Brendan Rodgers resigned in February 2019, a day before a crucial league game at Tynecastle and four days before a Scottish Cup quarterfinal at Easter Road. Celtic had around 24 hours’ notice that he could be moving, that was crucial in planning how to cope with two visits to Edinburgh that could have seen us out of a cup for the first time in almost three years and facing a crisis in the league.
I know there are a lot of raw memories from last season, but Neil Lennon stepped up big time then, and in the months that followed Rodgers’ departure, taking the next available five domestic trophies.
Neil wanted the job permanently, Celtic only wanted him on an interim basis, so they agreed that he would take the job until the end of the season on condition he was considered for the permanent role.
I spoke to ‘sources close to Celtic’ when those events were unfolding. It is fair to say that in late February 2019, few at Celtic expected Neil Lennon to get the gig come the end of the season. Having appointed footballing and commercial success in Rodgers, they hoped to be able to snag an equally qualified candidate.
What became evident over the three months that followed, is that Rodgers was an exception to the rule – he came because he was an actual Celtic fan, he moved on because he was also a football man, and that’s what 99% of the games’ heroes do, folks. There would be no box office manager this time.
Appetite for another over-achieving young European, like Ronny, was low. The spectre of the most intense person to walk the earth (from Cork) lurked, as ever. There were candidates who took small English clubs for a brief moment into the sun that is the Premier League, but none had managed a club of our size, with our challenges and expectation to win.
Unlike the deliberations in 2016, when Rodgers was appointed, no one felt hopeful at the direction of travel the recruitment process was going. No one at Celtic would ever say, “We ended up with Neil”, but it’s how I viewed it.
Despite how Eddie Howe is viewed in the rear view mirror, 99% of us were delighted at the prospect of him taking over in the summer, I wrote, “the best English manager in the game” at the time. When we return to the market after Howe’s rejection, it was roulette time. There was no indication Ange Postecoglou would be more successful than Ronny Deila or Neil Lennon, but as in February 2019, a second ‘Rodgers-type’ appointment was not going to happen.
Five months in, I cannot believe how well Ange has done. We are on a path I have faith in, recruiting talented players who excite and are within our budget. The crucial difference between Ange and Pedro Caixinha, who before coming to Glasgow took his club to the CONCACAF Champions League Final, is hard to spot.
They were both roulette wheel appointments, sometimes the ball lands on your number, more often it doesn’t. On the positive side, you get to spin the wheel, maybe there’s a Pep 2008 waiting for you, but that transition from Rodgers to Lennon, seven consecutive trophies to five consecutive trophies, was one for the ages. Replacing an entire management team midseason is a business interruption even an Ulster medical testing lab cannot whitewash.