Earlier on in the season, I was talking to a mate of mine not just about this campaign but about the next one. It was already clear than Ange had put something special in place. The machine needed some fine tuning and some tweaks, but it was essentially in working order and there was the glittering possibility of a title at the end of it.
I have thought for months that we would win the league, even before we went top.
I had always suspected that the team that put together a run of form first would do it, and that was us, all the way from September. We deserve to be champions.
My mate wasn’t as sure that this season would end with the trophy, but when I asked him about next season he didn’t even hesitate to predict that we’d win the league and probably a bit more besides.
We’ve gotten used to trebles here, too used to it maybe … but we both see a trophy laden future for this team. It’s obvious to anyone who isn’t viewing the world through a blue tint. Celtic is back and we may well be stronger than ever.
Part of the explanation for what happened at the weekend is that a lot of our players are tired.
Some of them are exhausted.
It didn’t take a genius to work out that our Japanese players would be finding it hard right now, because having been through a full season in their native land they’ve been plunged into the rough end of a campaign here in Scotland.
Reading Hatate this morning didn’t worry me in the slightest. He has looked off the pace for a few weeks, and most of us had a fair idea as to why. He has continued to put in a shift. He is not a shirker or a quitter. He works incredibly hard.
Maeda is a wonder of the world with the graft he does, but he has to be pretty shattered as well.
Kyogo obviously looked miles off it when he came on.
That’s because he’s literally not played a full match in many, many months.
He, too, has struggled as he had played half a season before signing on with Celtic. He was in need of a long break and then a period of convalescence. The next few weeks will give him a chance to make a final impact before the curtain falls … I expect that we’ll see him produce something for us before the end.
A lot of our other players have struggled with the intensity of training; Ange is right to tell us not to get in a twist about that because the longer these guys do it the fitter and stronger they will be. The full effects of that were never going to show up in the first campaign, which is why he has said this over and over again. He has seen all this before.
The work being put in on the training ground will start to pay off when the next campaign starts. More importantly, we’re not near to seeing the best of our Japanese players yet and that too will be something next season will reveal … I expect these guys to light up the league, and Ideguchi as well once he’s settled in properly and part of the squad.
The most important bonus of automatic qualification for the Champions League Groups is a summer without having to cram six European qualifiers into a short space of time when the team still isn’t up to speed and league business is getting underway.
The benefits of that – of a calm preseason – will be obvious and wondrous to this side, and when it has had a proper period of preparation and downtime the results will be obvious and we will blow out the competition.
At the heart of it all will be these Japanese stars of ours, who look as if they could be the dominant footballers in this country for years to come. As much as I am looking forward to the next few games and the celebrations at the end of them, next season teases us over the horizon with just how good this Celtic side will be.
We’re going to find out.