Ange Postecoglou’s timely reminder that the job is only partly done

When it comes to players and teams, we’ve all got our favourites. The Celtic teams who meant the most to us, who entertained us the most, or who achieved great things for our football club.

The Lisbon Lions will likely always be the outlier when it comes to making comparisons, but there have of course been others who have made us proud.

25th May 1967: The Celtic team line up before their European Cup Final match against Inter Milan in Lisbon. They went on to win 2-1. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

Billy McNeill’s Centenary Double was won very much against the odds. Tommy Burns may have lacked much silverware, but the journey he took his team on from their starting point should be lauded and will always be remembered. Wim Jansen stopped the Ten, and assembled a team to do so in a short space of time.

Then there was Martin O’Neill, who turned around a 21-point gap from the previous season and also gave us all a European final. Quite miraculous. Meanwhile the under-appreciated Gordon Strachan, despite huge budget constraints built Celtic teams who reached the latter stages of the Champions League, something that seems outrageous looking back, and more recently Brendan Rodgers gave us an unforgettable Invincible season. I never thought I’d ever see that.

Yet all of those sides had one thing in common. They were good – even excellent on occasion – teams, but did they have the depth this current Celtic side has? By that I mean is Ange Postecoglou’s group of players the best squad Celtic has built rather than just a team? The only similar situation I can think of goes back to the late 1960s/ early 1970s when the Lisbon Lions team was being gradually replaced by the Quality Street Gang of Davie Hay, Danny McGrain, Kenny Dalglish, Lou Macari, George Connelly, Pat McCluskey, Paul Wilson and the rest.

It’s a bit like comparing apples and oranges when you measure different teams from different eras, but most of those Celtic teams relied on a small group of players to return to the well week in week out.

When it comes to squad building Ange Postecoglou’s current crop have at least two players for every position and there is little discernible drop off in performance no matter who is picked. Is this the first time we’ve had such a luxury since the Jock Stein post-Lisbon days?

Ange Postecoglou wasn’t asked to comment on that at yesterday’s press conference ahead of tonight’s game with Hearts at Celtic Park, but he did comment on whether this was the best group of players he has had since he arrived at the club, and he made some interesting observations.

“Yeah, look I’ve said that. I think I’ve said after the international break, I really feel this is the strongest sort of squad of players we’ve had. Not from the point of view of just sort of, you know, the quality of players. It’s more the impact that they’re all making and the way they’re training.

“And you know from my perspective, I just feel really confident that whoever goes into the game, whether they start or sort of come on, is gonna make an impact because they’re all really in a good space mentally at the moment where they’re all wanting to contribute and from that perspective this is the strongest, we’ve been.”

“You know, it’s fair to say also the last sort of four weeks, we haven’t had any midweek games. So that means that knock on effect of hardly having any injuries as well, which is great.”

“But you know, we need a strong squad and people forget at the beginning of the year when we had Champions League football. It was very, very demanding and you know, I often made four or five changes to the team because Champions League football takes a lot out of you physically, mentally and our league form would have suffered if we didn’t have a strong squad.”

“We need to keep building on that and making sure that while at the moment it may look like it’s a bit of a luxury, we’ve got so many good players in the building, it won’t be long and hopefully, next year when the league starts again, we’ve got European football that we’re going to require a stronger squad for.”

The test for this Ange Postecoglou squad will always for me lie in how Celtic progress in European competition. We’ve made incremental improvements each time we’ve performed there, but when it comes to Celtic sides of the past there is work of course to be done. However, you can see where this team is going, you can see where the manager sees his ambition lying, and it doesn’t lie solely on domestic dominance.

Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic were dominant domestically but were too thinly stretched to marry domestic success with European progression – and he arguably grew frustrated when his vision for the club could not be matched by those working above him, who looking at it from their point of view, were perhaps reluctant to back Rodgers in the transfer market given his less that impressive transfer activity. You will all remember Marvin Compper.

Things may be different now. This Celtic team is almost as dominant on the domestic front, but is also being arguably better supported in the manager’s aims for European progression. So, it was interesting to hear Postecoglou’s comments on the perceived strength in depth being construed as a luxury, while Celtic play one game a week at the moment, and his belief it must get stronger still.

Perhaps that comment was meant to ensure there is no complacency as this squad continues its onward journey. While Brendan Rodgers arguably suffered from his ambitions being out of kilter with previous incumbents of the Chief Executives office, Ange Postecoglou will know such a moment may lie ahead for him, possibly as soon as this summer.

Peter Lawwell, The Celtic Chairman and CEO Michael Nicholson look on prior to the Cinch Scottish Premiership match between Celtic and St. Mirren at Celtic Park on January 18, 2023. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

So perhaps those press conference comments were a wee reminder to everyone, whether player or CEO, or non-executive chairman, that the job is only partly done, despite the strength in depth at his disposal.

Yet if you are looking for a return on investment then those in the Celtic Boardroom don’t need us to tell them that with just about every young player that Ange Postecoglou has brought to the club he has improved them as footballers and increased their market value as a result and the profits from selling two of his early signings in the January transfer window covered the recruitment costs on players like Alistair Johnston, Yuki Kobayashi,  J-League Player of the Year Tomoki Iwata and Hyeongyu Oh. Clearly Angeball is more than capable of running as a self-funding operation.

Recency bias no doubt plays a part, but there is little doubting this Celtic squad is as strong a group of players as we have had for some time, I can’t remember ever being so satisfied with a group of players a manager had at his disposal, but it also appears the manager believes it can get all the stronger.

If it does, then domestic dominance alongside European progression may be the sort of possibility some within the club may have written off as possible, even in the very recent past.

But just in case there are those who may be reaching the point of contentment with the squad being as strong as it is, there is clearly another level this manager wants to get to and another one after that and on it goes.

If we’re at this point 100 games into Ange Postecoglou’s reign, just imagine what another 100 might produce. Assuming those in more senior roles realise, what was once viewed as impossible may be possible after all.

Brendan Rodgers’ Invincible side dropped 8 points in the 2016/17 season, drawing four matches. So far this season Ange Postecoglou’s side has dropped 5 points, losing to St Mirren last September and drawing at Ibrox in January. Who is to say that not only the goalscoring record for a season but also the record points tally will not both be broken by this Celtic side that under the manager is getting better and better.

Niall J

Matthew Marr’s debut Celtic book – The Bould Bhoys! Glory to their name – is out on 24 March on Celtic Star Books

Pushing the launch of Matthew Marr’s debut Celtic book – ‘The BOULD BHOYS – Glory to their name’ back a week to Friday 24 March. Thanks to everyone who has ordered since we announced the book last night via an interview with the author. Please note that all pre-ordered books will be personally signed by Matthew Marr and you can order below if you’d like a signed copy posted out to you 24 March.

READ THIS...‘The Bould Bhoys – Glory to their name’ by Matthew Marr

About Author

As a Bellshill Bhoy I was taken to my first Celtic game in the summer of 1987. It was Billy McNeill’s return to Celtic Park as manager and Celtic lost 5-1 to Arsenal . I thought I was a jinx, I think my Grandfather might have thought the same. It was the finest gift anyone ever gave me when he walked me through Parkhead's gates.

Comments are closed.