The Celtic sentimentality problem

By Euan Davidson

April 23, 2021

With just a handful of games left, you could forgive Celtic interim boss John Kennedy for indulging in some sentiment.

After all, he’s only the interim coach because of a managerial spell based on the same virtue. When Neil Lennon was re-hired permanently in 2019, it was more about emotion than forward-planning. Famously given the Celtic job in the showers at Hampden [BBC], there were more established, longer-term names available at the time.

Yet, because it had worked years before, Celtic ultimately made a decision based on a feeling.

It worked out initially, but when the wheels came off this season, there was a sense of dread and inevitability. Lennon, himself, too often made team selections out of sentimentality, too. Scott Brown, at 35, has played nearly 3000 minutes of football over 20-21 [Transfermarkt].

Now with Broony looking to his next move, the temptation would be to give him a farewell tour against Rangers, St Johnstone and Hibs, where the iconic Celtic captain made his name.

It’s the kind of overbearing, nostalgic thinking that has created a lot of the problems for the Bhoys this season. Far, far too many team selections were based on what players had achieved in the past, not what they could offer now. Not only has that hampered new signings, it’s likely to have added to the cliquey culture at the club.

Sluggish, disappointing performances against the likes of Livi hampered Celtic / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Sentimentality has hampered Celtic in 20-21

For example:

Neil Lennon relied on a tried-and-trusted midfield formula until around late November, early December. It wasn’t working. Enormous over-reliance on Brown and McGregor made Celtic slow, ponderous and easy to break down. Not until the introduction of David Turnbull and Ismaila Soro did Lennon get a result he could be truly proud of, beating French league leaders Lille 3-2.

At the time, we praised Lenny’s “bold” team selection. There was freshness, boundless energy and a sense of adventure. It was rewarded, albeit it came far too late.

The Bhoys would revert to type not long after. Sure, Turnbull stayed in the team and has been arguably our best player this season, but his introduction came bizarrely late. A match-winner in every sense of the term, there seems little doubt he could’ve turned a couple of early draws into wins with his creativity.

While Kennedy has little to achieve as Celtic interim boss, he does have an opportunity. Karamoko Dembélé only made a cameo appearance Aberdeen, but his fearless, direct running was enjoyable to watch. A raft of youngsters made the bench, including Adam Montgomery and Dane Murray.

Picking players based on their reputation hasn’t worked for Celtic this season. The unfortunate travails of Shane Duffy, the wildly varying form of Mohamed Elyounoussi and the slow, meandering midfield play we’ve seen are all testament to that.

So, for Celtic’s immediate future, John Kennedy must resist drawn-out farewell tours and giving minutes to players who haven’t been up to scratch. Play the kids, the fringe players, the signings we’ve seen barely any of.

At least it’d be something to get excited about as we see out a disastrous campaign.

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