Player of the year
Celtic had precious few personnel across their core, comprehensively revamped, first-team squad that did not impress as the title was reclaimed. Yet, two mainstays just nudged above their team-mates for consistent excellence and importance to their club’s sparkling season. Granite-like centre-back Cameron Carter-Vickers’ recruitment on a season-loan loan deal from Tottenham Hotspur proved an inspired move. The US international brought a degree of authority and presence to the club’s backline that set him apart from all but Virgil van Dijk of those who have occupied his berth for Celtic in the past decade. However, no player at the club had a weight on their shoulders quite like Callum McGregor. The midfielder practically achieved the impossible in stepping up to the captaincy role made vacant by the departure of the iconic Scott Brown … and almost immediately becoming a heartbeat akin to his mentor. McGregor set the tone for a new-look Celtic in two-tier fashion. He took his performance levels to new heights, while at the same time bringing a host of new signings with him through his unifying, unstinting leadership. In so doing, the Scotland midfielder proved the perfect on-field conduit for manager Ange Postecoglou’s football strategy.
Signing of the year
As with the above, you could take your pick from a team’s worth of additions with which the club’s playing squad was transformed. Carter-Vickers patently has an outstanding claim, with monumental contributions from on-loan Benfica winger Jota, Carl Starfelt, Joe Hart, Josip Juranovic, Liel Abada, Giorgos Giakoumakis, Matt O’Riley, Daizen Maeda and Reo Hatate. However, it is important to consider how the pall was lifted that lingered over the club going into the new season after the disintegration of their 10-in-a-row bid the previous term. The spectacular early scoring impact of Kyogo Furuhashi following his £5million from Vissel Kobe in late July was integral in stirring belief Celtic could actually mount a championship challenge. The whirling dervish of a striker may have missed practically half the season with hamstring problems, but he still finished top scorer on 20 goals after lighting the fire under Postecoglou’s team.
Goal of the season
The fact 132 goals were plundered in the campaign means there are innumerable contenders. David Turnbull’s sumptuous, edge-of-the-box strike in the win away to Motherwell in mid-October lives in the memory. So too Tom Rogic’s velcro-control in sashaying his way into the Dundee United box before curling into the net at Tannadice six weeks later. However, for significance, finesse and the ability to leave all those who witnessed it slack-jawed, a Furuhashi finish claims the honour. The Japanese forward’s wasn’t even near fully fit when thrown into the Premier Sports Cup final against Hibs, the week before Christmas. His conditioning proved no impediment to following up a superb equaliser with a glorious lob that proved the matchwinner as the first silverware of the Postecoglou era was served up at Hampden.
Most entertaining game
It might seem odd to focus on a Celtic defeat for this one. Especially since the 3-0 slamming of Rangers in Glasgow’s east end in February had such resonance, for innumerable reasons. Yet, the 3-2 loss away to Bayer Leverkusen for Postecoglou’s men was one monster of a thrill ride. To go toe-to-toe with a team then flying high in the Bundesliga in their own backyard provided evidence Postecoglou’s front-foot approach, whatever the circumstances, need not be foolhardy. Yes, the need for more defensive obstinence was the takeaway from some in the aftermath of Celtic’s recovering from the loss of an early goal to take a 2-1 lead in Leverkusen only to leak two goals in the closing eight minutes. However, the attacking intent gave a glimpse of what might be possible with the refinement more development time for Postecoglou with his players will afford.
Celtic would likely have fallen eight points behind Rangers on October 3 had they not succeeded in digging out three points at Pittodrie that afternoon. Clawing that back would have been a monumental task. Instead, a late winner from Jota – which proved a launchpad for the winger’s season in Scotland – allowed them the sense that the 2-1 success it earned had supplied them a starting point for a title tilt. Postecoglou headed into the clash as the first manager in Celtic’s history to have lost his first three away league games. His club, meanwhile, had not posted a victory outside of their own environs in almost eight months. The mood music all changed with the scrabbled win and, following a home draw with Dundee United the week before, it proved the impetus in a 32-game league unbeaten run that rendered them unstoppable in the championship.
The extra-time loss to Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi-final in April may have rubbled Celtic’s treble hopes, but the concession of a breakaway goal to go down 2-1 in a tight tie at Hampden can happen. What doesn’t ordinarily to any Celtic team, regardless of their capabilities, is that an opponent does such a number on them in the home first leg of a continental knock-out face-off – as was true of Bodo/Glimt courtesy their 3-1 win in Glasgow that took the clubs’ Conference League play-off in February away from Celtic. The Norwegians were impressively adroit, regardless of their modest status. Yet, the loss perhaps betrayed that Postecoglou’s team hadn’t come as far as had been considered when it was felt a run deep into the latter stages of Europe’s newly-created third-string tournament was eminently possible. Instead, with a 2-0 reverse in the Arctic Circle return, the tie marked Celtic’s heaviest aggregate defeat to a team outside of the big five leagues in almost 60 years of cross-border competition.
Manager report card
The superlatives have been exhausted to do proper justice to the re-animation of a moribund Celtic that Ange Postecoglou performed. Little wonder. The Australian proved a footballing pied piper. In mesmeric fashion, he fused together a new team assembled to entertain with fearless endeavour. In doing so, he not only completely won over a squad of disparate cultures to his footballing way of thinking. His emotional intelligence and game nous caused a disaffected Celtic support to fall in love with their club all over again, and he pushed all the right media buttons with his astuteness and wit. In essence, the 56-year-old served up a managerial masterclass in how you handle the onerous demands as the figurehead of an institution club. Yes, he fell short of the domestic clean sweep. And, yes, European form proved patchy. Although, that said, even as the club made early exits from three competitions there were more good moments than is often portrayed. His embryonic side’s elimination of Alkmaar to reach the Europa League group stages before they claimed nine points from a truly tough section were decent building blocks for the bigger and better he has promised is to come next season. He has set the highest of bars to deliver on that pledge.