CELTIC head to Ibrox on Saturday with the Scottish Premiership title already safely secured, but for Ange Postecoglou it represents another chance to underline the gap between his side and their city rivals.
Despite the arrival of Michael Beale in November, and many promises that “the real Rangers are coming”, the Ibrox side find themselves 13 points adrift of the league leaders and have failed to win in any of their five encounters with the Hoops this season. Talk has already firmly switched from Beale’s side being better than Celtic to the size of the rebuild the Englishman has on his hands this summer.
Whilst the media have focused on the almighty task Beale has ahead of him as he tries to claw back the deficit on a Celtic side on the cusp of their fifth treble in seven years, few have considered what lies ahead next season for Postecoglou’s men as they strive to add some European flair to their domestic dominance?
It is true that Postecoglou’s sights will be on finishing the league campaign in style, indeed were his side to win every game they would eclipse the points total amassed by Brendan Rodgers’ invincibles in 2017, and he also has a Scottish Cup final against Inverness next month where he has the opportunity to join the club’s illustrious list of treble-winning managers. But turning to the summer, whilst the Australian can probably expect a transfer market less frantic than in previous seasons, where he had a huge rebuild of his own to contend with, the prospect of adding some European results to the club’s domestic dominance is surely high on his list of priorities.
There has been a lot of talk of possible outgoings at Celtic this season as clubs from across Europe take notice of several players who have shone throughout another great domestic campaign. Indeed, no doubt Celtic’s opponents will be hoping that the lure of the English Premier League manages to tempt away some of Postecoglou’s prized assets, but even were these hopes realised, history has shown that not only can the Australian cope, but that he can use the transfer funds to actually improve on what is there already. In his first season, there was intense speculation about whether Kyogo Furuhashi, then an unknown striker from Japan, could replace Odsonne Edouard who had established himself up top for a number of years; there was debate at whether the loan signing of Cameron Carter-Vickers could replace Premier League-bound Kristopher Ajer; and even this season, many wondered if the loss of Josip Juranovic to the German Bundesliga was going to be compensated by Alistair Johnston, a Canadian right-back in the MLS. On each and every occasion Postecoglou was tasked with replacing a first-team player for considerably less than they were sold for, and on every occasion he was more than up to the task. Furthermore, the Celtic boss will know more than anyone that his players will be catching the eye of Europe’s top clubs, but he will also have multiple targets on his radar to step in right away.
Perhaps what’s frightening for the rest of Scottish football is that by sealing his second Premiership title, Postecoglou has also guaranteed Celtic another season in the Champions League and the riches that go with it. A substantial amount of last summer’s budget went to securing Jota and Carter Vickers on permanent deals, this year there is no money earmarked for loanees signing on a permanent basis. That means a huge chunk of the Champions League kitty can go to improving the squad; a squad that has already strolled to the title, has its eyes set on a treble, and can even break the club’s points record.
It’s highly possible that Postecoglou will target midfield reinforcements: Callum McGregor has been imperious in the Hoops’ midfield and will again be the first name on the team sheet, but as he enters his 30s it may mean he is used more wisely in some of the easier league games, particularly as he will be fighting on four fronts with Celtic in addition to his commitments with the Scotland national team. It’s likely that Oliver Abildgaard was brought in to shore up the midfield in case of any injury to the Celtic captain, but for whatever reason the Dane failed to impress and saw his loan spell cut short. Therefore, it makes sense that cover for McGregor may be an area the Celtic manager is actively looking at. Another change in midfield is possible due to the uncertainty of David Turnbull’s future: the ex-Motherwell midfielder has just a year left on his deal and has failed to capitalise when the likes of Reo Hatate and Aaron Mooy have been absent from the Celtic midfield. With Ismaila Soro and James McCarthy also likely to head for the Parkhead exit, then it makes sense that significant investment in the Hoops’ midfield will be among Postecoglou’s priorities as he tries not only to retain the title, but to progress in European competition beyond Christmas.
When it comes to guessing who may be on Postecoglou’s radar, then it is very much a guessing game. Whilst previous Celtic managers had many known targets from Scotland and England, Postecoglou has made extensive use of his scouting network with several players being brought in from Japan, whilst the signings of Oh Hyeon-gyu from South Korea and Alexandro Bernabei from Argentina have shown that he is willing to cast the net as far as possible to get the best value in the transfer market.
Regardless of who is brought in and who leaves, Postecoglou’s track record in delivering trophies and quality signings means the support will be fully behind the manager as he sets his eyes on further success. It’s now up to the Celtic board to match his ambition and build on his domestic domination by investing in the squad to make further inroads in Europe.