The new Scottish Premier League season kicks-off this weekend with champions Celtic hoping to continue their dominance and retain the title for a third consecutive term.
Last campaign Gordon Strachan's Bhoys secured a league and cup double as Rangers floundered, but with former Scotland manager Walter Smith back at the helm of the Old Firm rivals what can we expect from Celtic this season?
Celts boss Strachan talks to ESPNsoccernet Press Pass about the need for further improvement, his team's chances in the Champions League and the possibility of a lucrative move to the English Premier League.
• ESPN Soccernet Press Pass: Gordon, you won another double for Celtic and had a good run in the Champion's League. How would you describe your season?
• Gordon Strachan: Well, I've still got my job, so that's good. 60,000 people seem to be happy every week and as you said a double and the first time we've gotten into the last 16 in Europe and we had to play AC Milan who'd eventually become the holders. So it was good, but we want to improve. There's a lot of aspects our play that we'd like to improve and if we can do that then we'll be a goods side.
Towards the end of the season, when you had the championship all locked up, there was some little bit of criticism. How do you react to that?
Depends who's giving it. If it's people whose opinions I don't respect or if it's some drunk in the street shouting or if it's someone on a phone-in. Where some idiot who you think is intelligent phones in and just doesn't have any friends and shouts down the phone and that becomes an opinion. If it's anything like that then it doesn't count. If it's Kenny Dalglish or something like that or anybody with football knowledge then I will take notice of it, but criticism has not come from anybody with reasonable intelligence yet, so I'll be okay.
Walter Smith knows a bit about football and he's done a good job with Rangers since coming onboard. What do you make of that?
Nothing. I don't make anything of anything to do with Rangers. No more. It's not my area. My area is Celtic. If you want to speak to Celtic, I'm here all day. If you want to speak to Rangers, I've got Walter Smith's phone number right here; you give him a call.
Looking back on your season and the Champion's League. There are times that Celtic played very, very well in the Champion's League, other times they've been down a little bit. Is there any particular reason for this kind of inconsistency?
What would you mean down? Do you feel upset? Or depressed?
Some of the games on the road they haven't looked...
Oh, I see, down right. Not at their best. Yeah, that's a learning process for our young players, as a young team. It's a completely different team from two years ago. And even that team that Martin [O'Neill] had, you would look at it as the same. It's like two years since they went on the road, as you call it. So it's nothing new. It's not a disease I brought along. It was well and truly ensconced in the camp before I got there. Umm, but well again, we'll try to improve on that. We played some fantastic games last year to beat Benfica and Manchester United. That's not too bad, not too shabby. (I'd just say) we like to improve, but I don't sit up all night worrying about it. I just go along and play and see where we end up.
Last year you ended up going up against Milan, as you said, the team that eventually won it. How much did you get out of this? How much does your team get out of it? And would you think that with the present constraints that maybe that's as far as Celtic can go in the Champion's League?
No, you always think you can get further, but as you said with the constraints. I think you need to explain whether it's a financial state. Where's English clubs, they get between £33million and £50million each. We get £1m, in Scotland. So there's an imbalance there, which we can understand, because the English league is the most exciting in the world. We have to deal with that.
People buying players for £20m and £25m in England and in Italy. Where we, our maximum is £4m. And that's quite good going for us. But we think we can, it's a young side we've got, but we think we can mold them together and take on the best sides in Europe. But, my priority is to win the Scottish league. That's always the priority and we've done that the last two years since I've been there and we'll continue to do that and if we can win anything else, that's a real good bonus.
Do you think that there's any way that they should be able to go about addressing this imbalance of all the money that some teams and some countries get and the lack of money that...
No, no, no. Not at all. It's like the best actors who get the best money. The best sportsmen should get the best money. The best leagues should get the best money. And you have to deal with that.
There's been a lot of talk, many people suggesting perhaps that if you we're in England, in the Premiership, that the side would be completely different. How great do you think Celtic could be, given the kind of money that they get in the Premiership?
With that kind of money, we could win it with the players we'd be able to bring in. With the support we've got, not only the 60,000 that turn up at every game, but the away support that we've got and the revenue we could create, which we do already. We could be one of the teams that could win that. After a few years, obviously, but I think it's a long way off.
Would you personally like to see Celtic in the Premiership?
Yes. Yes, definitely. As long as it didn't affect the rest the league that you left behind. You'd have to make sure that you're stabilized and financially secured that that league could go on and flourish as well and I'm sure that might help them as well.
You have brought in a number of new players. What players are you expecting a lot from this year? Can you tell us something about some of the players you brought in?
Scott Brown from Hibs, he's 21. He's an all action midfield player. High hopes for him. Scott McDonald, Scott is 23. He's a young guy. He's a young striker from Motherwell. Again, all action. Brave for his size. Gets goals. Who else have we got?
You brought in an Italian player.
Ah, Massimo Donati. Right, I knew there was an Italian player in there. Yeah, he's a bit older. He's 26, but he's been about for a while. I like what he's got. He's powerful, he's composed on the ball, and he's hungry, so that's good. And Chris Killen who we got on a Bosman, which means a free transfer. He's come along and we felt we lacked presence last year when Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink was injured. He'll help us if Jan gets injured, but also if we feel like we want to play two strong guys up front, he would help us there as well.
Could you tell us a little more about McDonald, because he's got a big following in Australia, where we have a huge audience. There's a lot of people who have been writing about him.
Ah good. As I said to you, he is brave, he left Southampton, and he went away and he played at different clubs and he found a home at Motherwell. I think he realized then, he grew up and he realized that football was a very serious game. Since I've been in Scotland, he's been one of the best forward players in Scotland. As I said, sometimes kids can leave a club early in their career, like he did at Southampton, and just fade away, or you either take the challenge on and become better and I think he's took the challenge on and become better and he's gotten just rewards for two fantastic years at Motherwell.
One man who has certainly not faded away is Nakamura. Is there a possibility that he might become too expensive for Celtic to hold onto?
No. Well, you always hear managers say we won't sell anybody and then suddenly they sell them for a ridiculous amount of money that same week. That doesn't happen often, but nobody's not for sale at all. Even Ronaldinho, I think if you offered enough money you would get him. So we can't say that, but I don't think Naka will be going anywhere. He loves the place and he's a hero there. He's got a home. When he was in Reggina, not too many people knew about Nakamura, but then joined Celtic and the whole world knows about Nakamura. It's a good home. It's a good place for him to play, because we do like to attack all the time and his assets are attacking. Although I must say, he does work very hard as well.
How do you rate him as a player on the overall scale?
Overall scale is… I've been in football 35 years and he's the best touch I've ever seen in 35 years of playing football.
What's your goals for this year?
What are my goals for this year? To improve. To improve, myself. To improve and I've got to make individuals better, because that's my job. My job is to help people get better. If we can do that with the team, that's fantastic as well. So basically just to improve.