Last year Celtic’s majority shareholder Dermont Desmond said ‘inevitable changes in football’ will see Celtic, along with Rangers, one day join the Premier League. “We would like to compete in the holy grail in England because it would bring money into Scotland for players,” said Desmond. Perhaps he has a point, considering Swansea & Cardiff, two Welsh clubs, both compete in English football.
Premier League chairman Richard Scudamore shot down the idea in 2009, claiming it was a ‘non-starter’, so we decided to bring the idea to life with the help of everyone’s best friend Football Manager. Using the editor tool, we swapped Celtic with Bournemouth and got to work. From the word go, the media have already written us off as they predicted us to finish 18th. Let’s assume Celtic rose up through the Football League to reach the Premier League, so under that chain of thought, they were due a slight cash boost.
I began the season with a transfer budget of £7.2m and wage budget of £90k/week available. I got to work in the transfer window straight away as there was no way I was relying on Carlton Cole and Anthony Stokes to fire our side to Premier League safety. It just couldn’t happen, so using this ‘how to sign any player for cheap’ guide, I made that £7.2m go a lot further. I signed Callum Wilson (£6m) and Lucas Romero (£3.5m). I didn’t want to make too many changes to the team, but knew if I didn’t add these two gems things would be a lot harder. The expectation was simple – avoid relegation. The season started off terribly as we took just three points from the first nine games. We had to wait until week 10 for our first win, and then it came, and guess what? We were still crap.
We lost the next four and headed into a huge run of four games. Consecutive six-pointers against Leicester (18th), Stoke (19th) and Watford (17th) were sandwiched in-between a win-or-go-home final Europa Game against Lokomotiv Moscow. Anything less than three wins could cost me my job and the pressure was on. Someone egged my car as I was driving out the stadium after the 4-2 defeat at home to West Ham, and the pressure really was on.
Turns out it was a Rangers fan behind the stunt but the fans were having no more of my shit. I had to come up big here, both in the league and in Europe. We beat Leicester 4-1 thanks to a Callum Wilson hat-trick, and then travelled to Stoke and took part in a smash-and-grab 1-0 win, allowing us to head into the Lokomotiv match confident of an upset.
Victory against Lokomotiv Moscow became our third in a row thanks to two screamers from Kris Commons, and now it was time to try and negotiate three points against fellow-strugglers Watford.
A Watford late penalty crushed us, all that hard work seemed pointless as we still sat 18th, six points off safety, but still had 23 games left so there was of course plenty of time to make amends. Heading into the January transfer window, we were once again 20th, and seven points adrift of safety.
In real-life, Bournemouth have just spent close to £20m in the January transfer window, and the Celtic board backed me in a similar fashion. I was handed a cash boost of £30m and once again used the ‘how to sign players for cheap guide’ to turn that something much more.
I also managed to offload Nir Bitton for £5m to AC Milan, and Nadir Ciftci for £2.1m to Brighton, who would come back to haunt me in the FA Cup. Cifti’s two first half goals put Brighton 2-1 up at the break, which proved irrelevant as we eventually won the match 3-2. However, it became very clear I needed another a few players on loan to plug holes. I tried to bring Ki Seung-Yeung back to Parkhead, but that failed so I signed Andrea Poli on loan from AC Milan for the rest of the season, along with Shane Long and Serge Aurier.
January turned out to be a good month as we won two of three league games, but also crashed out of the FA Cup fourth round. Callum Wilson was benefitting more than ever, along with Charlie Austin, who settled in well scoring five goals in his first seven Celtic games. We jumped from 18th to 14th thanks to back-to-back 3-2 to wins against Swansea (A) and Southampton (H). For the first time in Celtic’s Premier League history, we weren’t in the relegation zone (25 games).
Before the first leg of the Europa League knockout round against Shaktar, we came from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 away from Norwich, which kept up an impressive run of just one defeat in 2016 so far, winning four of those seven games wasn’t bad either. Shaktar however would be a tough test.
We won 2-0, but then travelled to the second leg with only able to name four subs. Our 13 man-deep squad somehow survived, losing 2-1 on the night (after extra-time), but winning the tie 3-2 on aggregate. Dnipro awaited us in the second knockout round. The turn around in form since my signings arrived was remarkable. Heading into the first leg against Dnipro, we had won seven and drew two of our last 12 games, which is a huge improvement from three wins in the 12 games before that. We were also now seven points clear of the relegation zone.
We snuck through that tie 2-2 on away goals thanks to an 88th minute goal from Leigh Griffiths in the second leg in Russia, but we lost the next three games before our clash with Fiorentina in the quarterfinals, which we won 4-2. Our Europa League form had come at the expense of our league form, and something had to give.
We were now just three points above the relegation zone and hosted Stoke (20th) in a huge clash before the first leg of the Europa League semifinal against Atletico. The next few games were as follows: Stoke (Lost), Atletico (Drew), Watford (Won) Atletico (Lost), which meant I was now four points clear of the relegation zone with just a few games left. We ended the season in 15th, just two points off the relegation zone.
We were interested in seeing how this Celtic side would fare in the Premier League, so as part of our post-season analysis, I played a game of ‘sunk or swum’ to determine who would remain a Celtic player, and who would have to move onto pastures new.
Any player not mentioned was either sold or didn’t play enough games to warrant review. So there you have it. It took a gigantic effort and a fair bit of money to get there, but we survived, by just two points. We hung on by the skin of our teeth, and most importantly, the lads and I found out who that muggy Rangers fan was who egged my car earlier in the season, so we egged his house. We set out with an expectation to avoid relegation and did exactly that.
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