How Celtic interim boss John Kennedy deals with Glasgow Derby could set him up for career

By Euan Davidson

March 17, 2021

Let’s not get carried away before we start: we don’t think John Kennedy will be the long-term Celtic manager.

Certainly, there’s precedent for it; he’s replacing Neil Lennon, after all. An 8-game audition with some big Derby matches was enough to seal Lennon the job first time round.

That said, let’s not get too into notions about JK getting the Celtic job permanently. Especially given the names we’re being linked to, and the desires of the Bhoys supporters. Regardless of, or partially due to Brendan Rodgers’ comments [Sky Sports], it seems unlikely that the oddly divisive coach will be patrolling the dugout in 21-22.

However, he still has a career beyond the summer, wherever that may be. Certainly, there are substantial rumours Aberdeen could be interested. He may fancy eschewing trends, and trying his luck overseas. With his reputation in football, certainly amongst his colleagues, there are a few potential landing spots for him.

And this weekend is his biggest audition yet. How Kennedy approaches Rangers on Sunday could be absolutely key to what happens next.

Celtic interim boss John Kennedy / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

John Kennedy should show tactical bravery for Celtic v Rangers

In terms of tactics and team selection, Kennedy has a list of options. Clearly, whatever he tried against Dundee United didn’t work. We scraped by Aberdeen in his first game as interim boss.

We’re not scoring goals, but we’re at least tighter at the back. Admittedly, that was against a misfiring Aberdeen, and a Terriers side who aren’t exactly Brazil in 1970.

Still, you can only play who you’re up against. Who he’s up against this weekend is a maddeningly jubilant Rangers side who pose all sorts of problems.

Hitherto this weekend, Rangers have beaten us twice in successive derbies. In the second of those, we dominated and still couldn’t find a way through. That’s a massive problem, and the losses have been as much due to our own mistakes and profligacy than Rangers being particularly good.

All season long, we’ve struggled to defend set-pieces and defend on the counter. In the first loss, the former was key. Nir Bitton will tell you himself, the latter was the issue in the second.

So, Kennedy has to get that right. He’s had two weeks to drill that.

Secondly, our lack of thrust has been a huge problem, and the interim boss might want to look at a formation with width to combat this. It also has a defensive advantage; keeping James Tavernier busy limits Rangers’ opportunities.

More of this, please / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

The biggest audition yet

Consider this: even in a behind-closed-doors match, crowd trouble nearly got this weekend’s match called off. Only in Scotland, eh?

That just shows the amount of focus that’s on this game. Eyes from across the world will be on Kennedy and Gerrard. A win would be gold dust for the interim boss, in terms of what he does next.

If he can handle the pressure and deliver a result that has eluded us in 20-21, then his chances beyond the summer look good. Again; not with us necessarily, but in general. That’s if he decides to move on at all, which is no guarantee.

With some cunning, some invention, this Rangers team are beatable. We came incredibly close last time round, before some slapstick defending undid all of the good work Celtic had done.

We just couldn’t land a punch under Neil Lennon. If Kennedy is eager to show off his managerial chops, he’s going to have to make some big calls before Sunday. More of the same just won’t do.

No pressure, John.

READ MORE: The manager who could turn a weakness into a strength.