THERE is nothing in a manager’s contract that states he should win popularity contests among his playing staff.
The great Jock Stein insisted: “The secret of being a good manager is to keep the six players who hate you away from the five who are undecided.”
Lisbon Lion Jim Craig once told me of a blistering interval talk-in with an unhappy legendary team boss who was going through his players one by one as he decimated their first-half performances.
“I wasn’t overly concerned,” said the unsung right-back. “I was our substitute that day and reckoned my team-mates’ display had nothing to do with me. I could hardly be held accountable when I was sitting on the bench beside Big Jock.
THAT’S MY BHOY…Jock Stein and captain Billy McNeill celebrate another Celtic victory at Hampden.
“Then he fixed me in his sights. ‘And you, Craig, what about you? You can’t even get into this team!’ No-one was spared when Big Jock opened fire.”
After some admittedly bewilderingly low-par performances in recent weeks, Brendan Rodgers has had some scathing comments to make about his players.
The difference between the Irishman and Stein is that the iconic gaffer kept most of his observations within closed doors. What he thought about the displays of some individuals was rarely for public consumption.
Big Jock never criticised his captain in front of his colleagues. Billy McNeill told me: “That didn’t mean I was exempt from a tongue-lashing if The Boss thought it was merited. Quietly, I would be told he wanted a word in his office later on and then he left me in absolutely no doubt about his judgement on how I had played.”
“Foxes would take to the hills, when Big Jock was in town,” Bertie Auld told me often enough. Cunning? Stein would have worn that description as a badge of honour.
He was a master psychologist. He knew which players would respond to being shredded and he was aware of others who would retreat into their shells if they had their ability questioned.
THE LONG WALK…Brendan Rodgers and his beaten players trudge off the Rugby Park pitch after the 2-1 loss.
Jimmy Johnstone was a flamboyant extrovert on the field. Away from the pitch, the spotlight and the adoring supporters, the little magician was the polar opposite. He may not have suffered from mass neurosis, but his colleagues from that era have told me he constantly needed a gee-up.
When Big Jock was going through his strategy for the European Cup semi-finals against Leeds United at Elland Road and Hampden back in 1970, he would point to Johnstone and tell the assembled throng: “There’s our matchwinner. Get the ball to Jimmy and he’ll do the rest.”
Jimmy Johnstone, feeling ten feet tall, destroyed Leeds United’s much-vaunted left-sided defenders Terry Cooper and Norman Hunter as Celtic, as we are all aware, won home and away in fairly emphatic fashion.
Big Jock knew which buttons to push and when to push them.
We’ll never know how Stein would have dealt with Mikey Johnston, a throwback to an era of ball-playing wide players, or today’s Celtic performers.
Scatter-gun approaches to public criticism have a habit of possessing a boomerang effect.
Rodgers has the reputation of being a perceptive character with the savvy on how to eke out the best in his players.
They say talk is cheap. I have to disagree. I reckon badly-timed sentiments can be extremely costly, even to the extent of ruinous.
I can only hope the Celtic manager knows precisely what he is doing and is cognisant of the consequence of every syllable he utters.
Twelve points from four fixtures before the break would provide a persuasive argument.
* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Celtic v Livingston this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.