Sometimes you don’t know the strength of a thing until it is properly put under strain.
Oh, sure, there are theoretical estimates, scientific and neat and which sound very official, but the truth is that you aren’t going to know until it has been stress-tested.
In many ways, Ange Postecoglou had the tremendous good fortune to take over Celtic at a time of crisis. For a lot of our fans, making our side better was all that was being asked of him.
Taking us to a title, then, exceeded most people’s wildest dreams.
But Ange was stress-tested from the moment he got to Scotland, and we already know how he will hold up under the rigours of an extended spell of bad results. He will bear up as he did when he arrived, when the pressure was greater than he’d ever experienced in his career before. The thing was, people were willing to give him the time to get his ideas across.
There are some in the media who marvel that Ange is in the throes right now of what they regard as an extended honeymoon. They see a European campaign which, in terms of results, looks like a disaster and they cannot fathom why nobody is panicking.
There are two reasons why.
First, Ange has proved himself as a winner, as a manager capable of spotting talent, nurturing skill, developing players and doing it whilst securing honours. This is a rare individual we have here, someone who ticks all the boxes that you could want.
Secondly, if last season was about viewing our progress on the domestic front this one was all about seeing us develop as a team in Europe. Results apart, there were definite signs of progress, and everyone is curious to see what happens next.
In the meantime, there is a domestic campaign to win and more honours to secure.
For these reasons, Celtic is a calm club at the moment, a club secure in its leadership and a club secure in the direction we’re going. But there’s another reason; nobody at Celtic was getting ahead of ourselves about what might happen in this European campaign.
That is where the advantage lies.
That is why Celtic is handling all this in a clear-headed manner. There was no pressure on Ange and this team to achieve miracles. Merely progress. That is why even fans – and fans are fickle – are able to look past the results.
Let idiot “shock-jocks” crow and preen and let clownish hacks put forward their “theories” as to why we didn’t win a game from the first five. But in truth, they are projecting failure onto us because what they are really struggling with is that of their favourite club.
The contrast between what’s happening over there and the chill at Celtic Park could not be clearer, could not be more pronounced. They did allow themselves to believe they were capable of beating the best sides on the continent. They kidded themselves that last season’s Europa League run had confirmed them as a serious, credible force.
So the results in their Groups have hit them like a sledgehammer, and with such force that it has destabilised their club. Added to results in the league – and there have been two draws and a defeat since the season began – and it’s no wonder their manager is in the crosshairs of fans who regard their performances in Europe as unacceptable.
I said last night that their stupidity in buying into the delusions of grandeur have rendered objective analysis impossible. They look at those performances and results and see a team that has gone radically backwards.
In a sense they are right. But they are also wrong in a number of crucial ways.
Say rather that their team hasn’t improved … that would be closer to reality.
Twice since Ange has taken over, we’ve exposed that team’s weaknesses in a big way.
The first time was last January; they still went on a European run in the shadow of that defeat, but it was the ease with which we powered through them that convinced me that elite European teams would show them no mercy whatsoever. It was why I adamantly refused to believe, until they got there, that they would get to the final in the first place.
We’ve already exposed those weaknesses even more harshly in this campaign, and so what Liverpool, Napoli and Ajax have done to them comes as no surprise whatsoever … except to them, and that’s why their club is reeling under those blows.
Their fans believe that losing those games, by those margins, was a genuine disgrace. They blame it not only on the manager but on a board which delivered only sub-par players in the summer. We don’t know how much their domestic form has been affected by the shock to the system delivered by the European reversals, but it is probably a factor.
Not that Van Bronckhorst’s side has ever been particularly good to watch. But they are playing like a team which, right now, has no faith in itself or in him, and that’s a lethal combination. If they finish with the worst record in the history of the Champions League – and that’s a distinct possibility – then he is going to find himself with nowhere to hide.
We go to Madrid knowing that it’s our final game until next year, as far as Europe is concerned. We are already over it. The inquest has already started and the lessons are being learned. The tweaks and changes are probably already underway.
But the inquest hasn’t even started over there yet, although the blame game is already in progress and everyone is on the chopping block. Their fans have yet to come to terms with the shocking truth that this team of theirs just isn’t very good … and it’s this refusal to accept that which has them turning on everyone in the upper echelon at Ibrox.
As a consequence, their club is burning even as ours is the picture of calm.
We will get over our European failures because we are looking to the future.
They will find that a lot harder to do because they are viewing this season through the lens of the last one, and they managed to kid themselves about that. They have yet to realise the full consequences of that mistake.