St Anthony, Harry Brady, Lachie Mor, and Eddie Pearson look back on a successful season for Celtic in 2021-22.
1. What was your initial feeling when Ange was appointed last summer?
LM – Like most people I was concerned at the Howe business and how protracted it was. When it fell through I was at a loss to see where they would get a manager that the fans would accept. When they announced Ange, I watched the press conference and thought he came across well. Again I had searched for information about him and watched interviews with Australian media people and sports folk like Scott McDonald so I was willing to see what would happen.
EP – Hesitant but open to a new way of working.
HB – Prior to appointment – his CV doesn’t cover all I’d be looking for. From the moment he was appointed, he’s Celtic manager so I’m 100% all in.
SM – Very hopeful. In Scotland we look down on other countries which we have no right to do. He had good experience at a good level in Australia and Japan and we were taking on a guy who was highly ambitious and had a point to make. I hate a good gut feeling from the start.
2. Was there ever a time when you felt that Ange wasn’t going to succeed, especially early in the season?
LM – Not really. I felt that in the games we lost in the league that we were the better team but like last season we fell on our own swords with errors at key moments. I was never convinced about Starfelt – no harm to the guy but given a choice between him and Charlie Mulgrew, Charlie would have had my vote. I just didn’t think he looked up for the fight. Many folk will argue that I am wrong but he never really looks comfortable receiving the ball and he was ‘ragged dolled’ more than once during the season. He has improved but not to the extent where I think he should be our first choice going into the new season in Europe. Jullien is a mystery. My view is that he is a footballing snob and doesn’t like it rough but he is a better footballer than Starfelt in my view, but clearly Ange doesn’t think so.
EP – No. I read his book before he started and I was all in.
HB – Nope. Every game I could see us progress and thought ‘Once he gets his players in this is going to be terrific.’
SM – I think back to autumn when we won games even though we didn’t play well, particularly the 2-1 Aberdeen victory at Pittodrie in October. Had we lost that day, and we could have, it could have been detrimental to our league hopes even as early as October. But we hung in week by week, game by game.
3. What in your opinion was the turning point of the season?
LM – In terms of the Championship, there were a number of crucial late goals which could lay claim to being the turning point, but perhaps they were simply key in keeping our hopes alive, gubbing the Huns after New Year was probably the really big moment.
EP – As always it’s the day after the August transfer window closes.
HB – There was no turning point. We got better every game. If there was one it was when we signed players.
SA – I will take that Ralston goal at Dingwall in December to the grave. When that goal went in I was sure we’d be in the hunt at the end of the season. One of the most dramatic Celtic goals in modern times.
4. Ange made a number of signings. Which one do you rate as his best?
LM – Kyogo. He was a beacon of brilliance in the early months and gave the fans excitement and optimism – he is in the mould of great Celtic strikers.
EP – Kyogo.
HB – They were all important for various reasons but probably Kyogo.
SA – Kyogo for me. When I first saw him play I was overjoyed at his movement and effort after the misery of the previous campaign. He carried the time and the hopes of the fans until the New Year. You could see he was a class act from day one.
5. Of all his signings which one were you most disappointed in?
LM – James McCarthy. Not because he played badly but because he really didn’t play. Given his experience at a high level in England and in International football I expected much more of him.
EP – None really. Guchi was always a gamble based on his track record so it wasn’t “disappointing” when he didn’t set the heather on fire.
HB – Not disappointed in any. Ideguchi has hardly played but I didn’t expect him to. Surprised we signed him but wondered if he was about being a good teammate.
SA – Probably James McCarthy. Given his vast experience in the EPL and at international level with Ireland, I thought he would have been a mainstay in the centre of the park, but he never really impressed at any stage.
6. What was your favourite game of the season and why?
LM – The game against Motherwell after we beat Sevco. I had fear of a repeat of past years, when we would get a great result in a cup final only to draw at Kilmarnock after the Coca Cola final, or when we drew at Motherwell after the Paul Lambert game. They made a statement that day, playing brilliantly and that was when I was convinced that we would win the league.
EP – I don’t have the retention skills needed for this question so I’ll go with 3-0 against rangers. Incredible atmosphere.
HB – Beating Rangers at Celtic Park 3-0. Under the lights, with no songs of bile and I knew we’d win the league at full time.
SA – Probably Ross County in Dingwall in December. Ralston’s 97th minute goal wasn’t only a valuable winner but it was a body blow to Rangers. Can you imagine the frustration they would have felt hearing that Celtic had scored so late? A double whammy for us.
7. What was your favourite goal of the season and why?
LM – Kyogo’s second goal in the League Cup Final – it was a thing of beauty.
EP – Kyogo from jota’s pass. Or was it jota from Kyogo’s pass? See told you I don’t have the retention skills needed.
HB – Can’t really pick one as there were so many important goals – it would be like picking a favourite child.
SA – Ralston’s winner at Dingwall for obvious reasons already mentioned.
8. How important was winning the league cup in December?
LM – Crucial. Like Wim the Tim’s team, it gave them belief and told the other teams that we had it in us to be successful.
EP – The decision to shift this final back into the first half of the season is one that I welcomed. Like Wim’s victory in 1997 it allows the manager to be seen as a winner which can permeate the rest of the season with confidence.
HB – Wim Jansen, Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan, Ronny Deil, and Brendan Rodgers – they all showed how important it is to get the first trophy under your belt and get the fans onside.
SA – It was massive. It gave both the fans and the players huge confidence. It also gave the players and Ange, a taste of what being a successful Celtic player feels like. It gave us great momentum going in to the New Year.
9. What was your opinion of the European campaigns?
LM – It was a strange experience. There were moments of brilliance but their inability to defend was alarming. The Bodo Glint episode was a real downer. In retrospect it probably helped the title run in, but it was pretty scary to be so comprehensively thrashed and left some doubts about how Angeball will serve us in the Champions League. I would never wish us to play like the Huns but we have lost so many playoff games against teams that we should really be at least the equal of that one would think we are cursed or perhaps naive.
EP – Good learning experience but ultimately a distraction from the league.
HB – I will forgive them the European runs this season because Ange was coming in to such a mess but don’t forget we finished the Europa League with more points than at least one of the finalists.
SA – I was criticised for saying that I couldn’t care about Europe last season. We had to take small steps to regain our pride at domestic level. I’ll expect more next season, particularly after you see what Rangers achieved. It just highlights how much Celtic have underachieved in Europe in the last 10 years.
10. Which positions would you like to improve for next season?
LM – They need better defensive cover right across the back 4 and a really solid defensive mid field holding player, like Broony or Neil Lennon at their best. This even if they get CCV. If they get Jota and could get the best out of Mikey Johnston and James Forrest I think they are quite well set up in the forward positions although another creative midfielder would not go amiss, although I still have great hopes for the Japanese Bhoys.
EP – Left centre half, defensive mid (move McGregor up one), left back, right back.
HB – Left back and midfield. We need midfielders who can cope with European football and protect the back four.
SA – Quality back up goalkeeper, quality left sided centre half, an attacking left back, and a holding midfield player who has a presence on the field of play. I would also like a quality number 10.