The green and white tickertape that lay strewn across the Hampden Park turf in the aftermath of Celtic’s League Cup celebrations at the weekend may not have been removed yet, but already most Scottish football fans and scribes are speculating. Speculating about whether the undeniable domestic dominance of Brendan Rodgers’ side will almost certainly result in them landing the treble, and indeed going unbeaten for the entire campaign.
Without question, Celtic swatted aside the challenge of Aberdeen – who, let’s not forget, have been the second best team in the country over the last few years – with consummate ease on Sunday. But does that make it possible, far less probable, that they will make it through to next May without tasting defeat?
For obvious reasons, Rodgers himself has been quick to dampen such talk – he’s far too astute to make such predictions. However, his captain Scott Brown was less cautious, suggesting the players feel they can win every game, and now striker Moussa Dembélé has stated that a clean sweep without a loss is probable!
Whatever the case, going through an entire league campaign unbeaten takes some doing. It’s a rarity, with the most famous example in recent memory being Arséne Wenger’s all-conquering ‘Invincibles’ of the 2003/04 Premier League season. Famously, Arsenal didn’t lose a single league game that season, and in fact their unbeaten run, straddling the following campaign, stretched to 49 games before being controversially ended at Old Trafford.
Fewer fans will know of the same achievement by Preston North End way back in 1888/89, and for all that side did admittedly ‘only’ have to negotiate 22 league games, they can also boast the fact they won the cup that year, and without conceding a single goal into the bargain!
Further afield, there have been some noteworthy unbeaten domestic runs:
Steaua Bucharest – 106 games (1986 – 89)
The Romanians enjoyed a golden period in the 1980s, helping themselves to five consecutive league titles before being usurped by bitter rivals Dynamo Bucharest. Take a look at the line-up back then and you realise why they didn’t lose many – you wouldn’t like to encounter many of that lot in a dark alley!
Sheriff – 63 games (2006-08)
This club’s domination of the league in Moldova (no scoffing please) was such that they claimed the first ten league titles in a row at the turn of the century, during which in the 2006/07 season they could lay claim to no defeats.
Celtic – 62 games (1915 – 17)
The hoops created a British record of 62 games unbeaten under their first manager, Willie Maley. During that run, they played twice in one day, against Raith Rovers and Motherwell!
AC Milan – 58 games (1991 – 93)
Labelled ‘the immortals’, Arrigo Sacchi’s side, which had won back-to-back European Cups in 1989 and 1990, utterly dominated Italian football – with a certain Fabio Capello then laying claim for part of that unbeaten sequence. Mind you, with names like Baresi, Van Basten, Rikjaard and Maldini in their pomp, it was little surprise no-one could lay a glove on Milan back then.
Other notable unbeaten runs worthy of a mention include 58 games by Olympiacos (1972 - 74) , 56 by Benfica (1976 – 78), 55 by Porto (2010 – 12) and no fewer than 55 by Shakhtar Donetsk in 2000 – 02.
Few would bet against Rodgers claiming the treble this season, thus emulating Martin O’Neill back in 2000, especially given that the Parkhead coffers have been swollen thanks to participation in this season’s Champions League group stages and a transfer window approaching. However, you can’t help but feel that a league loss will happen somewhere along the way, possibly one dark, wintry Scottish midweek evening atop a ploughed field somewhere in the far-flung corners of the country!
Not, of course, that that would be of any consolation to the chasing pack (especially Rangers), whose chief concern is that Brendan Rodgers’ spell at the helm looks very likely to widen the gap between Celtic and the rest further still.
This season, Celtic will surely claim their sixth consecutive league title. Can they become the first Scottish club to achieve 10 in a row? Whether many clubs can boast that is for another day…