Millions of words have already been written about Ange’s stunning first season at Celtic, many of them by me.

He walked into a club riven by differing visions and agendas (fans and the board), crushed by disappointment regarding their performance in the previous season, and frustrated by their failure to land Eddie Howe as their new manager.

It was not a healthy environment for a new manager, especially one who was unknown in Europe and whose radical methods were said to take at least a year to show results. The fan forums went into meltdown.

Cheap yes man getting his dream job through the City Football Group! He’ll be gone before Christmas! Australian and Asian football are pish!

These sentiments were common in the early days of his appointment and any efforts by Australians to shed some light on Ange tended to be howled down by furious Celts. Not all were against him from the beginning, but certainly his heart would been broken if he’d been unwise enough to read the forums.

The season began with elimination from the Champions’ League and then a succession of losses away in the League. The negativity ratcheted up – Angeball was bollocks and the club ought to be cutting their losses before another whole season was wasted. Ange Out!

But there were some green shoots.

Kyogo, Jota and Abada joined the club and were quickly popular. Joe Hart was an important addition, as was Carl Starfelt. There were a couple of big home wins which illustrated the possibilities of his style. There were also a number of media interviews which inspired some admiration among the fans for the way he handled himself among the notoriously hostile Scottish press pack.

But it was Ange the man, that really began to make progress in terms of fan affection. There were a series of incidents regarding racist comments from opposition supporters which Ange dealt with impressively. There was constant footage emerging on social media of Ange honouring and engaging with fans – in particular a long chat / handshake with a fan, after a home match, that went viral. These are the sorts of qualities that Celtic fans want to see in their manager.

A second look at him revealed a man who came from an immigrant background to a country that judged newcomers, but he fought to achieve anyway and made his mark through diligence and high standards. This kind of background is exactly the ethos of the Celtic fans themselves who perceive themselves to be a part of the Irish diaspora and unwanted by the Tory / Unionist mainstream.

Football for them is far more than just a match on the weekend with a few beers. Obviously, that’s part of it, but the success of the team lifts the entire community and games against the Blue clubs (in particular, Rangers and Hearts) are symbolic of their broader struggle for acceptance and justice.

Management of the club, therefore, is a matter of profound importance. It’s not just about understanding football – it’s about having a leader who is capable of understanding what drives the fans and translating that, somehow, to motivating the players. Ange gradually showed the fans that he understood them, represented them and was entirely on their side.

That’s great, but the football is also important.

The team was only stuttering along – some decent home wins – some okay performances in the Europa group phase – but points were consistently dropped away, including a disastrous loss at Livingstone.

The season turned around with a very late winner at Aberdeen. That won Ange a little breathing space but he was still six points behind Rangers in December. Winning the League Cup was a bonus but, as everyone knows, it’s the League that truly matters.

Then the January signings really put some confidence into the fans. Players who understood the Angeball system and were able to play it were brought in and started to find their feet. Maeda, Hatate, O’Riley, Juranovic, Carter-Vickers. Kyogo was injured but Giakoumakis was finally available.

On top of all that, certain others were thriving under Ange – Callum McGregor was playing brilliantly, Tony Ralston had gone from fan joke to hero, and in particular – Tom Rogic was back to his best form. By the end of January, the fans knew they had one hell of a team, which was demonstrated by a scintillating home performance that blew Rangers away by half time.

Since then, Celtic have won every game and overhauled their Glasgow rivals. After beating them again on the weekend, Celtic are six points clear with a hand on the trophy and favourites to beat Rangers in the Scottish Cup semi final. The mantra: We Never Stop has become a call to arms which somehow embodies everything it is to play for or follow Celtic.

As for Ange, the fans are clamouring for him to sign a long term contract to build and ensure his legacy.

Thank God we didn’t get Eddie Howe is the prevailing sentiment on the forums these days.

The levels of adoration speak as much about the football dominance as they do about the man. Ange is the right manager at the right time for Celtic and is experiencing the kind of love that is given to a visionary leader who knows the people and their fight.

Has fought it himself, in his own way.

I said, back in June, that Ange could go down as one of the great Celtic managers. (All About Ange) It was a big call, but I believed it then and now I’m watching it come true. He hasn’t achieved a lot just yet but what he has achieved has been done in exactly the right way and is setting the foundation for a long period of Scottish dominance and a genuine crack at Europe.

EPL clubs, very likely, are sizing him up, but so are the Celtic fans - for a statue out the front of Parkhead. 

Adrian's books can be purchased at any good bookstore or through ebook alchemy. His first sci-fi novel will be published by Hague Publishing in 2022.


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