The bright lights in the darkness of defeat
It is never easy to be positive after losing to your rivals. The pain of defeat is always hard to take, especially at a club like Celtic who, only recently, had broken records in securing the quadruple treble. To lose to your bitter rivals is ever worse. However, things are often darkest before dawn and there can be no doubt that, in the months gone by, Celtic have faced some dark times. They seemed on a path of redemption but on Sunday met a bump in the road. In the aftermath of the game, when disappointment clears and cooler heads prevail it is important to look, with context, on where Celtic find themselves.
At the end of last season, with Celtic far adrift behind Rangers in the league and facing an exodus of players, fans had every reason to believe the rebuild facing the new manager would be one of the biggest in the clubs history. The collapse from quadruple treble winners to downtrodden runners up had been swift and devastating. There was no permanent manager, no CEO, no head of recruitment and no communication with a disenchanted support. News of a new leader, in highly rated young manager Eddie Howe, gave a brief glimmer of hope. That too was taken away. The club thought they had their man, but, seemingly at the last minute, the deal fell apart and the club was again rudderless.
Given how long the Eddie Howe debacle rumbled on for, with the club and fans believing he would take over, only for the rug to be pulled at the last minute, the situation, unbelievably, looked even more daunting.
With no recruitment structure in place, an incoming CEO who hadn’t worked in football before and the financial implications of a post Covid landscape casting a shadow over the backing any new manager may receive, the mood was grim. The behind the scenes issues affecting the club didn’t seem to be going anywhere and pessimism reigned.
Adding to these problems, was a playing side facing huge turnover. Having several loanees (another sign of the gross mismanagement and short termism which has plagued the club in recent years) returning to their parent clubs, as well as many first team players, such as Captain Scott Brown and defensive mainstay Kris Ajer leaving, the squad has been left decimated. Add to this the long term injury to Chris Jullien, reports of players wanting to leave and squad players being sold and the situation was becoming desperate.
The ‘Champions League’ qualifiers, a source of both glamour and income, were only weeks away and every second without positive news seemed like an eternity. The footballing doomsday clock was slowly ticking toward disaster. When Ange Postecoglou was announced as manager in June, fans were underwhelmed. The big Aussie was in for a rough start.
With all of this in mind, the job that Postecoglou has done in just two months cannot be overlooked. Qualification for the Europa League, decisive displays domestically, performances that have thrilled the returning fans and the signing of the inspirational Kyogo had raised expectations before the Glasgow Derby. The style and tempo with which Postecoglou’s men have approached games has left fans purring.
In the face of adversity behind the scenes and on the pitch, Ange Postecoglou headed to Ibrox, with no away supporters, to take on a Rangers side who were undefeated domestically (cup competitions aside), and who’s team had been assembled over several years. Given all that had come before, the turmoil the club had endured and the huge rebuilding job needed, the fact there was an expectation of victory speaks volumes about the effect he has had on the team so far.
Sadly the game would come to soon for Celtic and they fell to a 1-0 defeat. Confidence is a fragile thing and, suddenly fans may have felt the need to question if this was, in fact, a false dawn. Some outlets reacted by giving the Celtic players low match ratings, demanding Postecoglou change his style and yelling about the need for more reinforcements. Only that last point has any validity. On the game itself, it would be inaccurate to say there wasn’t already improvement from the last humbling derby defeat.
On the 2nd May, Celtic crashed to a 4-1 mauling, had only 49% possession and six less shots on target than their rivals. This was a team who, earlier in the season, had completed an unprecedented quadruple treble. On the 29th August, Celtic lost by a fine one goal margin, with 66% possession and only one less shot on target. This was a team assembled by a new coach, only a few months in the job, with a threadbare squad needing reinforcements and yet the improvement was obvious to see.
If Celtic wish to improve and have ambitions of domestic and European success then they must be brave and stick by the attacking principles of ‘Angeball’. If they continue to be brave on the ball, defiant against all opposition and press with the aggression Postecoglou desires then only good things can come. The manager has spoken about never setting his team up to be underdogs as he feels that mentally, the players believe they aren’t good enough even before a match begins. He has spoken about going down with a fight being better than sitting back and possibly losing anyway. He is showing he is a winner and wants his players to believe they can take on any, and all, comers. This will take time but Celtic cannot let some black eyes along the way stopping them battling for a higher footballing purpose; Bring success back to the club and winning with a swagger.
While it is never acceptable to lose a Glasgow Derby, It is important, when looking at this result, that Celtic fans consider all that has come before. Consider all the trials the new manager, and this great club, has faced in such a small window of time, and the relative successes within. That pre match confidence was not misplaced. It is always darkest before the dawn, and if this man can get the club on track after straying from the path of success so drastically while making fans believe in only a few short months, then in Ange Postecoglou, they have a man of vision and purpose to help shine a light on the way to a brighter future.