Yesterday was awful. A flat performance and an opportunity to open up a 10 point gap at the top of the league blown. Celtic were subdued creatively, and quite frankly never looked like getting the winner against Aberdeen.
After the shock upheaval in the dark of the night almost two weeks ago, it seemed like sheer desire and adrenaline drove us on through two incredibly tricky fixtures in Edinburgh, giving the entire club a much needed boost after what must have been a distressing 48 hours for the players and staff.
Following those victories over Hearts & Hibs there have been many calls, both within the media and amongst elements of the support, to give Neil Lennon the job beyond the summer. After all, actions speak louder than words and Lenny has shown time and again that he truly cares about the club in a way that only a genuine supporter understands. His passion for Celtic is unquestionable.
Yesterday’s match, however, has perhaps induced a sense of clarity upon some supporters concerning the club’s requirements for the future. And a backlash against Neil Lennon has followed.
The performance reflected the turgid displays often on show during Lennon’s final season in charge first time around, and whilst there have been no drastic changes to personnel and shape over the previous three games, a couple of the manager’s decisions yesterday were questionable; namely the introduction of the slight-of-frame Johnston at half time when it appeared the physicality and organisation of Aberdeen’s defence was proving our greatest hurdle. Hindsight, as always, is a wonderful thing though, and it was refreshing to see Lennon being proactive at the interval following such a pedestrian first forty-five.
The key decision over the direction of our club though must not be made off the back of any individual result, it must be an informed, thought-out, and thorough one. Cries for an immediate appointment to be made should be ignored. For the remainder of the 2018/19 campaign we have our man for the job. The board should be congratulated (there’s a first for everything on here) for acting so swiftly in this regard, ensuring some stability at a time of potential turmoil. However, the appointment of our next permanent manager must not be a reactionary decision. Just as Neil Lennon is no less suitable to becoming the next permanent Celtic manager today than he was yesterday morning, he did not become any more suitable following those two victories in the capital.
Whilst many consider these next few months as an audition for Lennon similarly to back in 2010, the powers that be must look beyond a potential treble treble as the determining factor over who gets the role.
To coin a phrase from the king of the hollow motto Celtic must ‘remove the emotion’ from their next selection process.
In 2010, Neil Lennon took over a club in crisis and, just as he promised, brought the thunder back to paradise. Today’s circumstances are in stark contrast. Although the abruptness of Rodgers et al.’s departures had the potential to derail our season, we have been a club progressing on an upward trajectory over the past two and a half years.
In spite of all his now-evident human flaws, predominately it transpiring that he is in actual fact a rat, Brendan Rodgers is a fantastic football coach and was an incredible manager for Celtic.
It was not just the clean sweep of domestic honours that deserved acclaim, but most significantly the transformation of the behind-the-scenes culture which allowed for such unprecedented success.
Last week Neil Lennon discussed the evolution he’s observed at Celtic since he left almost five years ago, in terms of the make-up of the club; the support staff, the technology available, the analysis conducted, and the overall organisation and professionalism deployed throughout the club.
Although our previous manager attempted to rip out this entire infrastructure and take every member of our backroom staff with him down to Leicester, as well as leaving our playing squad in a need of serious re-investment this summer, it is clear from Lennon’s comments that the culture instilled by Rodgers is still very much in place at Lennoxtown.
These are the foundations we must look to build upon if we have serious ambitions of improving not just domestically but also in European football.
Ten in a row may be the holy grail for every supporter but to truly develop as a club we cannot rip up the manual and start from scratch every time a manager follows their dream to the Midlands. Continuity and stability in our style and application are fundamental going forward.
Last week Ajax inspired every supporter of a big club outside the commercial leagues to dream big again in European football, with their victory over Real Madrid providing a rare reminder that money does not always guarantee success. But such victory does not happen by chance. Ajax have a clearly defined structure which allows for fluidity in their style of play regardless of any change at management level. This continuity does not necessarily translate to certain on-field triumph, with Ajax having failed to win the Eredivisie since 2014, however it has allowed the club to preserve their identity in a way not possible if each new manager attempts to implement their own ethos at a club.
Further examples can be seen throughout European football. The Red Bull Salzburg side who swarmed over and cut through Celtic at pace in Glasgow back in 2014 were no different to the side who did likewise a few months ago despite experiencing four managerial changes since, and having just two players remain from, their initial visit.
Even amongst the upper echelons of the money leagues the desire to instil a lasting working model can be recognised. Borussia Dortmund, for example, have maintained an enduring style of play and business plan throughout the last decade, attempting to replace both players & managers with likeminded successors. While Manchester City, with their (entirely legitimate – nothing to see here) bottomless pit of cash, appointed former Barcelona Directors Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain to their board in 2012 in an attempt to replicate the FCB blueprint, heavily investing in the City academy alongside the first team squad, and ultimately enticing Pep Guardiola to Manchester.
Having listened to the recent discussion on the 90 Minute Cynic regarding the future structure at Celtic, with Christian Wulff championing the implementation of a Director of Football/Technical Director to oversee all footballing matters, it must be noted that all of the aforementioned clubs, as is commonplace on the continent, work under this model. Ajax have had former heroes Edwin van der Sar, now CEO, and Marc Overmars (Technical Director) ensuring the Johan Cruyff mantra is adhered to since 2012; Manchester City have the previously discussed former Barcelona duo at the reins; Gerard Houllier has been the Head of Global Football for the Red Bull Group since 2012; and, Michael Zorc has held the position of Director of Football at Dortmund for an incredible twenty years following his retirement as a player in 1998.
This has allowed each of these clubs to develop their identity and maintain a stable ideology in spite of managerial changes and mass player sales. The difficulty for Celtic adopting this model is less to do with the culture of British football, as is often cited, but more the problematic task of discovering a suitable and capable candidate, particularly alongside our Chief Executive who frequently appears to believe he is befitting of the role.
Whether our next manager is given full-scale background control as Rodgers initially appeared to have, or we see the introduction of a Technical Director at boardroom level to oversee all footballing matters, the most decisive factor in our next appointment must be concerning continuity.
You need only look a few hundred miles south of Celtic Park for examples of clubs who have not considered long-term planning in their hunt for immediate success. At Manchester United, David Moyes was always going to face an impossible task in replacing Alex Ferguson, however his decision to dispose of Ferguson’s entire backroom staff upon his arrival meant the writing was on the wall for him before he had even stepped foot in the door. The appointments of Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho, and their contradictory styles of play, that followed, along with the continual influx of expensive players with no evident plan of how to use them, exhibited that there was no forward thinking concerning the future of Manchester United after Ferguson. Only now, having attempted to replicate their previous model with the return of Ferguson’s disciples Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mike Phelan, do Manchester United seem to be moving forward following their demise over the past six years.
Head a little further south to the capital, and Chelsea represent a club whose short term desire for success has prevented them from maintaining an enduring position at the top of European football. For a club who have won every major honour available to them over the past decade, it is incomprehensible to see them so regularly follow up championship winning campaigns with a disastrous title defence the subsequent year. From Mourinho to Scolari, Ancelotti to Villas-Boas, and Conte to Sarri it is evident that there has been no blueprint to adhere to concerning the ideology of the club.
Whilst it may be hard to argue against Chelsea’s methodology considering their incredible success throughout the Abramovich reign, it is not a route I wish to see Celtic ever go down, nor is it one which could ever realistically be viable without the ludicrous sums on offer across the “big” leagues.
For clubs who cannot dominate the rich-list table off the pitch, developing a lasting infrastructure appears the only way to compete on it. We may have a considerable rebuilding job ahead of us this summer, but if Neil Lennon can guide us to our eighth title in a row we must finally learn from the lessons of the past and look to build from our position of strength.
From a romantic point of view I would love Neil Lennon to lead us forward, bookending a historic 10 in a row, however taking the emotion out of it I do not believe he is the best man for the job. This is not a criticism of Lennon’s capabilities, he has proven at both Celtic and Hibernian that he is a very good football manager; albeit a manager who deploys a contrasting approach to the one who preceded him. This was highlighted with Lennon’s admission that replacing Rodgers is also a learning curve for himself as he adjusts to the new expectations of the role, namely the increased number of meetings required throughout the club.
Perhaps, and in an ideal scenario, Neil Lennon will prove capable of adapting to fit this mould, however an ideology and style of management is not something which can easily be altered overnight and if Celtic have aspirations to transition as seamlessly as possible this summer then they must either look to bring in a manager who works in the same meticulous manner as the man who recently vacated, or be prepared to make significant structural changes to the framework of the club.
The foundations that Rodgers implemented at Celtic Park just about remain, if the board harbour ambitions to emulate the likes of Red Bull Salzburg and AFC Ajax in European football then the business model must go beyond simply signing young players to later sell on for a significant profit. They must look to build upon the past two and a half years and develop a lasting identity and culture ingrained into the fabrics of the club. Only in this way will we see longevity in our progress.
Now is not the time to tear up the manual, however, it is the time to earn your bonus Mr Lawwell.