And so the Scottish Cup Final brings this season to a close, and when you look at it in its broad scope it’s clear that Celtic are the real winners. A league and cup double would put you in front of the competition in almost any year, even one where your rivals fluked their way to a European final, but this year has been especially sweet.
It is hilarious, today, to see our rivals try to content themselves with a Scottish Cup, a trophy that has been won in recent years by St Johnstone, Hibs, Hearts, Inverness and Dundee Utd. Don’t let the media kid you that Ibrox’s long absence from this silverware was the result of their “relegation” either; from the minute Sevco crawled out of Rangers’ grave theirs has been the club with the second biggest wage bill in the country.
In some ways, it is easier to analyse where we are than where they are. Their media pals will claim that their European “run” – which I’ve had my say on – proves that they have progressed as a club. They will point to the Scottish Cup as further proof of that progress. But winning a domestic cup is the minimum expectation for the second biggest team in the nation … it is not a sign of robust health, especially when they were champions last year.
I would contend that they’ve gone backwards, for all the claims that they’ve taken giant strides. I would suggest they firmly believed that this would be the season when they’d put their stamp on Scottish football dominance and that has not happened.
For some, everything is obscured by their European run; yet even if you believe that they were excellent and did extremely well to get to Seville, the fact that they have been overtaken domestically is impossible to refute. We are what we’ve long been; the biggest team in Scotland, and only the completely mad or delusional would believe anything else.
From the moment we started winning, we never looked back. Whilst a domestic treble eluded us, the progress of this team has been remarkable. Once we got our noses in front in the league we never relinquished the top spot and it never looked as if we might.
Players tired towards the end of the season, but that was only to be expected considering the games some of them had played and the incredible demands the manager places on their fitness. That this team is clearly becoming a special side is clear.
Top players have emerged; Giakoumakis, Kyogo, Abada, Jota, O’Riley, Hatate and Maeda. These guys are all capable of damaging any team. Their impact was enormous, and although Kyogo is clearly a massive star I was hugely impressed by the Greek, and in particular the way he ended the campaign. He is a major talent, a footballer who will just grow and grow in this team and one who I am dying to see unleashed as we start our title defence.
There has probably never been a more clear-cut case of our team simply needing to do its own thing. If we continue to develop this squad and this team in the manner Ange wants, then we really don’t have anything to fear on the domestic front.
In fact, I firmly believe that what I once thought was impossible – another unbeaten campaign – could be done by this guy and this squad, especially with the right additions. That is a measure for how completely he has turned this team around.
There will be plenty more to write in the coming days and weeks, as this team heads into the summer and the transfer window opens. I expect good business. I expect early business. We have advantages we haven’t enjoyed for years; a quiet build-up without the need to play tricky qualifying games and a squad where although there will be departures the work has been done in advance of them, as Ange confirmed recently.
We have the right man at the helm, and if you believe the board – for once – the right plan seems to be in place to support him. If it all goes smoothly I think the triumph of this season will be all the more obvious in how we start the next one.
This season belonged to Celtic. Ibrox ends it with a trophy; we ended it with two including the one that matters, and from a standing start. Ange’s achievement has been phenomenal and that final day performance against Motherwell as good as any I’ve seen from a Celtic side in years.
When last season ended, I was not looking forward to the summer at all. This one is going to be about development and consolidation. There is little doubt that we have been the big winners of the 2021-22 season … and that has stunned our rivals and enemies and shaken them to the core. They have no idea what’s coming, or how to stop it.