This week, I’m in Rome, having got here yesterday via Zurich. This is a city I’ve wanted to visit for years, as regular readers will know and as my fascination – some say obsession – with the late Republic and the early empire will attest.
So far, this city has been everything I was hoping for. My digs are close enough to the Colosseum that I can walk it in less than five minutes. Just being in the same zip-code as that spectacular monument to what the empire was is pretty amazing.
The Colosseum was the brainchild of Vespasian, who came to power during the Year of The Four Emperors, ended that cycle of bloodshed and formed what was to become the Flavian dynasty, lasting the next quarter century.
Unlike those who came before him, Vespasian was late to politics and won his acclaim as a military man. His campaign in Judea fortuitously coincided with the turmoil that followed Nero’s suicide and when his legions declared him emperor the Senate ratified it.
The Colosseum was originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre; although he commissioned it, it was his son, Titus, who oversaw its completion as emperor in his own right. What those two men left behind them is an incredible legacy which stands as a testament to what man can achieve. That is what you call leaving a mark on the world.
Neil Lennon has been talking about Celtic and its future this week and it seems fitting that he’s doing it whilst so many of us, and this team, will spend the next few days in the same city as that stunning landmark. Because Lennon is talking about legacy right now, although not his own. No, he’s talking about a day in the future, which he believes will come, when Celtic once again wins a European trophy. That, also, is leaving a mark on the world.
The Celtic manager who does that will truly earn himself a place in the pantheon of heroes. It will be a genuine “make room on Mount Rushmore” moment, one when the history books will be rewritten and all places in the hierarchy but one will be reordered completely, unless it’s the big one he wins and then all bets are off and he’ll have a claim for that spot too.
And as bizarre as it will sound, I think he could be right.
Because the way European football is changing is good for us, it offers us opportunities, and the Europa League and the Conference League are both tournaments where I could see us going far and perhaps all the way if we can solve a few basic problems… so whilst I lament changes which make the top competition more geared than ever towards the super-clubs the rest of the structure is more wide open, and the possibilities greater, than at any time I can remember.
I’m not saying we will win one, Lennon might be overstating that a bit, but it’s not a daft idea, it’s not a crazy suggestion, it’s not out-with the realms of possibility. This is a really good Celtic side. It has the potential to be a great one, and great sides do big things.
Even if this team isn’t together in two or three years, even if it’s constituent parts have been scattered to the four winds, that’s not to say another great one cannot rise in its place. In order to put the Colosseum up, Vespasian tore down the grotesque Domus Aurea; Nero’s “Golden House”, the vast imperial palace he had constructed after the Great Fire Of Rome.
That fire had cleansed the city to serve Nero’s purpose, or so he apparently thought. Vespasian gutted it out to serve his own. That’s what happens with football teams too; it’s not impossible that this team will be gone in two years because that’s the way Brendan Rodgers wants it, and the man in that job gets to make that call whatever we might think.
Between Nero’s death and Vespasian rising to the throne, that tumultuous year in Roman history had two emperors who were declared and then found wanting; think Ibrox in any 24 month spell over the last ten years. You know the thing about those two? I can’t remember, off the top of my head, what their names were, and if I looked it up I’d be cheating.
That’s another thing about legacy; you either make something of the moment or you become a footnote. Every Celtic manager has the opportunity to be good. Few get the chance the chance to prove themselves great. A handful leave so little behind them that they might as well never have been there at all. Our last four – Lennon, Deila, Rodgers and Postecoglou – have been good. A couple of them were very good. Greatness of the sort we mean … that’s different.
Lennon thinks that some day a Celtic boss will achieve that. As I said, I think he might be right. The opportunity will present itself, and then it’s up to the man in place to make good on it. But the last lesson from Vespasian is that he started the great Colosseum project but never got to see it completed … but he departed with the goal in sight.
Even if Rodgers never gets to climb that mountain, he can at least make sure that we’re closer to the summit. That’s what tonight is all about. It’s another moment for these players to grow, and his understanding of what we need to evolve a little further down that line.
Looking, last night, at the Colosseum, all lit up and like something from another world and not so much from another era of this one, it’s hard to believe that those who built it could have had such knowledge and skill that it stands to the present day. It seems like a miracle construct. But that sucker was built like anything else, one block at a time. Like any great football team, in fact. Tonight ours takes another step, however small, down that road.