MUCH had changed when Glenn Loovens made an emotional return to Parkhead for the Ladbrokes Premiership match against St Mirren the week before the shutdown was imposed last month.

Some things, though, were exactly the same as when he had left eight years earlier; Celtic were still winning games comfortably and were still sitting proudly on top of the league table.

Loovens had helped the Glasgow club to lift the Scottish title back in 2012 – the first of their current run of eight consecutive league triumphs – just before he departed for Real Zaragoza in Spain.

Indeed, the centre half scored in the 6-0 blitzing of Kilmarnock at Rugby Park which ensured they were crowned champions and he personally completed a clean sweep of domestic honours.

It was very much business as usual, then, as his old side romped to a 5-0 win which fleetingly moved them 16 points clear of their nearest challengers.

“I had some good times at Celtic and met some lovely people,” said Loovens. “It is always nice to go back and see your old team. To see them doing so well was great too.”

There were a fair few well kent faces both in the side and on the sidelines when former Dutch defender made his fleeting visit. He enjoyed catching up with his old team mates Scott Brown and Fraser Forster and manager Neil Lennon.

Loovens, a cultured footballer whose time in this country was bedevilled by injuries and hampered by a raft of other problems not of his making, is unsurprised that Celtic have been able to avoid a fall from grace during his absence with that Holy Trinity still very much to the fore.

“Fraser did really well at Celtic first time around and as a result of that he got a nice move,” he said. “Unfortunately, he lost his place latterly at Southampton. But Celtic was a good place for him to go back to and show what he is capable of and he has done that.

“He is a big guy with a commanding presence. He is the sort of guy you look at and say: ‘Oh my God! Look at the size of him!’ People think twice going up against him when he is coming out at them full speed. Of course, he is a great goalkeeper as well. He is one of the best all-round goalkeepers I played with in my career.”

Loovens was in the Celtic squad when Lennon, who was just 38 and had no managerial experience, replaced Tony Mowbray with only a couple of months of the season remaining after a 4-0 defeat to St Mirren in Paisley back in 2010.

He quickly realised why the Parkhead hierarchy had taken such a gamble appointing their former midfielder and captain. He has been delighted to see him flourish in the high-profile and high-pressure role during two separate spells in charge.

“It was his first job as a head coach when I was there,” said Loovens. “He was young at the time, but he had some great teachers to learn from at Celtic in Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan. He did really well for himself and has done really well for himself since. That is probably why they took him back last year.

“I liked him a lot. I have a lot of time for him. He has got a lot of passion for the club and he cares for the players. It wasn’t easy for him to come in after Brendan Rodgers and carry that on because his predecessor did so well. But he has shown he is capable. I hope he continues for a long time. I think he is made for that job.”

Rangers very much held the upper hand on Celtic in the league during the first three seasons that Loovens was here. Still, the ex-Feyenoord player always relished their encounters. That is a trait which he very much shared with Brown.

He feels the continued presence of the combative ball-winning central midfielder, who is still going strong in the middle of the park at the grand old age of 34, has kept Celtic on top since the Ibrox club won promotion to the top flight four years ago.

“I don’t think you get the full feel of an Old Firm game until you play in one,” he said. “You can talk about it all day long, but until you play in it you can’t know what it’s like. When you are out there on that pitch there is an extra dimension to it. It was great to play in every one of them.

“It is an advantage to Celtic in those games having a manager like Neil who has played in them himself and been in the dugout on many occasion as well. But a guy like Scott Brown will help you a lot as well. He has played in a lot of them as well. I am sure he lets all the players know what the game means to everyone.”

Loovens’ first experience of the world-famous fixture in the League Cup final at Hampden in 2009 – which Gordon Strachan’s side won 2-0 thanks to extra-time goals from Darren O’Dea and Aiden McGeady - is one of his fondest memories of his time at Celtic.

“It is always nice to win things,” he said. “But winning the league in 2012 was especially sweet. You work hard for it all year. It was one of my favourite moments. Another was my first game against Rangers in my first season in the League Cup final. That was a classic match.

“I hope they keep winning the league. We all know what happened to Rangers that season. It is not easy for them to come back quickly from that. They have had to come from a long way down. But it has still not been easy for Celtic to keep it going.”

A switch to a 3-5-2 formation after the 2-1 defeat to Steven Gerrard’s side at home at the end of December has enabled Lennon’s team to build up a 13 point lead over their city rivals in the Premiership in 2020 and move to the brink of a record-equalling ninth consecutive title.

Loovens, who retired last year aged 35 following a final spell with Sunderland, recalled that is way they set up when their current streak of league wins had started.

“Funnily enough, that is how we ended up playing when I left Celtic, with three at the back,” he said. “We played in the last four or five games that season with three at the back. I played with Victor Wanyama on the right and Charlie Mulgrew on the left. They were great for me to play alongside.

“I think if you asked the players now they would say that it suits them. I think they do have the personnel because they have some superb centre backs and wing backs to fill in the positions.

“I liked Kristoffer Ajer a lot. He is big physically and good defensively, but he is also comfortable on the ball and quite quick. He has got all of the attributes needed to have a very good career.”

Glenn Loovens, who represented the Netherlands twice and also played for Cardiff City and Sheffield Wednesday, certainly did that, but he still looks back on the seasons he spent and trophies he lifted at Celtic with particular pride.