CELTIC’S hunt for Neil Lennon’s successor has proved to be a frustrating one for the Hoops support.
The quest for a new manager once again emphasised patience is a virtue when dealing with such delicate and crucially important decisions.
In another CQN EXCLUSIVE series, we turn the clock back on other vital appointments in the history of the club.
Here is an extract from author Alex Gordon’s book, ‘The Winds of Change’, which looks at the arrival of Liam Brady in 1991.
LIAM BRADY was allowed to break the Celtic transfer record twice in twelve months. He paid out £1.1million for Tony Cascarino from Aston Villa and, at the start of the following season, spent £1.5million in bringing Stuart Slater to the club from West Ham. Both, it must be admitted, were resounding flops.
Tony Mowbray, a name that would make its presence felt later in Celtic history, cost £1million when he joined from Middlesbrough and, through unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances on and off the pitch, he never quite made into the club’s Hall of Fame, either.
Right at the start, though, it had to be admitted Celtic were taking a risk with Liam Brady, an individual blessed with awesome vision with the ball at his feet, who had never managed a football club before at any level. Also, Brady was the first manager who had never played for the club. The fans were assured by the board Celtic were moving into a new era, this was the way forward.
When Billy McNeill took his leave, the board, remarkably, had no-one in mind to take his place. For the first time in the club’s history, the powerbrokers awaited applications for the prestigious post. Many doubted the wisdom of this procedure, but, as ever, were willing to give it a chance.
Eventually, the list of hopefuls was trimmed to four. Tommy Craig, the previous assistant manager to McNeill and Davie Hay, threw his cap into the ring. Frank Stapleton, the former Manchester United and Arsenal marksman who had represented the Republic of Ireland seventy times, also did enough to convince the board he was worthy of an interview.
Ivan Golac was a surprise candidate. The Yugoslav had managed Partizan Belgrade to their implausible 1989/90 UEFA Cup success over Celtic after scoring four goals in Glasgow in the second leg. They lost 5-4 on the night, but advanced on goal difference after a 6-6 aggregate stalemate. Those were the men Brady had to overcome in his bid to be named the seventh individual to manage Celtic in the club’s history. Not one of them had ever donned the green and white hoops. The club were indeed breaking new ground.
Bizarrely, the board decided to hold all four interviews on the same day. Brady later called it a ‘mind-boggling’ decision. Who could argue? The candidates, in a very public manner, were given designated slots for their meetings with the selection panel and Brady, Stapleton, Golac and Craig, although he had been around long enough to have an inkling, must have been more than just a tad bemused to see the media circus camped on the Celtic Park doorstep as they came and went at their appointed hours.
Brady was invited back for a private meeting with club chairman Jack McGinn and Chief Executive Terry Cassidy. He took along his solicitor and recalled, ‘I asked a lot of questions. In the first, they had been doing the asking. They offered me the job, I accepted and I was the centre of attention by the time I got back to London.
‘The fact I was the new Celtic manager had already been on national news. I think I got the job because the field of runners and riders didn’t have great track records, without being disrespectful to any of them. Frank Stapleton was one of them who, like myself, was keen to get into management. Tommy Craig had the disadvantage of having been there and again, in a kind of overt political stance by the board, they wanted to move away from what had been to something new.’
Brady, in fact, kept Craig as his No.2 while bringing in his former Irish team-mate Mick Martin, a man of many clubs including Manchester United and Newcastle United. Martin’s role was that of first team coach.
Now it was time for the real deal; Brady’s competitive managerial baptism for Celtic. It was an intriguing situation as he took his team to Tayside for the opening Premier League encounter against Dundee United at Tannadice on August 10. The Irishman stepped into the dug-out for minute one of his new career while Jim McLean, just a few yards along the touchline, was in his twentieth year as manager of United. The contrasts couldn’t have been more stark. A crowd of 16,535 were shoe-horned into the ground with Brian McGinlay being handed the refereeing duties.
Brady chose his formation carefully against a team that had completed the previous season in joint third place alongside the Hoops on forty-one points. Pat Bonner, Brady’s former Republic of Ireland team-mate, got the nod in goal with Chris Morris, Derek Whyte, Dariusz Wdowcyzk and Anton Rogan as the back four. With Paul McStay injured, the mid-three were Stevie Fulton, Peter Grant and John Collins and, in an exceptionally adventurous formation, Tommy Coyne, Tony Cascarino and Charlie Nicholas were the three-man strike-force.
Within seventeen minutes Tannadice was rocking; Celtic were two goals ahead and displaying some devastating and intricate offensive football. The opening goal arrived in the ninth minute and, while it wasn’t the product of any silky soccer or strategies from the training ground, it was still welcoming. Rogan hurled in a long throw from the left, Cascarino made a nuisance of himself in the penalty box, Coyne flicked it on and Nicholas, only a couple of yards out, steered a header beyond Alan Main.
Coyne doubled the advantage with a measured right-foot shot from outside the box with the ball flying low in at the keeper’s left hand post. Referee McGinlay then awarded United a penalty-kick ten minutes later when he spotted an infringement in the box as Celtic defended a left-wing corner-kick. Michael O’Neill made no mistake with an expertly-taken effort that soared high to Bonner’s left as the keeper took off for his right.
Just on half-time, though, Collins restored the visitors’ two-goal lead, Now, this was a beauty. Collins created it with a swift pass inside to Gerry Creaney, on for the limping Cascarino in thirty-eight minutes, and he laid a return pass into the tracks of the midfielder who launched a left-foot twenty-five yard drive into the top corner.
Within four minutes United were back in the game and Brady must have winced at the ease at which they scored. The defence made a mess of attempting to clear a routine shy chucked in from the left. The ball eventually dropped invitingly for O’Neill to fire low past Bonner. Alarmingly, it was all-square in the sixty-eighth minute. David Bowman lobbed over an angled ball from the right and Ferguson, virtually unchallenged in front of goal, rose to sizzle a header beyond Bonner.
Clearly, after an excellent start, things were not going according to plan. In the midst of the impending wreckage, Brady looked calmness personified as he surveyed the scene and sized up the situation from the touchline.
It was obvious Paatelainen and Ferguson were creating havoc with their up-and-at-’em approach. It wasn’t easy on the eye, but United, to be fair, now had twenty-two minutes to turn the contest completely on its head. Whyte and Wdowczyk, two ball-playing central defenders, were being rag-dolled. Brady couldn’t miss the red flags and, in the seventy-second minute, he put on Mike Galloway for Fulton and the substitute raced directly into the middle of the Celtic rearguard to shore up the defence.
It worked a treat. Four minutes from time Collins nailed the points when Creaney headed down into his path and his first-time left-foot drive thundered past the desperately-diving Main.
‘If all the games are going to be like that, then we are in for a helluva season,’ summed up Brady, almost breathless at the finish.
The new Celtic manager, though, had just witnessed the uneven mix that had cost Billy McNeill his job that summer. Exciting and extravagant going forward; frustrating and exasperating in defence. The midfield was a lot happier on the front foot, too.
Celtic could score goals, but, as Brady had just experienced, they could chuck them in with a frightening generosity at the other end, too.
In the end, it cost Brady his job two and a half years later.