Scotland treble for Celtic’s invincibles
Invincibles: the word adorned the outside of Celtic Park on May 27 when Brendan Rodgers’ side returned home after their 2-1 Scottish Cup Final victory over Aberdeen at Hampden Park.
Tom Rogic’s winner had not just secured the treble – adding to the Premiership and League Cup – it sealed Celtic’s unbeaten domestic record.
No Scottish side had ever done that. Not even Jock Stein’s Celtic, whose 1967 European Cup success against Internazionale had offered inspiration for Rodgers’ players.
The Glasgow club celebrated the 50th anniversary of that epic day in Lisbon with singer Rod Stewart and 13,000 fans lauding the remaining members of the team at the city’s Hydro Arena.
The “Lisbon Lions”, as they were dubbed, were the first northern European side to lift the trophy. A team of 11 Scots, four have now died, while match-winner Stevie Chalmers and captain Billy McNeill could not attend the tribute because they have dementia.
If Celtic were expected to win their sixth title in a row when Rodgers replaced Ronny Deila last summer, no one envisaged the campaign which unfolded.
Just the third manager in Celtic’s history – after Stein in 1967 and 1969, and Martin O’Neill in 2001 – to deliver a treble, Rodgers side managed a record points total of 106, while 106 goals were evidence of their flair. While Celtic and Rangers can both claim an unbeaten league season, in 1897-98 and 1898-99 respectively, those were just 18 matches.
This, in the modern era, was a completely different feat. Neil Lennon’s Celtic, who won the double in 2013 and reached the last 16 of the Champions League, lost to Kilmarnock four days after beating Barcelona and also lost the League Cup Final to the same opponent.
Not even the Stein sides could manage it. Even though the Lisbon Lions won a domestic treble when they won the European Cup, they lost twice in the league to Dundee United in 1966-67 – who, incidentally, also beat Barcelona home and away that season to knock the Spaniards out of Europe.
Rodgers’ arrival injected a fresh surge of enthusiasm among supporters and the Northern Irishman also persuaded Scott Sinclair, Moussa Dembele and Kolo Toure to swap England for Scotland.
The signing of Sinclair from Aston Villa for £3.5million was shrewd and the winger rediscovered the form he had shown under Rodgers when at Swansea City, while Dembele was the top scorer with 32 goals.
But, essentially, Rodgers transformed the players he inherited from Deila. The League Cup was secured in November with a 3-0 win over Aberdeen in the Final, and a 5-1 thrashing of Rangers at home, matched by a 5-1 rout at Ibrox, underlined the power and style of the new Rodgers era.
“It’s a huge honour to be mentioned in the same sentence as Jock Stein and Martin O’Neill,” said Rodgers. “I told the players before the Final to think about the Lisbon Lions. I told them no one would write about us unless they won.”
Skipper... Scott Brown
Treble...Brendan Rodgers after the Cup Final win