In the fullness of time, the next two years may prove to be among the most important seasons in the history of Celtic FC.
Following a long but steady decline, accelerated by the demise of their Old Firm rivals Rangers, Celtic find themselves in the unusual position of having just parted company with a manager who has recently delivered his second straight league title.
In the peculiar goldfish bowl of Scottish football, second place has never been acceptable for Celtic. With the absence of Rangers, even first place is no longer enough, unless accompanied with success in domestic cups, and more significantly, European competition. Neither was achieved this season, and that has led to declining attendances, widespread apathy amongst the support, and ultimately, the end of Ronny Deila’s reign as Celtic manager.
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This paints a gloomy picture of the short-term prospects of one of the most widely supported clubs in the world. However, there are reasons for cautious optimism. With Rangers winning promotion into the Premier League, and even knocking Celtic out of the Scottish Cup, the level of interest in the Scottish game is as high as it has been for some time. The painful and humiliating defeat suffered to their biggest rivals may prove to be the best thing that could have happened to Celtic.
While a comfortable Celtic victory would have appeased the fans, and possibly even allowed Ronny Deila to remain in a job, it would have reinforced the expectation that Celtic will cruise to six in a row next year, even with the presence of a newly promoted Rangers team and a resurgent Aberdeen. The defeat, and importantly, the nature of the defeat, has led many to believe that next season could well see a genuinely open title race for the first time since Rangers were liquidated in 2012.
This has sparked some interest in the Scottish game, and may have convinced the Celtic board that serious investment is needed if they want to remain the main force in Scottish football. This combination of renewed interest and potential investment may be enough to entice a top manager. The biggest obstacle might be whether the board are willing to relinquish control over all football matters, which top managers are likely to demand.
With the right manager, it shouldn’t be out of Celtic’s reach to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League for the next couple of seasons. The combination of cash injection, increased media exposure, and status of having a respected manager, could provide a platform for significant positive growth.
In contrast, an uninspiring and unsuccessful appointment may lead to another season without Champions League football, a further loss of status, and worse, a further drop in both attendances and income.
Get it right, and Celtic could be competing with Europe’s best again within a few years. Get it wrong, and Celtic could find themselves battling for supremacy in a league that is on a par with the Welsh or Irish leagues.