Football is brutal. Each year, boys who have worked tirelessly for years in the hope of making the big time are cut free, hundreds of them across Scotland, little has changed in this respect for a century. Whereas these traumas happen privately, the managers and coaches responsible for those decisions, face their own brutal edge in the most public manner possible, often with hoards yelling for their removal.
At every level, someone has the responsibility of telling someone else, he or she is out. This is the DNA of an industry we all wanted to be part of as kids, then look on in horror later in life.
Dominic McKay was one of our own, a Celtic fan who worked his way up to run Scottish Rugby, not through the usual routes of commercial, accounting or legal, but from being the in-house public relations man. The transformation at the club since the end of last season has been beyond my expectations; failures at Tynecastle, Ibrox and Denmark did not cut deep, as the direction of travel was clearly forward. His course seemed assured from the outside.
Despite the common delusion, chief executive of Celtic is neither easy nor straightforward. You run a TV channel and other media outlets, several licenced premises and restaurants; a bricks and clicks retail operation. You deal with the whim of the police and Scottish Government, the SFA and SPFL. There is a youth operation, with its myriad of complexities and a major events venue that accommodates enough people to bring half a city to a stop when in operation.
Then there are the pressure groups: fans, media, a board and major shareholders; executive, coaching and playing staff. None of them are really pressure groups, but that’s what they will feel like if you are trying to keep them happy. Crucially, if you want to affect change, you need to be able to lead people in those pressure groups. If you cannot lead, your lack of followers is your fault. Genuine agents of change prove this.
And there’s the football, which underpins all revenue streams and can cause joy or heartbreak on the bounce of a ball.
Wealthy young players, some with more sense than others, the ever-present contract negotiations with agents whose job it is to find someone else to make more money than you can afford. You make multi-million pound investments with consequences that stretch years into the future and despite all the metrics, whopping mistakes are made at every club.
The bandwidth you need to do this job well is unimaginable to most of us. It takes management experience, people skills and a firm control on your stress levels. You need to know when to be hands off and when to give clear and early guidance. Doing 90% of the necessary elements brilliantly will lead to disaster if you overlook something fundamental. You also need luck.
Dominic McKay found out about that brutal edge earlier than any of us expected; football is meritocratic in this respect. It was not results, it had nothing to do with former execs who are now on the beach (honestly!), nor was it about character, his remains impeccable.
He made mistakes, one was largish, but even the best do. If he had the bandwidth for the task, he could have done more to demonstrate this, a large and complex business will expose your bottlenecks. At Celtic, PR is hugely complex but even then, it would never be a launching pad for the top job. PR in rugby is mundane by comparison; this route to the top drew the eye when I read of Dom’s appointment. He was not a good fit and this is a poor look for Celtic.
Best of luck in your next appointment, Dom.