Twenty-two years ago this week Martin O’Neill was appointed Celtic manager and as well as shattering the period of domestic dominance enjoyed by the high-spending, tax-dodging Rangers, he also gave Celtic supporters glorious League experiences champions and in the UEFA Cup, taking Celtic to the UEFA Cup final in 2003 where they lost hearts 3-2 to Jose Mourinho’s Porto in the Sevilla final.
🗓️ It was on this day 22 years ago that Martin O’Neill became manager of #CelticFC
It began a period of success as the club’s first hat-trick since 1969 heralded a string of silverware and performances that made the first game of the new millennium so memorable🍀
Read all about it ⤵️
– Celtic Football Club (@CelticFC) June 1, 2022
Mourinho’s Porto side won the Champions League the following season, the last team outside Europe’s money-rich big leagues to do so. Last week, Mourinho led Roma to Europa League glory in Albania’s capital Tirana, beating Feyenoord 1-0 in the final. It was Mourinho’s fifth European final and he has now won them all and the only team to score against one of his sides was Celtic in Sevilla, with Henrik Larsson securing a magnificent brace.
Now, twenty-two years later, Ange Postecoglou is set to take his Scottish champions to the Champions League group stage as pot 4. The Celtic manager enjoyed a brilliant first season at the level domestically, winning the Scottish Premiership and the League Cup, but the European experience has been similar to what the Celtic backer, sadly, has come to expect more recently.
That may be about to change, however, as Postecoglou, who will become the first Australian to lead a Champions League side, aims to re-establish Celtic as a force to be reckoned with on football’s highest stage. club. So the big question, which excites Celtic fans who are busy checking odds with a list of online bookmakers for next season, is whether Celtic can finally mount a challenge in Europe for the first time since the exploits of Martin O’Neill twenty years ago?
Ange also said Celtic will continue to play football in exactly the same way with the playing identity that has been so successful domestically this season. Can this be transferred to the European scene? The Champions League can be an unforgiving game group for football purists, as Brendan Rodgers discovered in 2016, losing 5 goals in Paris and 7 in Barcelona while trying to compete playing the same way that would lead to an invincible triple season.
Yet last week, when Ange Postecoglou was asked about altering his tactics to accommodate the option standard that inevitably awaited him in the Champions League group stages, he simply responded by saying that he had never owned a bus. There will be no back to the wall in defense as Celtic will come out to attack the opposition home and away.
So an obvious conclusion would be to assume that Postecoglou plans to add Champions League quality to his squad this summer, in addition to the two loan moves from last season which are essential if Celtic are to avoid being left behind. exposed at the back and weakened in attack. These signings – Cameron Carter-Vickers from Tottenham (£6m) and Jota from Benfica (£7m) – should only be taken as a starting point.
And it should be noted that two senior club players, both with significant Champions League experience, left Celtic at the end of the season. Tom Rogic, perhaps the Scottish Premiership’s most skilful player of the past decade, and Nir Bitton – an excellent utility player perfectly suited to keeping the ball up against high-quality opponents, will both need to be substituted.
With Christopher Jullien, a £7million signing from Toulouse, looking set to leave the club this summer, having failed to work his way into the Celtic squad after recovering from an absence year caused by a bad knee injury, so a new central defender is also going to be needed.
Celtic are also in the market for a third striker to rival Kyogo and Giorgos Giakoumakis – who played in the Champions League with AEK Athens – and this addition to the squad would undoubtedly replace Albian Ajeti, a signing from £5million in the summer of 2020 from West-Ham.
He too has struggled with injuries and has been unable to make an impact under the current Celtic manager who is about to celebrate his first anniversary in charge of a club that was elected this week on the BBC as having had the best club team ever with the Lisbon Lions, who in 1967 became the first British side to win the European Cup, now the Champions League.
Ange Postecoglou often refers to this as his benchmark and will note that these Lisbon Lions had never played in the European Cup before this season, they went out, played their football and brought the Big Cup back to heaven.
It’s the Celtic dream, we’ll see later this year if it can come true.