Throughout the lockdown, A Celtic State of Mind has continued to produce daily podcasts of the highest quality with some of Celtic and Scottish football’s most interesting characters invited to take part. One such podcast that has resonated a lot with me, and one that I’ve listened to countless times already, was recorded back in July when Paul John was joined by former SPL CEO Roger Mitchell.
In an insightful and thoroughly enjoyable 50-minute conversation, Roger spoke openly and honestly about his love for Celtic while also raising some thought-provoking points, uncomfortable truths, and questions for discussion; each of which could easily fill their own hour-long podcast.
One such talking point raised by Roger was the question very few Celtic fans have dared to answer until now, ‘Where does Celtic go after 10-in-a-row is achieved?Listen to ROGER MITCHELL with A Celtic State of Mind here:
What Comes After 10?
To start with, 10-in-a-row should not be considered a foregone conclusion. We have already dropped points at Kilmarnock, allowed Rangers to open up a lead at the top of the table, and suffered the embarrassment of Bolingoli-gate; the full impact of the latter will only be known as the season progresses.
However, for argument’s sake, let’s say we do win the league again this season and bring home an unprecedented 10th league title in a row. What next?
11-in-a-row is an obvious answer, but what real significance does that have when achieving ‘the Ten’ has been the hook to lure players to the club, or to try and keep them here, for the last couple of seasons? “Come/stay for the 10 and become a legend.” The implication being that 10-in-a-row is ‘the End Game’.
Somehow, 11-in-a-row doesn’t have the same ring to it. A decade of dominance is a fantastic achievement, but beyond that questions begin to arise over the legitimacy of the league and standard of competition on offer; it doesn’t make for an attractive proposition long-term if we want to attract high-quality players and improve our standing on the European front.
Should 10-in-a-row be accomplished, then the ambitions of the club need to change and, if I’m being perfectly honest, that’s something that should already have happened, or be in motion.
By now, Celtic should have assembled a strong and talented pool of players capable of winning domestically and consistently reaching the Champions League Group Stage as a minimum. Covid or no Covid, we’ve had a decade to plan for being in this position and to have a succession and new goal in place to focus on after 10-in-a-row.
But 10-in-a-row seems to have become an all encompassing and all consuming monster. The sole focus of the club in recent years seems to have been on achieving the Ten and as much domestic success as possible, without any clear vision of what happens next.
Champions League Regulars
What should come next is that Celtic use the squad of players built up over the last decade to continue progressing in Europe and re-establishing the reputation of the club in the Continental game.
After 9 successive league titles, we should have a squad already capable of reaching the Group Stages of the Champions League on a consistent basis. There should have been a decade of investment on and off the pitch that has elevated the level and ambition of the club beyond merely winning in Scotland.
10-in-a-row should be a comfortable achievement, followed by 11 and the goal of latter stage European football.
That we are not currently in that position is down to a lack of ambition coming from the top of the club, and I say that as a fan of Peter Lawwell.
Lawwell’s ambition has been for Celtic to dominate in Scotland and win the Ten with the lowest possible financial outlay, with any progress in Europe beyond the Qualifying Rounds being a bonus, a ‘nice to have’ if you will. The lack of serious investment in the squad suggests that there is no real ambition to get beyond that level, for now at least.
To clarify, serious investment does not mean throwing tens of millions at players – but it does mean investing in a proper scouting network, investing on the coaching side, embracing data analysis to help gain the extra 1% or 2% advantage over opponents. It means having a clear and defined strategy to move the club forward in line with an ever-evolving ambition and target to be better than we were yesterday at all levels of the club. It’s about taking clubs like Ajax, Getafe, or Atalanta and using them as the benchmark for what a club with Celtic’s resources can achieve if they use those resources wisely.
The period between 2012 and 2016 – when Rangers were not in the league and Celtic had a free shot at the title – should have been used to develop the infrastructure of the club, putting us in a far stronger position than we currently are. Meaning that when 10-in-a-row is achieved, there is a meaningful goal already established and there to go after.
It’s (Not All) Doom and Gloom
As it stands, after 10-in-a-row is achieved – must think positively about that – there’s a very real possibility that players such as Ajer, Jullien, McGregor, and Edouard could be lured away by big money offers and the prospect of new challenges. They’d all be club legends and surely no one would begrudge them a move at that time.
This could bring an opportunity for Celtic to embrace a new approach. With the monkey of 10-in-a-row off the back, perhaps the club could return to something akin to the Quality Street Gang era and begin giving some of the talented youngsters at the club more first-team football, supplemented by new additions to the squad with the monies raised from any player sales.
A more youthful and re-invigorated Celtic, free from the pressures of chasing immortality, might just be able to put achieving actual success in Europe back on the table.