Saturday, June 19, 2021
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How to win a football treble?

Martin O'Neill with Scottish treble (2001)When it comes to the matter of offering an opinion on the likelihood of achieving success in football, (success being winning everything on offer) most participants – players and managers alike – are normally somewhat guarded in their predictions. However, Celtic manager Ronny Deila has certainly bucked that trend, with his willingness to consider the possibility of his side claiming a domestic clean sweep of silverware come the end of the season.


Any reluctance to proclaim impending trophy success is of course perfectly understandable. No manager or player wants to be left with egg on their face in the event that their side’s aspirations fall short. It can also appear disrespectful to opponents too, although you can sometimes be left feeling that few in the game would lose too much sleep on that score.


To be fair to Deila, he’s been talking about a possible treble for Celtic for months now, long before such an eventuality could come to fruition. Few are criticising him now (some did scoff at him initially), particularly given that one trophy, the League Cup, has already been won. His side has a Scottish Cup semi-final on the horizon, and is slowly but surely edging away from nearest challengers Aberdeen in the Premiership title race.


Last week, Dundee United boss Jackie McNamara rather uncharitably suggested that, with the resources at their disposal, Celtic should in fact be winning the treble in any case. Notwithstanding the fact that his comments could be interpreted as sour grapes – United have just lost three times in a fortnight to Deila’s men in a mini-series of clashes that had become increasingly bitter and clouded in animosity – a cursory check shows quite clearly that securing a treble is far from easy.


In 125 years, for instance, Celtic have only won all three domestic trophies in a single season on three occasions, although, on one of those occasions (1967) they added the European Cup for good measure. Rangers have fared better, having won seven trebles in their history, although this too seems improbably low. The numbers are indeed surprisingly modest, especially when you consider the total dominance of those two clubs within Scottish football down the years.


In England, no club has ever won all three domestic trophies in the same season. This scenario has been so unlikely that ‘the double’ (league and FA Cup) is recognised as being the ultimate demonstration of domestic superiority, and even then only seven clubs can claim to have achieved it: Manchester United and Arsenal (3 times each), plus Liverpool, Chelsea, Spurs, Aston Villa and Preston North End.


In recent times, we’ve had different ‘trebles’ as such, but only where one of the trophies has had a European flavour, such as Manchester United back in 1999 (only the League Cup eluded them that season). And of course Liverpool’s unique achievement two years later, when they won the two domestic cups and the UEFA Cup.


So this begs the question: why, when a side is so dominant over all others, do they not more regularly win everything in sight? Why, when Rangers were enjoying the fruits of the Souness revolution a few years ago, did they not regularly house all the silverware in the Ibrox trophy room? Likewise with Celtic (until now perhaps) in recent seasons when their rivals have been operating within the lower echelons of the game, unable to mount anything close to a challenge following their financial meltdown?


In England, of course, there is – always has been - simply more competition, with more good teams in with a genuine shout of winning something. But the Manchester Uniteds, Liverpools and Arsenals have enjoyed periods when they were head and shoulders above their peers, but failed to win the lot.


For half a century European football has provided a distraction which may have impacted on domestic form. And certainly since the inception of the Champions League the bigger clubs have concentrated on the riches on offer there to the detriment of the League Cup, and to a certain extent the FA Cup, too.


Those football romantics among us, of course, will be happy enough with this, given that such distractions for the big guns increase the chances of other sides having their moment of glory. Something which has been common on both sides of the border in recent seasons: Wigan Athletic, Birmingham City, Raith Rovers, St. Mirren, etc.



Whatever the case, winning every domestic honour must remain the ultimate goal of clubs, and Celtic will no doubt celebrate the treble, should they secure it, with some vigour. Question is, how do you improve on that next season, when the chances are it’s not going to happen again for some time to come?

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