When they turned up for pre-season training last year, they were too fat in Brendan Rodgers’ eyes. Eventually, they were simply too fit for the rest of Scottish football to handle as they stormed to an undefeated domestic treble.
That, essentially, is Celtic captain Scott Brown’s assessment of how the Scottish champions achieved their unprecedented feat and earned the tag of ‘Invincibles’.
The reserves of energy and running power which overcame a weary Aberdeen side in the closing stages of last Saturday’s classic Scottish Cup final at Hampden were a testament to the vastly improved conditioning of the Celtic players under Rodgers’ management.
According to Brown, meeting the Northern Irishman’s high physical standards also meant having to make changes to their social lives away from the training ground.
“In the first six months, we had to get as fit as possible,” said the midfielder whose own rejuvenation since Rodgers took charge has been startling.
“We came back not the fittest last summer and the gaffer was on about everyone’s body fat. We managed to get that down 10 or 12 per cent in the whole squad. That shows the dedication and effort that was put into it.
“I am proud of my own season but it’s all down to the lads who are at the club that I am still playing. They worked so hard throughout the season and dedicated themselves throughout, whether that was missing nights out, or going into training more because there were not that many days off. You don’t see your family as much, but the dedication has paid off.
“We believe that, no matter how fit anyone else is, our fitness is better. We showed that all through the season in various games and we’ve dug ourselves out of a few holes.
“The gaffer stuck to his ways and he’s wanted us to play good, attacking and attractive football. We managed to do it through the season and got ourselves a lot fitter than we have ever been. Turning up on the big occasions, we thrive on them.”
That was certainly the case in the final fixture of Celtic’s historic season. Tested to the limit by Aberdeen, their mental and physical resilience allowed them to come from behind before clinching the treble with Tom Rogic’s stoppage time goal in the 2-1 victory.
“The last-minute goal in the final showed our fitness,” added Brown. “We were creating chances constantly in the second half. Fair play to Aberdeen, they gave it everything, but we came straight back after a losing a goal.
“I was getting ready for extra-time, but it just shows Tom’s fitness. People say he’s not the fittest player around, but he was still going strong and putting energy into running defenders into the ground. Finishing with his ‘bad’ foot in injury-time says it all.
“We managed to beat Aberdeen six times in the one season and the cup final at the end was the hardest one of the lot, but that’s because they are a great team with great pace.
“They pushed us all the way in the league and also in both of the cup competitions. You have to play in cup finals to be the best and they did it twice.”
Brown believes Celtic’s unblemished domestic campaign will stand alone in the Scottish football record books for many years to come.
“The season will go down in history and it is going to be hard for anyone else to emulate,” he said. “If someone does it again in the future, fair play to them.
“But there are always hard games throughout a season and moments when things can go against you.
“We have a tremendous bunch of lads and you could not ask for it to happen to a better group.
“That goes for everyone at the club, not just the players. The backroom staff, everyone. For us as the players, of course it is special.”
Brown revealed he was delighted to see Lisbon Lion John Clark, who still works in the kit room at Celtic’s training centre, among the presentation party when he climbed the steps at Hampden to collect the Scottish Cup.
“John giving out the medals at the end was great for him and for us,” he said. “He’s still in there at Lennoxtown, still doing his kit and he loves the club.
“For us to do something and, hopefully, be remembered in 50 years’ time like Clarky and his team were over the course of last week with the anniversary celebrations of the 1967 European Cup win is a phenomenal feeling.”
For Brown, after the small matter of leading Scotland into their potentially pivotal World Cup qualifier against England at Hampden on 10 June, there will be little time to pause for reflection before Celtic turn their attention to building on their success.
“Next season is the big one,” he declared. “We have Champions League qualifiers early doors, so we need to be ready.”