator.
None of it would have been possible had he mistaken symbolism for real authority.
If had waited on the triumph – which the Senate at that point would never have given him – he would have sacrificed it all.
But he understood everything, and that to gain power he would have to sacrifice the emblems and titles which would have sounded good but offered him no real power. He gave up imperium and the title of Imperator, in effect, to become emperor.
Well Ange gets all that too, which is why he will be the man standing with that trophy when the season ends.
And at that point, the media has to acknowledge the real stuff.