Belgium coach Shaun Maloney would fit Celtic's criteria if Lennon goes

By Euan Davidson

December 8, 2020

Paul Lambert. Gordon Strachan. Martin O’Neill.

Three names and three ‘Celtic Men’ who have been linked with Neil Lennon’s precarious job at Celtic Park. All three have considerable managerial experience, have won in the Green and White and, in Paul Lambert’s case, still have plenty of years in coaching left.

But they’re just not… exciting, are they? Not in 2020.

If Neil Lennon does move on, you get the sense that the board will pick a “safe” option. Someone who knows the club inside out, could motivate the players and raise standards across the club.

Vitally, it would be someone with top-level experience, but one who “knows the city” and the expectations of the fans.

So then. Why not Shaun Maloney?

Martinez and Maloney take in Belgium training at Hampden / (Photo by Alan Harvey/SNS Group via Getty Images)

A young coach with his star on the rise

Shaun Maloney, who had two spells in Paradise, spent time at Wigan Athletic, Aston Villa, Hull City and Chicago Fire as a player. As a coach, he was assistant to Tommy McIntyre at Celtic Reserves level.  This was before an unlikely leap into the no.2 role for Belgium, under Roberto Martinez.

There, he’s worked with coaches like Thierry Henry, now at Montreal Impact. The players he’s coached are a who’s-who of European talent. Think Kevin de Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Jan Vertonghen, Eden Hazard, Youri Tielemans and more.

While Martinez is unquestionably the head coach, Maloney’s input has seen a team of fantastic individuals gel into an elite European footballing power house. It’s a squad that finished 3rd in the 2018 World Cup, and Maloney is right at the heart of it.

Plucked from the Celtic Reserves by Martinez, the former Everton and Wigan manager has spoken of Maloney’s “appreciation of space and technically ability” set him apart from players normally brought up in “the British system” (BBC).

Last year, he completed a Masters in coaching at the Johan Cruyff Institute, and he claims to be as inspired by Cruyff’s Barcelona as he is the Lisbon Lions, Busby’s Manchester United teams, Ajax and Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.

 

Maloney putting another chance away in 2001 / (Laurence Griffiths/ALLSPORT)

The right steps

Maloney, unquestionably one of Celtic’s most exciting players during the 00s, has made all the right moves. While many modern coaches follow a more linear path, Maloney has put the hard yards in. His education and experience mean that he surely won’t be an assistant for too much longer.

Celtic could do far worse than to take an educated gamble on the former No.29.

Just listening to him talk about Celtic’s play is refreshing. From 15.51 here (BBC Sportscene), Maloney breaks down the problems Celtic had in attacking areas, and Maloney’s articulate, scholarly read on the game is exactly what’s needed.

Simply put, Celtic look tactically naïve under Lennon currently. When he arrived the second time, Celtic had grown somewhat stale under Brendan Rodgers, and played with more freedom under Lenny. That said, they now look disorganised and shapeless, and it’s a wise tactician that Celtic need as 2021 approaches.

Some may be resistant to Maloney’s more methodical approach, but as the man who prepares Belgium for matching up against some of the best football teams in the world, he’s worth listening to.

We don’t know what his man-management qualities are like, nor do we know exactly how he’d want Celtic to play. However, if his CV in coaching is anything to go by, it’d be attacking, high-possession and high-intensity football under Shaun Maloney.

He also boasts impressive contacts and outward-looking approach.

 

Former team-mates: Lennon and Maloney / (Photo by Jeff Holmes/SNS Group via Getty Images)

Maloney in comparison

Maloney’s certainly more tempting than the other names touted for the Celtic job, should Lennon be relieved of his duties. On one end of the scale, we’ve spoken about Mauricio Pochettino. On the other, persistent chat linking the club to Gordon Strachan and Martin O’Neill would represent a backwards lurch.

Fans are divided on whether a strict disciplinarian like O’Neill would put the fear back into the players. Strachan’s jovial yet tactically uninspiring approach might work, but it’s hard to see it is as a long-term option. Paul Lambert is struggling with Ipswich Town and is not the calibre of coach we should be concerned with at this moment.

Of course, Neil Lennon still has a job, and the backing of the board. The club have tried to quell dissent with their PR efforts this week, but the fact is that Lenny’s job is still very much up for discussion. Lille lie in wait on Thursday, and another loss would simply add to the noise.

Eddie Howe and Dan Petrescu remain in the paper talk, and either of those men could do a job. Howe might need time to implement his ideas, though. When he joined Bournemouth, he was able to restructure the football side of the club from top to bottom. Petrescu has steered an un-fancied CFR Cluj into Europa League contention on a shoestring budget, but never stays anywhere too long.

If you’re asking me, though? The really ambitious option stands at 5’7″ and holds 47 caps for Scotland.