The Wraparound Hero
Last night’s events in Seville might well continue to be discussed by our members in the comments section of this article,but I prefer to write about Celtic. And I’m writing this prior to the match taking place anyway,so I do so knowing neither the result of the match nor the result of the big event there,huns v polis. No,this article is all about Celtic,and my potted thoughts on the season just gone.
Next week sees our annual Player of the Year awards,with a slight twist this time which will become clear in time. Well,I say annual. They aren’t really,as we withheld last year’s awards and associated articles due to the fact that I didn’t want to have to relive any part of that season,however vicariously or fleetingly. But I can’t let the season go,a season such as we have just seen,without comment and congratulations all round.
We all know where we were as a club a year ago. Up shit creek without a paddle,that’s where. Too many players who wanted away,or didn’t care,or simply weren’t good enough. Not enough good players who did care. Lost the league by 25 points,dumped out of both cups to inferior sides. A Quadruple Treble side had burst asunder,we had no manager-though an argument could be made that we had been without one for two years by then-and our first choice replacement had spurned us at the altar after a long courtship. In short,we were fucked,and looking at a long road back to even being competitive.
Enter Ange Postecoglu,a man from a faraway land about whom we knew nothing. Many people based their opinions of him simply on their limited knowledge of the game outside these shores,while others were prepared to give him the chance to get it right. At times like this,Google is your friend,and looking at his CV was enough for most of us to realise that the guy might just have what it takes. One of our brethren,of course,bought the ticket right away-and GARRY was damned right to do so! Various titles in Australia and Japan,as well as two World Cup qualifications-two more than Scotland,I might add-and an Asian Confederation Cup suggested that he was a very capable manager. The question was just how much of that he could transfer to Scotland,how quickly could he adapt. How much did he know about domestic and European football,given the rebuild required and the players we would need to bring in. And he didn’t even have the UEFA badges required to manage in Europe either!
Some people might have recoiled from that,and some of the criticism was well over the top. Others might have seen it as a challenge. AP saw it as an insult. And you don’t insult Aussies unless you’ve got the good trainers on,and a ten yard start. Like most Scots,they’re a thrawn lot,prone to the occasional “Izzat a fact?” and throwing the words back in the face of their detractors.
Two weeks quarantining in a hotel in London might have been the best thing that could have happened for him,and for Celtic. He spent his time well,I reckon,deciding who he could rely on and which positions needed oven-ready replacements. There were few of the former,and a helluva lot of the latter! First up was a new goalkeeper,and for a man who apparently doesn’t do pragmatism,the pragmatic choice was a veteran who had been discarded and belittled during the last six years-despite being lauded till then as the best in the world! Fancy joining the revolution,Joe? Game time and adulation guaranteed? What a signing he has been.
Right back,were our options good enough? Turns out we didn’t have one,actually. Play the reserve,the guy who’s just seeing out his contract,till we can get a new one. Croatian international,£2m you say? Magic. Meantime,the “filler” who was Anthony Ralston,a young lad who had never inspired much hope amongst us,was playing like a man possessed! How did that happen? Well,I think Ange is the answer here too.
Left back? Hmmm,we can stick here. No real need,replacements are more urgent elsewhere. And Greg Taylor too has just had his best season for us. I’m already detecting a pattern here. Centre backs,oh dear. I thought Stephen Welsh was our POTY in 20/21,but it was by default and he still has some learning to do. Jullien,nuff said. Two newbies,one of whom took a while to settle due to playing on the left of the pair,and another who had never played a top flight league match,despite being with Spurs for about six years. Who became the rocks on which our success was founded,and on which many attacks by opponents foundered. That defence stopped leaking the goals from set pieces which had caused us so many problems over far too many years. CCV is still a loan player,but if we can get him for the reported £6m,it’s a steal. However,a left sided centre back should take priority even over that deal. And we can’t play the three of them!
Midfield options were no better. Ange knew Tom Rogic from his days as Australian national coach,knew his ability-but knew too his weaknesses. And Tom was probably a bit disheartened,having been largely ignored by NL despite being a virtual first pick under the previous two managers. Could he fire him up again? In David Turnbull,we had a very good young player-but he wasn’t a world beater. In CalMac,we probably had Scotland’s best player,but he had been shuttled hither and thither by previous managers,asked to play in roles which weren’t his strongest. The problem was that the other options available were simply poor,too many players who had been given the chance to justify their wages and fees but had come up woefully short. The decision had to be made,to stick with what he had meantime as the budget had to be prioritised elsewhere. Particularly up front.
Because up front,AP realised he had nobody he could depend on! James Forrest was our longest serving player,and a tremendous winger/scorer when on song. But he had missed much of last season,and still miles from fitness. But there was a wee Israeli winger available for £2m. I confess I had little faith in this signing,but Liel Abada didn’t take long to convince me of my error. For just a bit more than that,he went for,wait for it,the top scorer in Dutch football! Who promptly went down with every illness and injury known to man,bloody hell. His season began,really,after the winter shutdown. Soon showed us what we had been missing too. Finished top scorer in the league,and all but two of his goals were one touch finishes. Watch his second from Saturday and you will see why that is,but what a finisher!
Wide left could not be trusted to the furiously gifted but what can I say Michael Johnston. He has lost his way,and I hope somehow he can get his mojo back. So the obvious plan was to sign a player of the same age on loan from Benfica,one who had also lost his way? Well,that isn’t gonna work,is it? But work,it did. We put a smile back on Jota’s face,a bounce back into his step. And his partnership with Kyogo was almost telepathic. Oh,did I forget to mention Kyogo?
There’s nothing I can say about Kyogo that hasn’t already been said. G-Mak’s physical presence might terrify defenders. With our wide players,it might be their speed and footwork. With Kyogo,it is all of these and more. He stretches them,compacts them,leaves them chasing shadows. He jumps higher than any man of his size has any right to do-and hovers just like Henrik was able to do. And finds that space in the box in the same way too. Oh,and twenty goals in a season where he missed so many games? Wow.
So Ange did it,with a side almost completely built from scratch. Three regulars all season,albeit I think DT would have played more but for injury,who were regulars for us before. I can’t actually think of a signing he has made which has proven to be poor. And by sheer force of personality,he has welded all the newbies as well as the old guard into a unit,a strong one at that with the team spirit to prove it,and given us all hope for an even brighter future. Which,just that short year ago,looked like an impossible dream.
Ange Postecoglu has written his name into our history books. I think he is too modest to allow his image to be put on the wraparound of our heroes which adorns the exterior of Celtic Park,but he has certainly earned his place there sometime in the future.
Above article by BMCUWP