Celtic spent the last quarter of their final trip to Ibrox this season delivering a masterclass in domination to a half empty stadium. In truth, they’ve been perfecting the routine since the tail-end of last summer under Brendan Rodgers – who might well have created the biggest understatement in the history of Scottish football when he described his remit as “continuing the domination” during his unveiling last May.
Yes, Celtic have been relatively unchallenged for much of the last five years, with players and a budget which has dwarfed all others in the country. But supporters were genuinely excited when the Celtic board flexed their financial muscle by making Brendan Rodgers the most expensive manager ever in the game here. Not in their wildest dreams though, could anybody reasonably have expected such a marked turnaround in a squad which still largely resembles that which existed only a year ago.
Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembele have added genuine European-class quality, of that there is no doubt. But fans have had the joy of watching players step up onto a new level under the new manager as the season has progressed.
Stuart Armstrong, James Forrest, Dedryck Boyata and Craig Gordon all look suddenly transformed, as does Scott Brown who many dismissed as finished and past it a year ago. Rodgers was correct to label him as “the most influential midfielder in Scotland” in recent days, as the captain has been utterly immense all season in the middle of the park.
Kieran Tierney, who burst onto the scene last season in such impressive fashion, now looks a more complete and cultured player – and even the often-maligned Callum McGregor has turned in two excellent scoring performances in back-to-back Glasgow Derbies to silence critics.
With four league games and a Scottish Cup Final against Aberdeen left to complete an unprecedented Treble-winning, unbeaten season, Celtic under Rodgers are in the process of rewriting the history books in Scotland. And they’re only just getting started.
Regardless of what happens over the coming few weeks, Celtic will head into the summer looking for two or three quality additions to enhance the ability and depth of the current squad with Champions League qualification the first aim of the new season. And Rodgers, now committed to the club long term, will look to do far more than merely reach the group stage this time.
Last summer’s qualification at the first time of asking was just one illustration of the exponential increase in standards at Celtic since the Northern Irishman arrived, and he will look to continue that rapid drive onward by aiming to really make an impact in the competition proper, regardless of who he’s drawn against.
Compare all of this with where the club was 12 months ago – labouring somewhat to the league title with a decent but inconsistent Aberdeen side causing their own problems at times, elimination in the Scottish Cup semi-final to Mark Warburton’s Rangers side, and a lame duck of a manager in Ronny Deila, who just days after losing on penalties at Hampden indicated he would be departing a few weeks later.
The Celtic supporters knew that a big appointment was required, and many can be routinely found on Twitter thanking the footballing gods that David Moyes wasn’t the choice made by Peter Lawwell. Instead, Celtic landed the man who took Liverpool to within a Steven Gerrard slip of the English Premier League title – closer than anybody has got them in a generation.
54 competitive games. 41 wins, 8 draws and 5 defeats, all of which have come in Europe. If Brendan Rodgers can add five wins between now and the end of next month, he will have cemented his position as one of the all-time great Celtic managers in the space of just ten months of football.
What a difference a year makes. After a Hampden nightmare ended Ronny Deila’s time in charge, Brendan Rodgers has Celtic supporters dreaming big, and a team on the park which possesses a swagger and ability that hasn’t been seen for far too long.
Enjoy the good times, but just dare yourself to imagine where we’ll be in another year.