2020/21 in Review – Celtic
It didn’t go the way it was supposed to. Amy Canavan reflects on Celtic’s collapse in their most crucial season, offering a fan’s perspective of a miserable campaign for Glasgow’s green and white.
When I first agreed to write this review, I had hope. Similar to hope I had at the start of the season but, at an alarmingly quick rate, it evaporated. In both scenarios.
I had hoped that this task would be therapeutic. Cathartic, even – one that could bring about closure. Instead, it has brought about great pain and frustration, emulating the emotions the faithful Celtic support have experienced this season.
In both cases, it started so well. The sun was shining, on the hottest day of the year to date, as I sat down to write this eulogy to 10-in-a-row – less than 100 words in and it’s been mentioned already – it’s all downhill from here…
Before a ball had been kicked, a Zoom press-conference had been conducted ,or even a trip in a pandemic had been undertaken, there was a time that Celtic Football Club connected with their fans. A long-desired deal with leading sports brand adidas was secured and along came three simply stunning kits. ‘Create history in style’ kind of kits.
In similar fashion, the signings of a big Irish no-nonsense centre-half, a Greek God of a goalkeeper and a swift Swiss striker brought about more than a few smiles. Add in the long-sought after David Turnbull, Uruguayan-internationalist Diego Laxalt and the return of Mohammed Elyounoussi, it was quite the window.
History beckoned, legendary status awaited, immortality dawned. A decade in the making – everything was riding on this final push. False hope was all it was, as an Odsonne Edouard hattrick kicked the campaign off. As pivotal as it was to keep the Frenchman – he failed to hit any of the expected heights in the crucial months that followed.
The catalyst for the eventual demise came on a Saturday afternoon at Parkhead – as a COVID-hit Celtic side failed to lay a glove on eventual champions, Rangers. What followed, domestically and on the European stage, is better left unsaid.
The club’s stranglehold on Scottish silverware came to a sluggish end against Ross County. Just another lacklustre performance in a string of the kind.
The solitary light in this dark season came, technically, from the previous one. The Quadruple Treble was sealed in desperate fashion. It speaks volumes that we’re clinging onto last season’s ventures to have any joy in here.
As former manager Neil Lennon has recently put it – this was a ‘joyless’ season. The curtain was closing on the 10 alarmingly quickly and while tears were shed in disbelief amongst supporters – the club uprooted and went on a jolly to Dubai…in the midst of a pandemic. The Dubai fiasco has been analysed to death, every detail of it. Not just the journey, the boozing by the pool or the insistent defence of it – every single aspect. Simply put, it is just another disaster in a checklist of calamities.
Lennon left but ‘Lennybol’ did not. Pummelled out of the Scottish Cup by their city-rivals under John Kennedy secured only one thing – a trophyless season for Celtic. The first in 11 years.
At the heart of this trophy-laden period has stood Scott Brown. Captain, Leader, Legend. My Billy McNeill, my Paul McStay, announced this was to be his last dance in a Celtic jersey. It’s been a year for tears, but this declaration caused waterfalls.
As I said, I had hoped this activity would bring around peace, but in fact, it’s taken hours to write purely because every milestone I’ve had to turn over has brought about a new sense of furore. I’ve also just realised I didn’t even mention Boli Bolingoli…
It’s been over 100 days now since Neil Lennon left – since then, the club have been within inches of appointing Eddie Howe, season tickets have been renewed, a stunning new away kit has landed (here we go again) and Lennon has blamed the fans (specifically the ‘new breed’) for his failure to deliver 10-in-a-row.
So, from a young, female, Celtic fan…bring on the rebuild.
Player of the Season – Kristoffer Ajer
We all laughed when the club had the audacity to promote their end of season awards following the misery endured this campaign. Believe me, if it was my choice, no-one would be awarded this accolade – cheers editors.
I’ve opted for Ajer due to his consistency. He has been a solid ‘good’ throughout the season – who’d have thought we’d be settling for ‘good.’
The 23-year-old Norwegian, who looks to have played his last game for Celtic, has been trustworthy in turbulent times. Considering many fans – including myself – were horrified after his display against Copenhagen last February and called for him to be axed, he stepped up a gear.
In a woeful defensive backline, he’s looked assured and commanding, as well as versatile. At right-back he put in stellar (arguably, better) performances.
Young Player of the Season – David Turnbull
Perhaps it was a little harsh to suggest the Quadruple Treble was the lone light in Celtic’s season. The unleashing of David Turnbull and the bubbly Ismaila Soro brought more than a smile to the Hoops faithful.
We’ll never truly know if it was due to injury that Turnbull failed to burst onto the scene, or if it was due to him not being a Lennon player, but no matter what, his performances on the park may have just extended the Northern Irishman’s tenure that little bit longer.
The 21-year-old has stood out like a sore thumb in the green and white since his Europa League debut for the club against Lille in December.
Despite his age and new-emergence to the side, he swiftly became the ‘go-to’ player and such performances and plaudits have contributed to his inclusion in Scotland’s EURO 2020 squad.
Signing of the Season – David Turnbull
Ideally, I wouldn’t select the same player for two categories, but Celtic have offered little else this campaign.
The aforementioned Soro felt like a new signing and his stint in the squad was certainly well received. And, well, the transfer window was dissected above and the only emotion to describe what happened next, is underwhelming.
Shane Duffy and Albian Ajeti hit the ground running – both netting, at the time, vital goals – but in both cases, their positive contributions were few and far between from then on.
Vasilis Barkas failed to secure the Number 1 spot as his own, the whole point of his incoming. And as for Diego Laxalt…well. I remain in the Greg Taylor fan club on this one.
Mohammed Elyounoussi has received criticism but for me, he has been solid enough. Neither a signing nor new to the side, is the reason his name isn’t plastered beside this claim.
Underperformer of the Season – Shane Duffy
Just as it seemed unfair to select a ‘Player of the Season’, it feels equally unjust to choose just one underperformer.
The demand for a mass rebuild is not an understatement and this is partially due to the dire relationships, lack of unity and abysmal performances that have originated throughout the season.
Edouard may have set the quest for 10 off on the right foot, but that is about as good as it got. A bitterly disappointing showing from the Frenchman, who miraculously managed to rediscover his finest form on international duty, puts him high on the list for this accolade. Another who has all but definitely played his final game for the club – he didn’t bow out on a high note and nor will the club pull in the kind of fee once thought.
But ultimately, the biggest underperformer has been Shane Duffy. Perhaps too much was made of him and his bhoyhood dream of a move. On paper, he looked to be everything Celtic had been craving since the loss of Virgil Van Dijk. A powerhouse of a centre-half who took no prisoners.
Unfortunately, it rapidly unfolded as a nightmare. Blunder after blunder, slip up after slip up – it was a spell to forget for the Irishman. Maybe it meant too much to Duffy. Maybe he understood the importance of the 10 more than most and with that, came added pressure. Albeit, Duffy’s spell at Celtic was implausibly catastrophic.
Goal of the Season – Odsonne Edouard vs KR Reykjavik
There aren’t many to choose from – another unfamiliar trait in a Celtic season.
Elyounoussi’s strike vs Lille was a strong contender from me. In a flashback to Celtic of old, Ajeti’s high pressure put the eventual French Champions under immense pressure at the back and allowed the Norwegian to pounce and stride forward, before eloquently executing a long-range strike.
But on closer analysis, I’ve opted for Edouard’s solo effort against Reykjavik. Cutting in from the left and dancing through defender’s dangling legs has long been a signature move in his locker – admittedly it’s been seen all too sparingly this campaign.
But this little moment of magic epitomises why the Frenchman is the best striker in the country – by some distance. The intelligence, skill and precision cannot be compared to anyone else in the league.
Moment of the Season – It Ending
If either editor seriously expects me to answer this, they can think again.
When Willie Collum blew his final whistle at Easter Road on 15th May, that is the only time I’ve smiled.
Again, I could turn to the Quadruple Treble sealing against Hearts, but it doesn’t feel right.
There was that decent performance against an out-of-form Livingston side in April where six was put past them, but I refuse to gift a dead-rubber the title of ‘Moment of the Season.’
Moment to Forget – It All
A catalogue of calamities, that have only begun to be uncovered – it seems ludicrous to single out one.
Everyone will have their own ‘Embarrassment of all Embarrassments’ – Ferencvaros, Ross County, Dubai all worthy recipients, but for me, it’s the double header against Sparta Prague.
I was born in 2000 – too young to remember the glory days under Martin O’Neill, but believe me, I’ve been educated on them since. I can, however, vividly remember Gordon Strachan’s side take on Barcelona, AC Milan, Spartak Moscow and the likes. I grew up in the belief that Celtic Park was a fortress – only the very elite of Europe battled their way through. Albeit, never the best travellers but still, never the whipping bhoys. I am not saying the European nightmare experienced this season is the first of its kind, but the manner of the demolitions at the hands of Sparta Prague were nothing short of humiliating.
Humiliating seems like a fitting way to sum up the events of this past season. As I said earlier, bring on the rebuild.