Celtic is back. A new Celtic. This is not the version that we hoped we were going to see when Neil Lennon departed this club; it is better than that. Our manager can spot a player. He can rally a side. He can motivate footballers to be better than they ever thought they could be. The evolution of this team of his has stunned up all I think.
I’ve been convinced and sold on this guy and this team since very early in the cycle, and for me that coalesced on the night we comfortably beat AZ at Celtic Park.
That night we played blistering football which went way beyond what we had any right to expect so soon in the revolution. That night, I knew that if the manager could enact his vision that it was all in front of us.
I’ve believed we’d win the league for months. It’s only in the past eight days that the full scale of how much our club has moved forward has been made clear. The home win against Dundee Utd showed our never-say-die qualities at their best. The win against Ibrox, where we soundly thrashed them in a dazzling 45 minutes was great.
But yesterday was special in its own way and for its own reasons; that was a tough away weekend on the back of a high-tempo 90 minutes in midweek. It was akin to coming off a European game … and we are always sluggish on the back of those.
Except that yesterday we weren’t sluggish in the least. Instead, the football we played was devastating and barnstorming and once again the players the manager has signed came to the fore, along with a player who he has transformed. The thing is, prior to the line-up being published none of us even knew if Rogic would play. Certainly no player is guaranteed a start now.
The transformation in this side can be exemplified by the substitutions we made at half time and then as the second half went on. Top players came off. Other top players took to the field. Our strength in depth is showing at the moment when that becomes critical. The home-straight is always the most dangerous part of a league campaign.
But I can’t remember ever seeing a Celtic team that I felt was more ready for that. The manager can now truly rotate his squad, and he did so today during the match without it denting the cohesion of the team in any way. The tempo didn’t drop one bit.
All the best qualities of this team are now readily apparent, from its superior playing style to the superior personnel and even the hard numbers; it’s all starting to matter. Aberdeen is a tough game. Livingston away is coming up shortly and that’s the one a lot of our enemies will be hanging their hat on, but we’ve never looked better able to cope.
It has been fabulous recently watching this evolution, and now we have our noses in front. With our strength in depth, we are well placed to stay there … and when people look back at the end of the campaign I think the last eight days will be the ones they point to and say “that was when this team came of age. That’s when they became champions.”