Planning beyond the 10; how Celtic structural change is still vital

By Euan Davidson

December 12, 2020

Celtic have only made the Champions League proper 4 times over the last decade.

For a club with European ambitions, boasting one of the largest fanbases in the continent and having enjoyed utter domestic dominance, that’s under-achievement.

In the Europa League, we crashed out in 20-21, after securing just 4 points. We’ve not got past the round of 32 since the UEFA Cup was renamed.

Celtic have watched as our contemporaries, from the newly minted to the surprise packages, have surpassed us. Think of Atalanta, the Red Bull teams. Sides like Wolves, PSV Eindhoven, Eintracht Frankfurt.

The Bhoys have stuck to the model where the buck stops with the manager. While clubs our size and smaller are thriving using newer modes of practice, Celtic are stuck in the past.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon / (Photo by Craig Foy/SNS Group via Getty Images)


The merits of the old way

From surface level, there isn’t much to complain about as a Celtic supporter. We have won the last 9 league titles. We’re on the cusp of a historic quadruple-treble. Sure, we under-perform in Europe, but at least we’re there.

We’ve signed and developed players for a profit. We still have an incredible stadium and support. Besides, clubs like Atalanta, Ajax, etc; that took time. In Ajax’s case, building a culture like theirs took decades.

A talismanic coach and seasoned league veterans: that’s done the trick so far. Right?

Do we really want to be a ‘European-style’ club who sacks their manager at the first sign of trouble? Or do we want to be a club that celebrates our glorious past, puts its faith in the manager to turn around a crisis and stays true to a board that’s seen us through a period of dominance?

Well, though; here’s the problem with that.


Manchester United boss Solksjaer / (Photo by Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images)

Standing still while the world moves

In an excellent article for the Daily Record, writer Liam Bryce compared Celtic to Manchester United’s recent woes. It’s an interesting and valid comparison.

It’s especially true that at Celtic Park and Old Trafford, two club legends in the dugout have begun to look increasingly miserable in recent months. Both are clubs that sell tickets with their history. Even in the dominant eras for both clubs, there was a focus on the past. For Celtic, that’s the ever-present shadow of 1967.

Both clubs have a reputation of sticking with managers for a considerable length of time, particularly in the context of modern football. United are still struggling from this, after Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. A man who, by the way, learned the intricacies of winning from Jock Stein.

Celtic and United are clubs that refused to invest in other areas of running a club while the times are good. For the Red Devils, advanced scouting and more holistic coaching and recruitment methods should have been phased in to Ferguson’s departure plan. For Celtic, the more modern ideas espoused by Brendan Rodgers and Ronny Deila have been neglected.

Looking across Europe, clubs that shouldn’t be competitive with us are creating dynasties. Midtjylland have qualified repeatedly for the Champions League (The Guardian). Think also of Östersunds, who have made incredible strides (Mondo Futbol).

Manchester United stood still and watched the world move. Celtic are in danger of doing the same.

Celtic Park after defeat to Ross County / (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images)

So, what now?

There will be some devotees of Scottish football who will laugh at Celtic. They’ll say that because we beat Lille the other night, that protests will stop. The board will suddenly be unquestioned. Nothing will change, and our fickle support will quiet down.

If they think that, they don’t know the wants of Celtic’s support.

Many of us have been saying this for years. There’s been a stagnation, and it’s European football that’s highlighted that. Although the 9-in-a-row and domestic trophy haul has been incredible, we should have been dominating like this. On paper, at least.

The Scottish Premiership, as an institution, has deeply rooted problems. There’s a huge disparity between the likes of ourselves and the likes of say, Hamilton Accies. The TV money is allocated unevenly. We can afford to pay wages that are unthinkable to teams below us in the table. We’ve benefitted from our historical status and club size.

Vast swathes of us, though, have clamoured for Celtic to create its own success, as opposed to the continual taking of advantages we have. We don’t just want to be the biggest club. We want to be the smartest club. The most forward-thinking club.

The board has been warned time and time again; keep your eye on the road. But rather than adapting to modern football, we’ve simply sat back and enjoyed our position. Football works in cycles. Eventually the Glasgow-based monopoly (or duopoly) will end, as unthinkable as that may be now.

Celtic Park; raucous but expectant / (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Heeding the warnings and moving forwards

Celtic, as a club, need to adapt. That’s in everything from the micro-management of in-game tactics, to an improved scouting network. It involves analysis of foreign leagues in greater detail. In terms of youth football, it means a consistent tactical and club culture from the top down. A workable model of progression for youth players to break into the first team.

It means so many things. We need to be honest about the club we support; it’s stayed stuck in the past because of a complacent board. It’s only this season that, with a credible title threat, our tired ways behind the scenes have become a visible issue.

We’ve stuck with a manager who probably isn’t the tactician we need. Any other club would’ve departed with their head coach for much less. As beloved as Lenny is, he’s not the modern kind of coach that Celtic need, to improve more generally.

The protests will continue. And they should. We don’t want to become a fallen dynasty like Manchester United. Or nearly-men like Arsenal. Much of our support have had the hazard perception to see that for years, and it’s time everyone got on board.