Complacency has cost Celtic before and can’t be allowed to scupper nine-in-a-row

There’s no questioning Celtic’s dominance in domestic football in the past three years as the Bhoys won each of the last nine pieces of silverware up for grabs.

It’s a stunning achievement and will live long in the memory.

Right now, though, a memory is all that it is. The old saying that you’re only as good as your last game, or in this case season, contains a harsh truth.

Standing still in football drags you backwards.

We can go back to various times in Celtic’s history where a failure to build from a position of strength has cost us dearly.

A tremendous centenary season double meant that everything was looking rosy in the Celtic garden. Despite being heavily linked with Dundee Utd’s Kevin Gallagher, no signings were made in the close season aside from goalkeeper Ian Andrews.

The keeper made his debut in August and played his last game for the club the following month. In between times, he was between the sticks for a 5-1 capitulation at Ibrox.

It wasn’t the only humbling at Ibrox that season, or anywhere else. Celtic lost 11 games compared to three the previous season, and finished third in the league.

We lost three times to Rangers that season but the truth is the Ibrox club wasn’t particularly good nor did they have to be. They actually finished four points worse off that they did in 1988, but still managed to chalk up their first title of what would become a run towards nine in a row.

The idea of such a state of affairs would have been miles from anyone’s thoughts in that summer of 1988, but a lack of new faces whipped the rug from under Billy McNeill’s feet and a long decline set in.

Going back further, the departure of Kenny Dalglish was a devastating blow for the club. He had come through with the Quality Street Gang after the Lisbon Lions. Despite the club reaching another European Cup final and two semi-finals, further success eluded us.

When Dalglish left, there were many who wondered if the club did enough to keep him.

Despite Jock Stein trying desperately to get him to stay, Dalglish left for Liverpool, a club similar to Celtic in many ways but one that was making its mark on Europe.

Having already won two UEFA Cups and a European Cup, Dalglish would write his name in Liverpool folklore with the winning goal to clinch another at the end of his first season.

It would be no flash in the pan, as he would win another two European Cups with the Reds, while losing another final before his playing days were done.

After he left, Celtic would wait another 26 years before reaching another European final, in Seville, and only get as far as the quarter-final stage once in that time, in 1980.

Kenny Dalglish
Celtic would struggle to replace Dalglish

Could Celtic have been another Liverpool, even before the Merseysiders came to rule Europe?

It takes a fair leap of the imagination. Ajax and then Bayern Munich had made the European Cup their own in the early 70s with three wins in a row each.

But by the late 70s and early 80s, it was English clubs who would dominate winning it six times in succession and not always traditional giants.

With Nottingham Forest, twice, and Aston Villa among the victors, Celtic missed the boat and it was one that would only fleetingly sail past in future.

By the time those clubs had their name etched on the trophy, the Anfield club had consistently made themselves the best in the business, while Celtic’s glory days were but a fading memory.

Billy McNeill succeeded Jock Stein and built a good team, with some excellent players. He was stymied, though, by the club’s reluctance to buy the defenders he needed.

Just as the financial disparity between north and south wasn’t so big, so it was well within Celtic’s means to go for the likes of Miller, McLeish or Narey, players who would perform at a higher and more consistent level in Europe than Celtic in the 80s.

When McNeill’s successor Davie Hay wanted to sign Steve Clarke and Joe McLaughlin to bolster his defence, he was advised to dig into his own pockets to do so.

Fast forward to 2003 and following Seville, Martin O’Neill warned of the club entering the slow lane just three months later. The pursuit of players such as James McFadden would come to nothing.

Porto would go from defeating us to winning being crowned kings of Europe 12 months later. Celtic would knock out Barcelona in the UEFA Cup that year but, following a last-16 exit to Villarreal, would make only a fleeting impression in that arena in all the years that followed.

It’s well documented how we failed to sign a striker in early 2009. Rangers would win the league that year and the following two. The financial hit was significant, but more so the loss of our hold over the Scottish game.

When Scott McDonald blasted Celtic into a 7-point lead at Ibrox in December 2008, no one could have imagined how fast and hard our fall would be.

This brings us up to the recent era. Neil Lennon has said that we are working on new deals and that it’s hard to get them over the line.

There’s no reason to doubt the veracity of that statement, but other clubs have to work within their own financial constraints too and, relative to income, some seem to manage it more effectively than we do.

It’s obviously true to say that the window can only be fully judged by the time it closes. While that leaves open the possibility for the fresh faces that Neil Lennon needs and wants, it also means that others could still leave. Including players that fans and the manager would prefer to keep.

Neil Lennon
Neil Lennon needs backed after first term ended in frustration

Economic factors come into play and everyone recognises that there are times when the numbers just get too great. With a large part of our focus on that, and with European riches at stake, it seems remiss yet again that we are still missing large parts of the first-team jigsaw.

The only player signed, fit and ready to play in our European ties to date has been Bolingoli. With departures in double figures, that obviously leaves our options limited. It’s to Lennon and the players’ credit that we saw off Sarajevo and, hopefully, will do the same against Kalju.

If so, the next round against Cluj or Maccabi Tel Aviv also looks winnable. But, then, so did those against Maribor, Ajax and AEK Athens.

Losing one might be unlucky, but three out of five speaks of a greater issue. That, as Lennon says, of hammering square pegs into round holes.

Domestically, it looks as if there may be financial calamity at Ibrox. In the meantime, they’re spending like a sailor on leave as they chuck everything at trying to stop 10.

Will it be enough? There’s no one in the Rangers side who I’d put ahead of a Celtic player as it stands, with the possible exception of right back.

But football, as the saying goes, is a funny old game. Celtic have emerged victorious as underdogs so many times ourselves, proving that nothing can be ever taken for granted.

It seems amazing to say it, but greater things lie ahead than our own treble Treble. Nine and then, hopefully, 10 in a row, for starters. European football can’t be an afterthought, though, as it gives us the financial muscle to make things easier than might otherwise be the case.

That financial muscle needs to be used by Peter Lawwell and the board in every way possible to help Neil Lennon. Running a good ‘business’ shouldn’t be to the detriment of the team.

History teaches us that empires crumble, in our recent football past as much as the real world. It’s up to Celtic not to rest on our laurels and guard against this.

Enjoy what we’ve done these past three years, but there’s more history to be made.

It’s all within our reach. All we have to do is grab it.

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3 thoughts on “Complacency has cost Celtic before and can’t be allowed to scupper nine-in-a-row

  • July 24, 2019 at 12:40 pm
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    We gamble at our peril. They are stronger this season. We are weaker right now. They ‘wiped’ the floor with us last season – why wouldn’t it happen again – we are underestimating the challenge. As for tonight – we will lose a goal no doubt – how many can we score? Completely unsure.

    Reply
  • Pingback:Another fine Champions League mess: time to say goodbye to Celtic, Peter

  • September 3, 2019 at 2:00 am
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    Just completely out of interest, does anyone know the real reason that Mr. Dalglish left Celtic as opposed to the reason that the previous board want you to know, in other words why he really joined Liverpool?

    Reply

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