Whether merited or not, whether luck or not, whether by some Devil’s pact or not, Ibrox has reached a Europa League final, and they are 50/50 to pull off the hitherto unthinkable. The Germans who stand in their way have, like them, lived a charmed life in this competition, getting through ties which should have been beyond a side 11th in the league.
Yet, on the way there they beat Real Betis, Barcelona and West Ham.
On paper, that means that they are no mugs. Their run to the final is more impressive than that of Ibrox, but it could mean very little in the grand scheme of things.
They have gone seven domestic league games without a win prior to the triumphs over West Ham that sent them to Seville. They are floundering domestically, and clearly are no better than an average side.
Yet they are an average side which has not lost a single game in Europe in this campaign.
Think on that for a moment. Not one out of twelve.
It is my considered opinion that they’ll be playing an average side, in the final of a tournament which has never looked more denuded of quality.
Take the moment Tavernier scored the opener; that made him the top scorer in the competition. A right back, playing in Scotland, who wouldn’t even get into our starting eleven.
That’s the sign of a footballing universe somewhat out of whack, and in that footballing universe why couldn’t a side which has won seven games in eighteen in the competition mark the final with win number eight and walk away with the prize?
It’s possible. It’s very possible.
Because this is a final between two teams who have both beaten clearly superior sides on the way there.
So it’s anybody’s and that means that it might very well end up being theirs.
So what does it mean should they manage to do it?
To Celtic, on the surface of it nothing whatsoever would have changed. Except that we’d be kidding ourselves to believe that. Suddenly there is Champions League Group Stage football at Ibrox; there is a jackpot that no-one could ever have imagined. There is the status of being a European winner, no matter how poor the run, no matter how ridiculous.
In those circumstances, they could very well keep their squad together although one wonders if that would be possible. If some of these guys suddenly had that profile, would they stick around for a crack at the bigger prize? On some level these players have to know that this is as good as it’s going to get at Ibrox; a Europa League Final is a moon-shot.
Right now, before the Ibrox club has secured the final prize, the real danger to Celtic remains inside our own walls, and that concerns me most of all.
I know that a lot of people think that the hiring of Mark Lawwell is nothing to be worried about, not least that it has the seal of approval of the manager … but I am telling you that what I said when it was announced holds true; that is the sort of hire you get when a club is run by a small clique that always thinks it has the answers, that always thinks it knows best, which does not look outward and taps into a talent pool that is neither wide nor deep.
It is nepotism and cronyism both, and that remains true whether Lawwell junior is, on paper, qualified for the job or not.
That appointment should worry people more than it does, not because he can’t function in the role but because it says something fundamental about how we operate as a football club … and what it tells me is nothing good.
I still believe that we hired Ange in a panic, because no other option was available.
That means that this wasn’t a considered, well thought out appointment but one made on a whim.
The problem with the success of this hire is that it has only reinforced the views of those inside the walls that they know best after all, that they were the right men to be leading this club all the time, and the hiring of Lawwell is their doubling down on their own judgement.
The trouble with that is that their judgement stinks to high heaven.
These people soured Rodgers’ experience with the club and hired Neil Lennon in his place, and that’s an old record I am not even interested in playing again.
It was evident in the way they hired, and then dispatched, Dominic McKay, whatever that was all about.
You either think that they brought in a guy who was not up to the job, realised it and fired him – which makes you question their decision to hire him in the first place – or else that they clashed with him in several ways and on several major issues, and that is just as bad, redolent of a board which does not tolerate any view or idea that runs counter to their closed-off way of thinking.
Certainly, the hiring of Michael Nicholson as his replacement means that the internal thinking of the club has not changed from what it was, and is questionable on multiple fronts, not the least of which is that six months after taking the job, the man whose role is to be the public face of the company has yet to give a single interview or say a single word to the fans about the long term plan.
He is virtually anonymous, and that is troubling.
With all that in mind, if in your heart of hearts, you believe that things at our club are just peachy, that you trust this board then relax.
If you think getting the right man in Ange after pursuing Howe for all those months is a freakish turn of luck, then you know we’re not betting on their judgement being sound but only that their good luck will continue to run.
That hope ought to have evaporated last night when John Lundstram put the ball in the net.
The luck might well be with the other side of the city, because If his team wins the Europa League the equation changes dramatically.
In fact, it changes utterly.
The Ibrox side, although it may sell key players in the summer, will certainly have the money to fully rebuild their squad, and unlike what most frequently happens with Celtic, they will spend it all chasing the next high.
You can bet your life on that.
What that means is that if – and it’s no longer a big “if” but a realistic possibility – they lift the trophy in Seville on 18 May that we cannot rely on doing just enough to stay in front, because they will leverage the shit out of their position, and they will be hammering on our door next year and perhaps even the year after that, whatever the results on the park are.
They will be in better shape than at any time in their short history.
The Celtic board fan-club can argue all they want that the club is in good hands and that things are running smoothly; I would contend that aside from the excellence in the dugout, the upper leadership of our club remains decidedly third rate.
Remember that results on the park can cover a multitude of sins.
The Ibrox players and management team may just have dug their club’s directors – who had not a clue how to face this summer – out of a very deep hole.
There is no question in my mind though that Ange has done that for ours.
This board has been tested, under real pressure, once in the last 20 years and under that spotlight they sacked Lennon too late, dithered over his replacement, plucked the first name the Lawwell contacts book threw at them and hired him after one interview, hired and then sacked a CEO within six months and appointed his replacement from around the wee table where all those other decisions were made, and those same people have now hired Peter Lawwell’s son to run the whole scouting and signing department, ironically the one area of the club which has actually improved from the time when another Lawwell ran it all.
These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed.
By the time the full-time whistle blows in Seville, on 18 May, that same board of directors might find themselves faced with an aggressive, driven opponent which will have the resources to fight out the next campaign, backed by a support which will believe anything is possible, with the wind at their back and a media fully onside, and they will have no qualms about spending whatever they have to in order to supplant us.
In those circumstances, everything comes down to a single question; is this board, with its insular thinking, capable of accepting the changed circumstances and responding in a way that has thus far completely eluded them?
This will be their second major test, and if we go into that fight with anything less than full-throated commitment then, frankly, I fear it will end badly. But if this club has learned the dark lessons of the last 24 months, instead of drawing all the wrong conclusions, then it will act with resolution and purpose and lay aside the doubts.
That is what I fervently hope for, but history has taught me to worry.
At any other club, the events of last night would have hard-slapped them out of whatever complacency there was left.
If Ibrox wins that final, then the landscape has changed and whatever the summer plan was, it has to change to meet the new challenge.
If they don’t get this then a hard rain is going to fall, and it ought to be the one that finally sweeps this exhausted, visionless board away.
Because sleeping at the wheel once can be forgiven … but I fear we’ve fallen into a pattern here of complacency and a style of decision making from which no real long term good can come.
I hope to God I’m wrong. I hope we never have to find out.