Sunday, April 08, 2012

Celtic: Sealing the deal

After a shaky start to the season and having already been denied a couple of cracks at sealing the SPL was there a danger that Celtic would stutter to the finish line?

No.

A 6-0 thumping of Kilmarnock and that was that. The title done and dusted by 2.45pm on the 7th of April. Efficient.

That the championship champagne has popped so early is in no small part to the bonfire of the vanities that is being played out at Ibrox.

Are Celtic supporters being pulled three ways at the moment?

Celebrating a title. Taking more than a little joy in the Rangers implosion. Feeling the need to justify the former in light of the latter.

They shouldn't be.

This league championship should be celebrated without caveats. It's a triumph that has been both hard earned and deserved.

The ten points that a succession of crooks have cost Rangers might have allowed the victory party to kick off early.

But it was the way that Celtic reacted to their own bad start that mattered.

That brief but very real 15 point deficit. That moment at Rugby Park - and how fitting it was that an emphatic win at Kilmarnock should seal the title - when they found themselves 3-0 down and staring infamy in the face.

The reaction was magnificent. Celtic bulldozed their way through the SPL, overhauled Rangers and nabbed control of this league season. And they did all that before the administrators finally neutered their only real rivals as a competitive force.

An achievement that will mean a lot to Neil Lennon. Maybe only he will know just how much.

I've said before that you don't need to like Lennon. Football fans tend not to like opposing managers. That's football.

Two idiots sending a football manager a bomb in the post. That's something else.

To have stuck at the job so single mindedly and to have secured the trophy he so desperately wanted represents a very personal triumph for the Celtic manager.

His players will likely dominate the various awards shortlists this season. Lennon has the most talented squad in Scotland at his disposal.

He's used it wisely. He seems to have kept the players happy, he's shown the confidence to change things to meet immediate challenges, he's fielded sides strong enough to win games when not at their best.

Those are essential ingredients for a title winning side. Lennon's Celtic have been the only club in the SPL to have come close to meeting those challenges this year.

That's why they've won the league. It must also be heartening for Celtic to see the way in which players have improved over the course of the season.

I found Charlie Mulgrew's brace in yesterday's clinching win fitting.

The modern Celtic manager is charged with two important tasks: win titles, of course, but also take players that aren't yet the finished article and turn them into the sort of players that can deliver those titles.

That's the rider that goes with Lennon's dream job. He's pulled it off with aplomb this season even if it's a boardroom approach that might yet rob him of the chance to build a side to compete with the vintage Celtic teams of old.

Mulgrew's season has perhaps been a vindication of both the club's approach and the manager's ability to meet the full remit of his role.

Football historians will one day devote chapters and chapters to this strangest of Scottish football seasons. Humble chroniclers of the game will be musing on the fallout for years to come.

But we are all still here for the football. And the only thing that matters right now is that Celtic are the SPL champions and they've achieved that by having the best team and a manager able to give that team the platform to realise its potential.

A shot at a double lies just around the corner. There might be a golden opportunity to turn this Celtic side into the catalyst for a dominant domestic dynasty. European tests await.

That's the future.

For now we can acknowledge that Neil Lennon's Celtic are the best team in the country and the league champions.

Even in the dysfunctional world of Scottish football that is exactly how it should be.

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