It is no secret that the final weeks and months of Ronny Deila’s tenure left the club with something of an open wound; fans were left split into two confrontational camps, resulting in a disharmony that at times became unpleasant. The unveiling of Brendan Rodgers has been, thus far, a successful balm. His appointment has bound every Celtic fan together with a shared feeling of optimism. For the first time in over a decade you get the impression that the club are willing to open the coffers and spend enough money to satisfy the fans often insatiable appetites. There is a trust in Rodgers and his body of work that was so starkly missing in relative rookie Deila, leaving many fans salivating over the possibilities of the season ahead. Personally, I am bordering on becoming giddy with excitement. But what should be the aims of the season ahead?
First and foremost, the league title is a must. It is imperative that the club maintain the stranglehold that has been enjoyed for the last five years and continue on the march for the fabled “ten in a row”. The squad is still by far the strongest in the country (even if there is a notable lack of aged ex-QPR players in the ranks) and it is expected that Rodgers will astutely add in due course. The process is already well underway with the acquisition of French starlet Moussa Dembele. After scoring a credible seventeen goals last season, at the tender age of nineteen, his acquisition is a real coup, especially considering that every “big” club in Britain has been linked with Dembele at one time or another.
Where even the staunchest backers of Deila can have no room for argument is in Celtic’s record in European campaigns under his guidance. Gone are the days of Strachan and O’Neill where Parkhead was one of the toughest fortresses to breach in world football, days when even the sport’s biggest names would have to play at the peak of their powers in order to escape with a result. The slow, steady decline has meant that whatever residual fear factor left from those days has been well and truly washed away. While I would love to see Rodgers guide Celtic to the Champions League knock-out stages, you have to be realistic. That level, for now, is quite simply beyond the club. What is attainable however is group stage qualification and a graceful decent into the Europa League. All I ask for is a European campaign that restores a veneer of prestige that has been sorely missed since the 2-1 victory over Spartak Moscow all those years ago.
Cups have always remained if not illusive then certainly sporadic. The very nature of the competitions makes winning a challenge, however maintaining the hopes of winning one or even both is not some foolish notion, as O’Neill proved in his maiden campaign.
All in all, the 16/17 season is shaping up to be the most exciting in years. Of course, expectations are high but with the correct application, hard work and a little kiss from Lady Luck it could be a year that is seared into the hearts and minds of Celtic fans all over the globe.