Do you remember when Tony Mowbray was appointed and it was between him and Roberto Martinez? Do you remember Celtic making the wrong choice (oh so much was that the wrong choice) and the stability of Strachan was replaced with a brief period of chaos before Neil Lennon took the helm and steered Celtic into the Champions League?
(Off topic but, in my opinion, the beginning and end of Barca’s reign as the best team in Europe began and ended with Celtic beating them in the 2003-04 UEFA Cup and the 2012-13 Champions League)
Celtic are in the same position again today. A period of stability has come to an end and Celtic must now look to build on three in a row. They are in the business of empire building and the replacement isn’t just for today, he’s for five years time as well.
Before I start to dive headlong into the speculation of who will be best for the job, it is only right to look on the achievements of Neil Lennon. I will freely admit, I haven’t been a vociferous supporter of his reign and didn’t feel that he was capable of building the empire that needed to be built at Celtic.
As such, I’d like to sum his reign up in two different ways – peak value and normal value. A good example of this is Marco Negri – at peak value, Negri scored bucketloads, at normal value, he was awful. As such, he can be rated as somewhere in-between.
Neil Lennon’s peak value, between turning around THAT Kilmarnock game and qualifying past Spartak in the Champions League was immense. He had a period where you can mark his achievements so highly, he would slot in as second behind only Jock Stein. Romping away with the title past Rangers from miles behind, not only equalling but besting Barcelona when they were still the greatest side on turf – every challenge thrown at him was met and beaten handsomely. Peak value doesn’t last though and the clear issues with motivating the team Lennon suffered sometimes, the annoying reliance on a select few favourites to try and turn games around in spite of them not being talented enough to do so (Charlie “The Final Solution” Mulgrew, being shifted about position to everywhere on the pitch as if he was the answer to everything being the prime example) – Neil Lennon’s normal value wasn’t all that. As such, his legacy will slot him in somewhere in the middle of the pantheon – better than a Macari or Barnes, nowhere near an O’Neill or Stein, somewhere around a Strachan or Jansen (Wim Jansen being the perfect Celtic example of Peak Value). I am sure that many will put him a class above where I put him and, if you rate him on his peak value alone, he more than merits that. But I’m not letting his peak value colour judgement. Neil Lennon’s career is likely to mirror that of Graeme Souness – magic in Scotland with a real financial advantage , built three in a row but is unlikely to replicate that success henceforth.
But, if you’re going to let any piece of Peak value colour your judgement, my word, that night at Celtic Park where Barcelona fell would be it.
So, who on earth will replace him?
If the bookies are right, Henrik Larsson is a shoo in. I’d introduce him but Henrik bloody Larsson, the greatest player in the history of Celtic bar none, needs none. He is a legend and he could trade from that for the rest of his life. He hasn’t though – he’s moved into management in the Swedish lower leagues which leaves a problem.
And the problem is a really basic one – Henrik Larsson just doesn’t seem to be all that good at managing a football club. If the job was given out based on sentimentality alone, Larsson would have been appointed already amid a shower of joy. The job isn’t though – it’s given out on talent and, on that, Larsson just isn’t good enough.
So, who are the really serious contenders?
It looks like a list of the recently unemployed from the English Premier League: Malky Mackay, David Moyes, Steve Clarke.
Mackay stabilised Cardiff, took them to the EPL, was unjustly fired and has sat on the sidelines since. Moyes had kept Everton competitive for a long time on a budget then took Manchester United out of Europe. Steve Clarke solidified West Brom, lost his touch after a season and then was possibly unjustly fired.
Neither are perfect options and all have blemishes on their record. Moyes’ is an easy one to spot – he plays fairly negative football, his time at Everton, while stable, has been shown up by Roberto Martinez as not as good as it could have been. Clarke, while he had a good initial impact at West Brom, waned as time went by and it’s hard to say he’s definitely a good enough manager for the club. Mackay is combustible and has a tendency to fall out with his chairmen when he doesn’t get his way, which one could see happening very quickly with Peter Lawwell.
Behind these three obvious contenders stand a line of people who stand out slightly less because they are employed.
The most prominent of these is undoubtedly Paul Lambert. With an uncertain future at Aston Villa, he has shown himself capable of playing well on the counter attack – vital in Europe, capable of nurturing youth well and with a good eye for a player. Having performed pretty well at every club he’s been at and being a former Celtic player, he has some obvious benefits. On the downside, his teams tend not to be able to take the game to other sides – which Celtic have to do week in, week out – and he has shown no inclination he would even want to move to Celtic.
Owen Coyle has been linked before but it’s Owen Coyle and his career since Burnley has been abysmal. His career needs resurrecting at a lower profile.
Jackie McNamara and Derek McInnes make two interesting candidates. McNamara is a Celtic mainstay who has, in his short managerial career, built Partick into a Premiership side and brought through the most exciting young Scottish team in years at Dundee United. He would be popular but lacks experience and could likely do best with another year or two on his CV to see him build a team and stick around to see it flourish before he is ready for Celtic. Anyone mentioning Paul Hartley would also see that argument against it made. As for McInnes, he has revitalised Aberdeen and turned them into a force through canny acquisitions – his major problem is that Aberdeen ran out of steam and that his last chance at a higher profile job (Bristol City) was a complete failure. In addition, neither could stop the less talented Motherwell side under a clearly more talented Stuart McCall (who no-one would ever link with the Celtic job even before taking him having been a Rangers man into account) from getting second.
And there are definite candidates with the experience and capability to take the step from European obscurity to a chance at the big time. These three would be:
Andrea Mandorlini of Verona, who has done a brilliant job at the club to establish them in Serie A
Markus Weinzierl of Augsburg, who has no blemishes on his CV, has taken a small club to the upper reaches of the Bundesliga and even ended Bayern’s unbeaten streak
Matjaz Kek of Rijeka, who has taken an unfashionable club into Europe and has World Cup managerial experience with an unfancied Slovenia side.
Clearly, we are in a similar position to where we prior pre-Mowbray. There are no outstanding candidates – everyone has a clear blemish on their CV with which to rule them out. It may well be that a candidate is found that is a bit more left field, especially if Celtic are prepared to wait until after the World Cup – Jorge Sampaoli of Chile, the ultra attacking disciple of Marcelo Bielsa would be a dream appointment for football hipsters everywhere – but likely Celtic may have to look to Europe to find the right candidate. It will take time but there is time to spend finding a replacement.
Here stands the biggest of choices – get it right and you find the man who builds an empire and wins ten in a row. Get it wrong and you get Tony Mowbray.
So get it right, Mr Lawwell.
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