How well do we handle succession? Mostly very well. Back in the 90s Celtic stumbled from one manager to another, picking up whoever was available and prepared to pick up the inevitable poisoned chalice, without any perceivable strategy.
Wim Jansen came from nowhere, or Japan, to be geographically accurate, and was a success, but despite a legendary respect for Fergus McCann, this appointment looked like a stab in the dark. After Wim left, we had the seminal reign of John Barnes. Millions were spent, and wasted, before King Kenny held fort for the final few months of season 1999-2000.
The changes introduced by Martin O’Neill are still being felt. We had been rubbish for decades in Europe, hadn’t knocked out a team from the ‘big five leagues’ since Leeds United in 1970. We were conditioned to expect and accept defeat, but after Martin, the world would never be the same again.
Martin’s strategy was not without its flaws, for a start, it wasn’t sustainable. Celtic lost millions every season, despite competing in Champions League football for the first time, and the momentous matter………. Seville.
Gordon Strachan came with a remit to change the problems the club faced immediately before his arrival – bring spending down to meet income, win the league and make progress in the Champions League. Despite starting with one of the worst weeks in the clubs history, Gordon delivered.
There was a problem, though. A disconnect opened up that first week when Artmedia smacked five goals past David Marshall, which was never fully resolved. When we went back into the market, fixing this disconnect was high on the agenda. Who better than a popular former player who ‘invented’ the Celtic huddle.
Tony Mowbray ticked the boxes which Gordon Strachan showed little appetite for but he was miles off plan for Celtic. The first week in the job he asked to sign Marc-Antoine Fortune for close to £4m. I’m sure the proposition was a bolt out of the blue to the club. Expensive 28-year-old strikers with a low- scoring record was not on strategy. Having appointed Mowbray, the club had little choice but to back his maiden request, but I bet there was a raft of people at Lennoxtown who knew how this chapter in our story would end.
Neil Lennon was working as a coach at Celtic during the Mowbray era. He was close to the scouts, sports science people, fitness experts and chief executive. In other words, he was on plan. After the John Barnes ‘tried and tested rookie manager’ strategy, I didn’t want Neil, or any other debutant, but he was intelligent, tactically aware and experienced inside the Celtic system. Within no time, Neil was making headlines as a Champions League manager. The shine will quite rightly never fade from Martin’s halo, but I could make a case that Neil Lennon has been our best manager since the guy from Burnbank.
Notice the pattern?
We have a habit of appointing a manager to address the perceived deficiencies of the previous incumbent. Right now, the need for someone to connect with fans will be less pronounced than it was when Gordon Strachan left, the need for someone to work within budget is fundamental, but will not stress anyone.
Neil’s most glaring faults are a whole lot less glaring than any of his predecessors. This time, we should be looking for someone just like the previous guy:
A student of the game, who understands the tactical trends in the world game.
On plan with club scouts, nutritionists, sports scientists, coaches, player trading policy and budget.