Glasgow (AFP) – If new Celtic manager Ange Postecoglou needed any reminding, this week’s Champions League qualifying defeat by Midtjylland underlined the size of the job facing the Australian as heads into his first Scottish Premiership season.
Last term, Celtic’s bid for a record-breaking 10th successive Scottish title wasn’t simply ended by Rangers but overwhelmed, with the Hoops finishing a mammoth 25 points behind in second place as their unbeaten arch Glasgow rivals were crowned champions.
Celtic are justly proud of being the first British club to win what was then the European Cup in 1967.
But Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Danish club Midtjylland, which sealed a 3-2 aggregate defeat, meant that for the fourth season in a row they had exited European football’s premier club competition in the qualifying rounds.
“Catastrophic means the end — it’s far from the end,” newly-arrived Postecoglou said after the game.
“It’s been suggested that the club is falling apart. That’s not the case. I can’t ask more of the players. I take responsibility, I don’t blame people.”
Nevertheless, it was hardly a result to inspire confidence ahead of Saturday’s league opener away to Hearts, with the fact that the average age of the back four who started in Denmark was 21 a testament to Celtic’s lack of experience.
Hopes of rebuilding early in the transfer window were effectively ended by Celtic’s lengthy and ultimately unsuccessful pursuit of former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe, following the February resignation of Neil Lennon, leaving Postecoglou with little time to bring in new recruits.
– ‘Unfair pressure’ –
Postecoglou, however, is set to have Sweden centre-back Carl Starfelt available for Saturday’s trip to Edinburgh, while it is possible that fellow new arrival Kyogo Furuhashi, a Japan forward, could feature as well.
“He is doing his quarantine down in London but is out on early release and we have sent one of our guys down to help him, so he is doing individual sessions and this is his last day,” Postecoglou said Friday of Furuhashi.
Postecoglou, who joined Celtic from J-League club Yokohama F. Marinos, guided Australia to their first Asian Cup triumph in 2015, added: “I think it’s been a bit unfair the pressure I have exposed some of our younger defenders to so far…It’s good to get Carl here, I think it’s a boost for the whole squad.
“Even to get Nir Bitton back (from suspension) also helps because when you are starting off in these challenging circumstances, you rely on the experienced ones to be able to cope with whatever pressures are around.”
The Australian manager has already made his feelings clear about the lack of transfer activity, but he struck a conciliatory tone on Friday by saying chief executive Dominic McKay was confronting the issue.
“I am pushing as hard as I can and everyone at the club, including Dom, is doing everything they can to make sure we conclude some deals in the next short period,” he said.
Rangers could face a Scottish media blackout given that, in a departure from the tradition of free access, they are trying to charge newspapers and media organisations a reported £25,000 ($35,000) for one reporter and one photographer to attend matches and pre-game press conferences.
But the main on-field concern for a side managed by Liverpool great Steven Gerrard will be to back-up last season’s performance.
Rangers have made no major signings ahead of Saturday’s match against Livingston at Ibrox, with ex-England midfielder Gerrard saying: “The squad is really strong as it stands. If there’s not a need to add to it, I won’t do it, but it’s something we’ll consider in the coming weeks.”
St Johnstone won both major domestic cup competitions last season and that is where other SPL clubs might be looking for success given it is now more than 35 years since a team other than Rangers or Celtic won the Scottish title.
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