When a great sporting occasion has finished, or we have seen one of sports big prizes picked up, if the coverage is presented by John Inverdale, he invariably asks a question that normally tries to put this great triumph in context. As Celtic claimed their 45th Scottish Championship this week, the question that no one is asking is “In the pantheon of great Scottish sides, where does this Celtic side sit?”
In the con’s side, of course you have to look at the lack of competition. There is no strong Rangers side. Indeed Rangers seem to have spent the past two years making the mistakes that they originally made on the road to ruin. It’s laughable for McCoist to say that he is looking at a couple of players when they don’t have any money.
The other point in favour of this Celtic side not being a great side is their poor results in Europe. They did get to the group stages of the European Cup, but lost badly to a Barcelona side not quite as good as their vintage of a couple of years ago and also contrived to loose to the worst AC Milan side in a generation. Except at least they reached the group stages.
This last point can be re-butted straight away by a cursory look at Rangers record in Europe when they dominated Scottish Football. They had a couple of good runs in Europe, in 1987/8 when they were knocked out by Steua Bucharest in the quarter finals and their famous run of 1992/3.
This Celtic side on paper is not as good as the side from last season, they lost Hooper and Wanyama during the summer Transfer window. Yet, in the league anyway, their focus has been impressive. They have only dropped 9 points all season, and with 7 games left sit with 84 points. Ah, but what about the opposition.
Yes Motherwell are still up there, Stuart McCall’s side have been consistently been up there since Rangers demise. There is also the green shoots of good sides emerging at Aberdeen and Dundee United. It should be noted that while they have garnered good reviews in the Press corps and the broadcast media, both sides are still very much a work in process.
For all that Dundee United were irresistible in the autumn, since their 4-1 hammering at Greenhill Road, they have been hit and miss since then and are showing all the signs of being nervous about their Scottish Cup semi final against Second Division Rangers. For all that Aberdeen have been in good form, they were poor both times against St Mirren, and struggled to beat a poor Inverness in the recent League Cup final. Both sides, though inconsistent, are still clearly work’s in progress. Rather like this current Celtic side.
So to return to the question at the start, where do this Celtic side sit? In a funny sort of way, can understand Lennon’s satisfaction at this championship. Last season, Celtic lost at home to Kilmarnock & St Johnstone, this season’s only loss was at Pittodrie to a side likely to finish second to them. Certainly in the league, you would have to go back to the 1920’s to find championships wrapped up in jig time. An initial reaction would be to put them on a par with some of Ranger’s mid 90’s win. For a deeper, historical perspective though, we will have to wait for that.