With Sunday’s confident 3-0 win over Livingston, Celtic have now won eleven of their twelve league games so far and are in a strong position to retain the league title that Ange Postecoglou picked up at the first time of asking last season.
Jota and Carl Starfelt have now returned to full training following recent lay-offs, with the former scoring the third goal in Sunday’s win to mark his return to the first team.
As it stands club captain Callum McGregor is now the only player currently unavailable to Postecoglou through injury and credit to this should go to the sports science department that Anton McElhone has been overseeing since his appointment in October of last year.
IMPROVEMENTS IN SPORTS SCIENCE
We can all see the evolution of the playing personnel at Celtic with players such as Sead Hakšabanović, Alexandro Bernabei and Oliver Abildgaard being drafted in to complement and further improve last season’s league winning squad.
What we don’t see at first hand however is the ongoing work going on behind the scenes at Celtic Park to take us to that next level. Speaking around the time of McElhone’s appointment Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou said…
“We brought in Anton in terms of our sports science and he has been brilliant since he came in, not just with what he is able to input, but also helping the existing staff because we have been a man or two short in that area.
“There are other areas we are looking to bolster particularly in terms of scouting and recruitment.
“We will cast the net far and wide, we will get the best people in. We need to bring in more people to bolster the existing structure.”
Ange has since spoken of the data driven decisions that improvements in these areas now allow him to make as he rotates his squad as effectively as possible during the relentless number of fixtures that Celtic navigate across any given season.
In the early part of last season we suffered badly from soft tissue injuries and fatigue as the likes of Jota, Kyogo and David Turnbull amongst others endured lengthy absences from the first team squad.
This time around we’re seeing far less of these occurrences and it should be noted that Callum McGregor’s injury is an impact injury picked up during our away tie with RB Leipzig, which of course can happen to any player at any time.
A combination of the data that can now be provided to the manager and his coaches (via technology such as Catapult), and the subsequent game/time management of individuals that this allows for, ultimately ensures that Ange and his team have a stronger and fitter squad of players at their disposal across the season.
SCOUTING & RECRUITMENT
A further backroom appointment was made in May of this year, and it’s fair to say that this one made a few more headlines than McElhone’s introduction.
Mark Lawwell – son of former Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell – was announced as our new Head of Scouting & Recruitment following around ten years in a similar role with the City Football Group. City Football Group incorporates teams such as Manchester City, New York City FC and Ange’s former employers at Yokohoma F Marinos and it’s viewed as something of a coup for Celtic to have secured the services of someone performing at such a level.
Regardless your opinions of Peter Lawwell this is an extremely ambitious appointment by the club and one which Ange spoke glowingly of at the time.
“I was very keen for Mark to join the Club and clearly I am delighted that he has accepted this important role and that we have been able to bring him to Celtic.
“Mark is someone who I worked closely with throughout my four years at Marinos, through which time we developed great trust and an excellent working relationship He knows the way I like to work, the way my teams play and the particular player profile which this requires.
“I know he will be a great addition to our team, leading our first-team scouting and recruitment function and delivering on our key objective of identifying and bringing exciting, talented players to the Club.”
We’ve yet to see the full fruits of young Mr Lawwell’s labour given his relatively short time in the role but with the suggestion that Celtic have all but wrapped up the January signing of 22 year old Japanese centre half Yuki Kobayashi from Vissel Kobe (Kyogo Furuhashi’s former club) it’s clear that the planning for the remainder of this season and beyond is already well underway.
Given the backing the manager received last January when bringing in Daizen Maeda, Reo Hatate, Yosuke Ideguchi and Matt O’Riley we now find ourselves approaching transfer windows in general with genuine optimism that there’s a proper plan in place from those behind the scenes at the club.
This level of forward planning isn’t something that Celtic have been associated with in recent years.
SO WHAT IS THE “NEXT LEVEL?”
Lifting the Scottish league title will always be of the upmost importance at Celtic, but it’s clear that Ange Postecoglou has set his sights higher and has a burning ambition to restore our pride at the top level of European football.
Results in this season’s Champions League campaign – our first in five years – have been disappointing, but the performances in spells against Real Madrid, RB Leipzig and Shakthar Donetsk have given genuine reasons for optimism amongst the Celtic support.
A failure to convert chances at key points in all of our Group F games so far has ultimately been the biggest factor in Celtic falling short this time around, but confidence must be taken from how we performed at times in each of our five games to date. There can be little doubt that on the playing side Ange will continue to develop the current crop of players whilst adding further quality in January and beyond, and an improvement on this season’s fourth placed finish must be the bare minimum next time around.
Given what we know of Ange however there’s a strong feeling that progression to the last sixteen of the Champions League is what he’ll be targeting for the 2023/24 season and who are we to argue with that. With the continued improvements off the park supplementing what he’s doing on it, then there should now be genuine hope that we can return to those levels in the not too distant future.
We cover this topic in depth in our latest episode of The Celtic Exchange as the team discuss what’s required on and off the park for Celtic to reach that next level.
Join the debate by listening to the show now or on your podcast player of choice (Available on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts and all other major platforms).
🎙 All New Celtic Exchange Weekly Available Now!
⬆️ Taking Celtic to the Next Level
⚽️ January Plans Underway
🔬 Improvements in Sports Science
📝 Scouting & Recruitment
— The Celtic Exchange 🎙 (@CeltExchange) November 1, 2022