By Daniel Hayes
Right now, life is good as a Celtic fan. The club has equalled the astonishing record of 9 league titles in a row in Scotland and will undoubtedly be favourites for an incredible 10th. Despite fears of the direction the club would be going in when Neil Lennon replaced Brendan Rodgers last year, the club could scarcely be in a better position.
That said, there is no harm in looking into the future.
The end of the 2020/21 season will, in one way or another, bring an end to an incredible era. As such, current manager Neil Lennon may decide his duty as Celtic manager is complete. The people’s choice to replace the Irishman currently seems to be his assistant, John Kennedy.
Kennedy has been at Celtic for a very long time. The Scot made his debut for the club at the age of 16 during the 1999/00 season and looked set to be the next big thing from the club’s academy. In the 2003/04 campaign, the defender pushed himself into the first team, not looking out of place next to legends such as Bobo Balde and Johan Mjallby. Notably, Kennedy played a major part in Celtic’s colossal victory over Barcelona in the Uefa Cup.
Alas, what promised to be an incredible career lasted barely any longer than that wonderful campaign. Kennedy suffered a horror knee injury while representing Scotland from which he never truly recovered. Despite making a handful of appearances for the club in 2007, a loan spell at Norwich which was hampered with more injuries forced the centre-half to retire in 2009 at the age of just 26.
Since then, Kennedy has worked tirelessly to become a top class coach. Having gained the necessary qualifications, he has worked in almost every footballing department for Celtic, starting as a scout, to youth team coach, to first team coach, to assistant manager.
Since joining the first team set-up under Ronny Deila in 2014, Kennedy has often received mixed views from outsiders, as a number of fans unfairly singled him out for a failure to deal with Celtic’s defensive frailties. However, the reviews from the actual professionals have been excellent. Having worked with all of Ronny Deila, Brendan Rodgers and Neil Lennon in the first team set-up, Kennedy has always been popular with players and coaches alike. It is important to note the differences in all the aforementioned managers and the lessons Kennedy will have taken from them.
Just recently, Damien Duff spoke to Open Goal about Kennedy’s qualities as a coach suggesting that the Scot is one of the “best in the world”. Having worked with Kennedy as first team coach, Duff explained that Kennedy almost exclusively deals with day to day training while Neil Lennon focusses on matchday. Furthermore, Patryk Klimala has highlighted how helpful Kennedy has been in his recent physical transformation.
Last year, Kennedy was linked with a move to take the manager’s role at Hibernian after the sacking of Paul Heckingbottom and more recently he was touted for the job at Dundee United.
Whether discussions were had or not, Kennedy remains at Celtic and it has become increasingly clear that he is absolutely crucial for the club.
Celtic will of course be in no rush to say goodbye to Neil Lennon. Despite a number of reservations, the Irishman has brought a serious dynamism to the side that, with hindsight, had gone flat towards the end with Brendan Rodgers. Having dominated the league again and showing improvement in Europe, Lennon may decide to stay on after 10-in-a-row and have a crack at 55 titles before leaving.
It is clear that since being robbed of such a promising career, John Kennedy has been moulded into the ideal candidate to take the manager’s role one day. In the coming year or two, Celtic will undoubtedly lose some of its major assets such as Odsonne Edouard and Kris Ajer. Furthermore, it is highly probable that Scott Brown’s Celtic playing career will come to a close. The all-conquering captain may take inspiration from John Kennedy’s rise to the top, having admitted he would love to become a manager some day.
Securing the 10 could allow Celtic to experiment with its youth-set up and continue its incredible success in producing world class players like James Forrest, Callum McGregor and the now Premier League sensation Kieran Tierney. Having worked for so long in the youth set-up, Kennedy would surely love the chance to bring through more super stars for the club, if given the keys to the kingdom.
The scenario is, of course, currently hypothetical. However, there is a sense of inevitability that John Kennedy will, eventually, become the manager of Celtic. Having worked incredibly hard to become the perfect candidate, few would grudge him the chance to take over when the time is right.
Do you think John Kennedy should be Neil Lennon’s eventual successor? Would you like him to have a crack at another job before taking the reigns at Celtic? Give us your thoughts!