THERE had been signs that choppy waters lay ahead for the good ship Celtic long before the Parkhead club concluded their transfer business back in 2020.

A devastating 2-1 defeat to Hungarian opponents Ferencvaros at Parkhead in a one-off Champions League qualifier in August had been followed by some incendiary comments by manager Neil Lennon.

“The players have to be better,” he said in the immediate aftermath of the painful and costly reverse. “Some of you don’t want to be here? Leave. I just want the players who want to be here.”

His remarks hardly suggested that all was well behind the scenes and set alarm bells ringing among their concerned followers.

However, Lennon declared that he was satisfied with the incomings the Celtic board had sanctioned when the extended summer window closed in October. With good reason. The quadruple treble winners had lavished over £12m on six new recruits, improved an already strong squad and increased his options in every area of the field.

They had once again outspent their city rivals Rangers and looked to be in very good shape to make Scottish football history and complete 10-In-A-Row.

Appearances, though, can be deceptive. They had a wretched and trophyless campaign and the Northern Irishman lost his job in February. The Ibrox club went undefeated in the top flight for the first time in 122 years and were crowned champions amid scenes of mass rejoicing in the streets.

It was a quite remarkable season. But it showed that splashing the cash does not necessarily guarantee success. It underlined that teams with inferior budgets can and often do punch above their weight. It highlighted that tactics and togetherness still count for a great deal in the money-obsessed modern game.

Still, Celtic fans had every reason to feel content and quietly confident about the months ahead when the transfer window “slammed shut” at midnight on Thursday. 

Ange Postecoglou’s team deservedly reclaimed the cinch Premiership last term. The attacking, entertaining and innovative football they produced at times was a joy to watch. The Greek-Australian has since been handed nearly £20m to bring in nine players. If anything, his side will be even better this term.

Postecoglou made no fewer than nine changes to his starting line-up for the Premier Sports Cup encounter with Ross County in Dingwall on Wednesday evening. Benjamin Siegrist, Anthony Ralston, Moritz Jenz, Stephen Welsh, Alexandro Bernabei, Aaron Mooy, Daizen Maeda, David Turnbull and Giorgos Giakoumakis all came in. The visitors eased into the quarter-finals with a 4-1 triumph.  

It was a far cry from last season when youngsters Joey Dawson, Adam Montgomery, Owen Moffat and Dane Murray were handed game time in important domestic and European fixtures because he was short of cover.

Celtic continue to operate at a different level to Rangers off the field thanks to years of prudent stewardship despite the Europa League finalists’ vastly improved financial situation and are far better placed to land the Premiership, League Cup and Scottish Cup as a consequence.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst was certainly given funds in the close season. He brought in seven new faces. Antonio Colak, Tom Lawrence and Malik Tillman have settled quickly and impressed greatly. There are high hopes for Ben Davies, Rabbi Matondo, John Souttar and Ridvan Yilmaz. But the Dutchman spent less than £11m.

Can the Govan outfit improve? They have lost Joe Aribo and Calvin Bassey, their two outstanding performers. Van Bronckhorst has one fit specialist centre half, Connor Goldson, and one fully fit striker, Colak, heading into the Old Firm game this afternoon and the Champions League opener with Ajax in Amsterdam on Wednesday night.

Across the River Clyde, Postecoglou can play Kyogo Furuhashi, Giorgos Giakoumakis and Daizen Maeda up front and Cameron Carter-Vickers, Jenz, Carl Starfelt and Welsh in the heart of his defence. Advantage Celtic.   

Rangers fans long to see their beloved club stop posting colossal losses and break even. They have understood the logic behind offloading Nathan Patterson, Aribo and Bassey for over £40m this year and are hopeful those departures will be reflected in far healthier annual results.

But they are still entitled to ask why the purse strings have not been loosened a little more. If their heroes fail to win the Premiership come May they will blame the directors for refusing to speculate to accumulate a little. There was great unhappiness when nobody was brought in on deadline day. They banked in the region of £40m when they reached the Champions League group stages for goodness sake.

Van Bronckhorst and his coaching staff, though, have shown they have the smarts to outplay and overcome wealthier and stronger adversaries. They were the underdogs against Borussia Dortmund and RB Leipzig last season. They ran out worthy winners over the Bundesliga teams.

The former Champions League winner, who led Feyenoord to their first Eredivisie in 18 years in his second season at the helm back in 2017, still has talent and experience in abundance and can enjoy a memorable season both at home and abroad.

But he needs to get players back fit quickly. He can ill afford any of his key men to suffer injuries either. Those are not concerns which Postecoglou has after another highly productive transfer window.