Celtic's unbeaten season: 'Quality obvious, but mental strength in spades'

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers celebrates with supporters
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers believes an unbeaten league season 'won't be done again in our lifetime'

In the modern era of the game, where the wealth and the superstars hang out in different leagues in different countries, there remains a pocket of world class in the Scottish football landscape.

As occasions go - colour, noise, joy - Parkhead on Sunday would have held its own with anything else going on in the monied environs of England and Spain, where other champions were crowned and celebrated.

The Lisbon Lions, 50 years on from their victory of the ages, stood over this like giants. Some were here, some, alas, were not, but their names were roared and their memory evoked visually, audibly, emotionally.

Brendan Rodgers' team did what they had to do, what they've been doing for most of the season. Leigh Griffiths got the first, Stuart Armstrong got the second in the 2-0 win. Another victory, another championship. Long-standing records were matched and broken in this, their sixth league title in a row.

A graphic of Celtic's record this season

Some of Celtic's football this season has been joyful, part of the thrill for their people being that the team are still young and developing.

They watch these players and, yes, they think of 10-in-a-row but they also think that this is a side, if kept together and added to cleverly, that can make strides in Europe, a team that has a right to dream about joining the Champions League last 16, if luck favours them.

The vibe on Sunday afternoon wasn't just about saluting the Lions or heralding another league title and an unbeaten league run, the like of which has not been seen in Scotland since 1899 [a year that marked the beginning of the second Boer War, the creation of the paperclip and the founding of FC Barcelona]. No, it was to do with pride in the past, delight in the present and hope in the future.

The world and its mother knows of the vast advantages that Celtic have over the rest of Scottish football, but still you thought over the course of 38 league games - and another eight in cup competition - that somebody would catch them, that they'd have one off-day and that they'd be beaten.

Their quality is obvious, but their mental strength is there in spades, too. Maybe it was found in the wake of a humiliating day in the Nou Camp, but find it they did.

We think of the many games that they've lorded it over. The creativity and goals of Scott Sinclair, Armstrong, Patrick Roberts, Moussa Dembele and Griffiths. The leadership of Scott Brown, the underplayed influence of Callum McGregor and the excitement of seeing the burgeoning brilliance of Kieran Tierney.

Four and five and six goal-winning margins, foot-on-the-throat refusal to ease up when an opponent is reeling. They've scored 29 goals in the last 10 minutes of matches this season. They scored 10 after the 90th minute.

What we think of less are the days when they haven't been close to their best and have had to battle through it. In the league season they have drawn four and won another dozen of their games by a single goal.

True, they would have had dominance in most, if not all of those matches, but steel rather than skill would have got them through on those days.

If they weren't a psychologically robust side you'd fancy that somebody would have done them somewhere along the line, financial advantage or no financial advantage.

A season unbeaten is a precious thing. Ten storied sides have achieved the treble that Celtic are now going in pursuit of in the Scottish Cup final, the teams of Martin O'Neill and Jock Stein, Alex McLeish and Dick Advocaat, Jock Wallace, Scot Symon and Bill Struth. None of them went through the league campaign without losing.

Sure, most of them had a real domestic rival, or rivals, that tested their mettle - not the case with this dominant Celtic - but all of them lost against teams you wouldn't have expected them to lose against.

O'Neill's Celtic lost to Rangers, yes, in their treble-winning campaign but they also lost to Kilmarnock, who finished fourth that season, and to Dundee, who finished sixth.

That's not to denigrate O'Neill's team - they are, obviously, one of the finest of all Celtic teams - but it shows that maintaining concentration levels for a whole league season is hugely difficult no matter what advantages of budget and brilliance a team may have.

Stein's Celtic lost to Morton, who finished 10th, in one of their treble seasons and lost to ninth-placed Dundee United, twice, in the other, the season of the Lisbon Lions.

McLeish's Rangers of 2002-03 were beaten by Motherwell, who were bottom that year. Advocaat's team, treble winners in 1998-99, lost to teams who occupied second, third, sixth, seventh and ninth place at season's end.

In 1992-93, Rangers won a treble but lost to Partick Thistle, who finished ninth, and Dundee, who finished 10th.

They did two more trebles in 1975-76 and 1977-78 and lost to teams in third, fourth, fifth and seventh in one season and teams in second, fourth and fifth in the other.

In 1963-64, Symon's Rangers treble stars lost to Hearts, in fourth, St Mirren, in 12th, and St Johnstone, in 13th. Struth's treble winners of 1949 lost to Third Lanark, who were seventh, and Hearts, who were eighth.

Celtic's supporters unveil flags bearing the number '50' to celebrate the anniversary of the Lisbon Lions' European Cup win
Celtic's fans were also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Lisbon Lions' European Cup win

The overall standard was higher back then, of course. Much, much higher for the most part. We can't compare or contrast those magnificent sides with this Celtic team because they lived in different worlds.

All we can say is that Rodgers' men have achieved something special in their own era and are young enough to kick on and get better.

We like to attach names to winning teams to reflect their excellence and so this Celtic side will now, surely, become the Scottish version of the Invincibles, all the more so if they carry on and complete the treble next Saturday against Aberdeen at Hampden, thereby going through an entire domestic season, league and cups, unbeaten. More history could be written in a week.

That feat, if achieved, would have a grand place in the story of football in this country, but, frankly, in a week when Scotland celebrates the memory of the Lisbon Lions, Jock Stein's team took the Invincible word as their own half a century ago. Indomitable, invulnerable, insuperable. They're all taken, too. The Lions are the timeless team, the evergreens, the immortals.

On Sunday, Celtic people had the best of both worlds, though. They had the exaltation of their finest sons from 1967 and the acclamation of the ones who have come in their wake 50 years on, playing a style that the great men of the past would undoubtedly approve of. Compliments don't come any higher at Celtic Park.