Almost exactly a year ago, an unmistakable mood of uncertainty reigned in Celtic Park.
club, whose dreams of a top ten in a row were interrupted by a thousand cuts in the most public and sometimes undignified way.
But if last season has anything to tell us – and Celtic fans in particular – it’s that vows to keep faith in the turmoil and rebuilding pay dividends very often.
Such prior belief was admittedly put to the test at the start of the Premier League campaign, when the Celts’ new boss, Greek-Australian surprise Ange Postekoglou, was still adjusting to the ruthless environment.
Postekoglu will not be the first nor the last manager to throw himself into the furnace of an old firm who needs time to transform ideas, approach and new players into cast-iron results.
Despite all the hype surrounding Celtic’s return to the Premier League from Rangers, a well-deserved success after a ruthlessly labored second half of the season that turned most of the rest into mere cannon fodder, the veritable recovery journey faltered at first.
The brilliance of the knife is quickly sharpened by the more hysterical elements in the respective Old Firm fan bases – and Postecoglu’s tumultuous start only added weight to those who thought he was an underdog rather than a well-known “name”. to get the Celts back in contention for the title.
With hindsight and, again, patience, no one at Parkhead is even remotely concerned these days that the club’s original attempt to replace Neil Lennon with Eddie Howe didn’t pan out. “Big Ange” is a powerful man from the East End of Glasgow.
However, Celtic were in no hurry. Starting the League season with a 2-1 loss to the Hearts, losing to the Rangers and losing to Livingston, their plastic pitch made up for on goal wins at home.
The desired consistency has not yet been established. In fact, it wasn’t until October that Postekoglou’s brief began to take shape.
The ability to achieve vital victories away from home against the likes of Aberdeen, Hibernian and Motherwell is what title success is made of. And for the most part – Europe was an unfortunate exception along the way – Celtic didn’t look back domestically.
Postecoglu has managed to focus his men and devotes little time to failures.
However, the lessons of a quick start to the new season, which kicks off today at home at Aberdeen, will become clear if the manager asks his players to briefly recall what happened a year ago.
Celtic are hoping their summer build-up, like the demand of all successful teams, will provide a platform this season, especially with the arguably stronger Rangers.
Many at Ibrox consider Gers to be the best team, as evidenced by their breakneck run to the Europa League final, where they manage a situation that Postecoglou has yet to build.
However, Celtic’s consistency and their high-octane attacking play was critical to winning the title. The obvious question is: can it be sustained again?
While you can never satisfy everyone, rumors of dissatisfaction with the Celts’ end-of-season transfer activity are sporadic compared to the previous troubling summer.
If a significant part of the club’s transfer budget went to permanent signings for Hota, Daizen Maeda and Cameron Carter-Vickers, then this had to be done. These three players especially give the team strength, cunning and balance in key areas of the pitch.
A £3.75m payout for Argentinean club Lanus’ Alexandro Bernabei is a significant sum for raw potential, but a free transfer for Postecoglu’s compatriot Aaron Mouy hints that he will have more steel ahead of him in midfield.
Postekoglu is also not to be pressed down by a snowdrift. Loan deals for underdogs like Vassilis Barkas, Boli Bolingoli, Ismail Soro, Osase Urhogide and perhaps Albian Ayeti may not be ideal outcomes, but they leave the ruthless Aussie with whoever he wants.
Elsewhere, there are high hopes for David Turnbull’s return to action.
The dynamic midfielder, who missed playing time last season due to injury, will add energy to the attack. Then, of course, there is Kyogo Furuhashi, the personification of Postekoglu’s changed, bold division.
The fact that Celtic have gone the distance without a Japanese striker for more than three months in 2021/22 is indicative of the options available.
At one time, Postekoglu was accused of exacerbating Kyogo’s hamstring problem, but now it seems that all systems are working.
If he and Giorgios Jakoumakis stay in shape, then Celtic boast a razor-sharp predatory partnership that, at the time of writing, seems stronger and more versatile than the Rangers options.
And, of course, soon the music of the Champions League will be played in Celtic Park.
These insatiable demands to maintain high standards and continue their winning streak have allowed Celtic to take advantage of automatic group stage qualification, easing the burden between early-season domestic duties and the euro.
In the meantime, the Rangers have several negotiations to go through in a busy August before they can hope to join the prestigious club.
However, taking into account the unfortunate experience of the main European tournament in the first season of Postecoglu, when Celtic had already been eliminated from Midtjylland before August, it is a stretch to assume that this time they will be able to make a splash, even given the amiable group draw.
Like Rangers, the Europa League is where the Old Firm has to shine, and Celtic’s supporters have much more to look forward to.