Celtic will never have another domestic season quite like this one. They’ve set the bar so high that next season they will have the rest of the Scottish Premiership gunning for them.
The 2017-2018 season will see Aberdeen, Rangers, St Johnstone, Hearts, Partick Thistle, Ross County, Kilmarnock, Motherwell, Dundee and newly promoted Hibsernian all vying to take points from Celtic. Hamilton Academical will remain in the top flight at the expense of playoff finalists Dundee United who will be deeply disappointed to have missed out on promotion.
Heading down to the Championship are Inverness Caledonian Thistle after a seven-year spell in the top flight. I’m actually a bit disappointed to see them go down given that they’re generally one of Celtic’s better opponents, but this season they missed out on the playoff spot by two points.
Whilst Celtic won’t need to concern themselves with any trips to Inverness for a while, the other Premiership candidates will need no motivation. Their task will be to close the gap – a 30 point gap – by chipping away at the invincible Celtic machine that conceded only 25 goals and dropped just 8 points all season.
The treble winners drew against four opponents during the 2016-2017 campaign. Inverness, Rangers, Partick Thistle and Ross County.
The last three draws occurred in the final 11 league games of the season. Two of those draws took place after the title was secured.
Celtic hadn’t given up, but there were signs of battle-weariness. The smell of a treble and an unbeaten domestic season remained alive though.
Next season I wouldn’t expect or bet on that happening again. Brendan Rodger’s will of course be looking to retain the title but he will also be hoping to make in-roads on the European scene.
A spot in the Champions League group stage is three rounds away and begins for Celtic in a matter of weeks. An early start to the season is a huge task for clubs with European aspirations.
It is criminal that a league champion, regardless of coefficients, has to go through this rigmarole. Some clubs have to endure an extra round, but this is bad enough particularly after a long, tiring season.
The Celtic squad will get some well deserved time off. Some will have international duties and pre-season training will begin much earlier than the majority of European teams.
Sadly that is something that Celtic have to live with these days. Until things change by UEFA’s hand or other Scottish clubs get the finger out to help raise the country coefficient then Celtic will be in this situation for some time yet.
With Europe firmly in the mind of Brendan Rodgers, it is likely that Celtic will drop more points next season compared the one that has just gone. As I said earlier, all teams will be gunning for Celtic, especially those who failed to take any points off the treble winners.
Even with the season over, I can’t wait to see the Bhoys reassemble for the next campaign. The squad won’t look too different next season though will definitely be smaller.
Kris Commons and Efe Ambrose are now free agents. The future of many others will also be ratified especially those who were out on loan.
Brendan Rodgers has worked with the large squad he inherited for one year now. He is in a much better position to chop and change now that most have been given a chance to prove their worth.
It isn’t clear what sort of targets Brendan has in mind to bring in just yet. I can’t imagine it will amount to any more than two or three players though.
Top of that list will be Patrick Roberts. The Manchester City loanee has now returned to the Premier League club, but his future is uncertain.
There are two options open to Celtic. Another loan spell or a permanent switch.
Some reports suggest that Celtic have made an agreement with City for a permanent move. If true then the ball is in Roberts’ court.
One thing is for certain and that is he will never play for Manchester City any time soon. Pep Guardiola has the capability to bankroll a whole new team for next season and with money burning a hole in his pocket I doubt Patrick will be gracing the Premier League with his skills.
Given the personnel the City managee already has at his disposal and the potential he is likely to recruit there isn’t a chance Roberts will be part of that plan. That isn’t being disrespectful to Paddy that’s just being realistic.
He is an exciting player. An exceptionally talented player, but he is competing with players from all around the world to play in one team.
City has the financial prowess to buy the best players from anywhere to play under one of the best managers in the game in a league that is also heavily funded. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Premier League is the best in the world because I’ve watched enough matches to tell you that it is anything but that.
However, this is a playground that many of the worlds players want to play in be it for the money being thrown at them or the top clubs of that league. If Paddy was to return south he should do so only to play for a top club because that is what he deserves.
Should that fail to transpire then he should make Celtic his home until that becomes a reality. The Celtic family would not stand in his way if that day came, but I personally think he should return to Celtic for one more season at the very least and assess his options now.
That is one player who should almost certainly be coming to Celtic next season. He has proven his worth and been welcomed with open arms the club, the fans and the players.
With a very successful season behind us, everyone can take a breather. The treble winning invincibles of the 2016-2017 season will go down in history not just in Celtic history, but in world football history.