3 key tasks for potential Celtic Director of Football Fergal Harkin; if he comes in this week

By Euan Davidson

March 24, 2021

The noise coming out of Celtic twitter today is that Fergal Harkin is set to join the club.

Of course, it’s just rumour and conjecture at the moment. When we have a reliable source, we’ll share any news we have on the DoF appointment. Of that you can be sure.

Certainly, Harkin would arrive with an established reputation. The history Harkin has with a successful outfit in Manchester City is heartening, especially given the quality of their youth recruitment. The success of Celtic players like Dedryk Boyata, Patrick Roberts and – most recently – Jeremie Frimpong can attest to that.

What’s clear at this point is that any Director of Football coming to Celtic has a gigantic undertaking on their hands. Let’s look at three key areas where a DoF/Sporting Director would need to hit the ground running.

Celtic training at Lennoxtown / (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Revamping the Celtic Academy: a must for incoming Director of Football

For all we hear of the Academy, and excitedly follow the development of young players breaking through, it’s not like we’ve been spoilt for success. In recent years, only Kieran Tierney has emerged from the Academy and played for Celtic with regularity. It’s pointless to consider Callum McGregor a recent example, nor James Forrest.

So, if we’re to have long-term success, the Academy is vital. In fairness, strides have been taken. The likes of Barry Coffey, Ewan Otoo, Karamoko Dembélé and others have shown that the scouting network is decent. Young players want to play for Celtic, still.

It’s just keeping them, and developing them into talents, that’s the issue. Josh Adam moved to Manchester City [Glasgow Times], Liam Morrison went to Bayern Munich [BBC]. Vincent Angelini could leave the club for nothing. Cameron Harper has already departed for New York. There are other examples, that may include Karamoko Dembélé and Armstrong Okoflex before too long.

Either the club didn’t feel the latter three had significant enough potential, or it’s negligence on the club’s part. Well, any incoming Director would need to ensure the following:

  1. The Academy is recruiting from a wide pool of nations
  2. Players are, in general, developing their abilities enough to feature for the first team
  3. Promising talents, if sold, move for a profit

It may take significant investment from the club. However, it’s a loss leader. If Celtic could feature a team with a spine of Academy graduates, and have a more linear route to the first-team from the Academy, then it’s good news for everyone.

A clear Celtic style on the pitch

Now, we don’t know that the Director of Football will oversee the appointment of the next Celtic manager. Indications suggest that it’ll be a decision the board makes alone.

What a DoF will be responsible for, however, is working on a playing identity with that new manager. The board would do well to appoint a Director first, and in doing so, use them to help in managerial recruitment. It goes further than that, though; we need to be sure a Director would have a wide enough pool of contacts to fill any gaps in the first team, reserve and academy staff.

Even further than that; those individuals would need to subscribe to a coherent footballing ideology. If all the teams within the club are on the same page, it’ll make player development easier while informing future decisions, such as player recruitment, managerial hires in the future and so on.

Celtic head of football operations Nick Hammond / (Photo by Craig Williamson/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Improving player recruitment

Scouting is easy when you’ve got hindsight. None of us could’ve accurately predicted that say, Duffy or Barkas would’ve found it so difficult. As I’ve already (perhaps unwisely) argued, Nick Hammond has a job that’s essentially throwing darts in the dark a lot of the time.

A player can be excellent at one team and not another. Their numbers can fit into a tactical ideology, but somehow, it just doesn’t work. Or, an un-fancied reserve from one team can be a Player of the Year for another. It’s not an exact science.

But that’s not to say it can’t be improved upon.

Theoretically, a DoF can and will employ their own Head Scout. That’s potentially bad news for Nick Hammond. If, let’s say, Fergal Harkin came in and brought his own scouting team, that would be an extension of imprinting a footballing methodology. Harkin, in this scenario, would be given carte blanche to say “this is the style we should play, here are scouts good at identifying that kind of player”. And off they’d go.

Currently, there is some good work being done by the incumbent scouts. Their remit, currently, seems to be finding cheap and talented players from England’s lower tiers. Liam Shaw, Kyle Joseph, Kwadwo Baah, for example. Given the limitations that Brexit will bring, that could well be the strategy going forward.

In any event, the DoF will be recruited partially on their experience in successful scouting. That will mean either improving upon or rebuilding what’s already there at Celtic.

No pressure, then.

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