On 17 December 2017, after an unprecedented 69-game unbeaten run, Brendan Rodgers’ Celtic ‘Invincibles’ were defeated 4-0 by Edinburgh based Hearts: where can they go from here?
As of the end of the 2016/17 season, Celtic FC have won the last six Scottish top-tier football leagues and have, in total, won 48 first division titles. They are beaten only by Rangers who have 54 titles to their name.
The 2016/17 season was a particularly remarkable one for the Glasgow-based club, as they went through the entire season without losing a game and managed to tally up a record-breaking 69-game ‘invincible’ streak from 15 May 2016 to 17 December 2017.
It is therefore clear that Celtic football club have cemented themselves as one of the greatest sides in football history, yet does this ‘invincible’ run truly mean that the club has reached its pinnacle?
Since their fierce Glasgow-based rivals, Rangers, were banished to the bottom leagues of Scottish football after they entered administration in 2012, Celtic have not faced a serious challenge to their dominance in Scotland. Even prior to Rangers’ demise, Celtic were not vastly challenged, as outside of the two Glasgow based sides, no other Scottish team has won the top-flight title more than four times.
Scottish football is undoubtedly fiercely competitive and has produced some exceptionally talented footballers. Henrik Larsson, Barry Ferguson and Pedro Mendes to name but a few from the past 15 years. Yet, Scottish teams have not mounted serious challenges for continental and global success as have the leading teams of other European leagues.
Celtic’s adventures in Europe should not be undermined, however, as they have a proud history in European competitions. In 1967, they became the first British team to win the European Cup and are the only Scottish team ever to do so. Their feats in Europe have continued into the 21st century, as they reached the final of the UEFA Cup in 2003 and, most recently, reached the last-16 stage of the Champions League in the 2012/13 season. The 2017/2018 season marks Celtic’s 54th European campaign.
The rich history of the club may therefore suggest that there is very little else for Celtic to accomplish. The success and eventual end of Brendan Rodgers’ ‘Invincibles’, however, puts Celtic’s ambitions and feats into a wider perspective.
The obvious parallel to draw is between Arsenal’s invincible season and Celtic’s, not least because Kolo Toure featured in both sides, but because they both achieved a similarly remarkable and unprecedented accomplishment. Yet whilst the ambition of Arsenal has rarely been questioned, as they regularly finish in the top-four of one of football’s most competitive leagues, hold the record number of FA Cups, and go a long way in Europe in most campaigns, Celtic’s modern achievements seem far less impressive.
European glory should be the goal for a club with such a great reputation and vast retinue of international support, yet their recent efforts have not suggested any serious ability to compete with the likes of Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Juventus.
The 2017/18 campaign in the Champions League for Celtic casts a bleak picture, as they were only able to win a single game, were beaten 7-1 by Paris Saint-Germain, and finished 12 points away from last-16 qualification.
Celtic do have some obvious achievable goals that they could reach in the next decade or so, such as becoming the undisputed greatest team in Scottish football history by overtaking Rangers’ 54 league titles.
International glory and re-establishment as one of the world’s best football teams, however, seems a long way off. Celtic may have the support, but they lack the spending power in today’s brutal and expensive transfer market to compete with Europe’s strongest teams on the football pitch.
Some commentators have suggested integration with the English leagues, yet there is no guarantee that this would strengthen Celtic and allow them to compete.
Celtic’s domination of Scottish football is extremely impressive and looks set to continue, but a serious international and continental challenge seems a long way away for Celtic FC.
Image Courtesy of Bryan Hargadon