The DNA of a Celtic manager: what supporters want from new boss

By Euan Davidson

March 10, 2021

There’ll be a new Celtic manager in 21-22.

This is not revelatory, unless you’ve not been following Scottish football for a wee while. If that’s the case, welcome back, you’ve picked a very interesting time.

Since Neil Lennon quit, everyone from Roberto Martinez to your Uncle have been linked to the Celtic job either by supporters or the press. We’ve done our part, canvassing for Eddie Howe and Enzo Maresca. On the other end of the “fashionable manager” scale, some have suggested Mick McCarthy or Sean Dyche should be the new Celtic manager.

We’ve got to narrow it down a little. So many names are being fired out of the rumour cannon that it’s hard to know what it is Celtic supporters want sometimes. I can attest to this; more than once I’ve finished an article thinking “that’ll go down well”, to find out that, well… not so much.

There seems to be a prevailing myth on social media that there’s a generation gap. While younger fans are likely to extol the virtues of a Maresca or a Maloney, the older guard are more likely to lean towards Roy Keane or a Martin O’Neill return. I don’t necessarily think that’s true; why would supporters who saw the Lisbon Lions want a defensive-minded, kick-and-rush Celtic manager? Are the “Celtic Das” really unanimously behind someone like Keane? I don’t think so.

But we do need to clear up some confusion, and list what qualifies a Celtic managerial candidate.

Immortal. / (Photo by VI Images via Getty Images)

1. A Celtic manager needs to play the right way

This is perhaps the most important factor.

That’s why it’s so confusing that names like Mick McCarthy are being credibly linked [BBC]. Celtic supporters are used to a certain tactical style. While almost every football team says things like “we want to play the right way”, few mean it quite like the Bhoys do.

After all, it was Celtic who reignited Europe’s passion for attacking football. As lauded as Inter Milan’s catenaccio [Spielverlagerung] style was for its efficiency, it wasn’t half dull. Around the continent, attacking flair hadn’t been rewarded with top prizes until the Lisbon Lions did their part in 1967. There’s a history beyond that, but it’s Lisbon that’s the most important tactical landmark for Celtic.

Since then, the Bhoys have had their share of managers who were forgiven for lack of success, because they played the right way. Tommy Burns’ Celtic side, for example, were incredibly unlucky not to break Rangers’ dominance. Jozef Venglos’ Celtic played some fantastic stuff, and he, too, is remembered fondly.

Whereas, Gordon Strachan was successful at Celtic, but his style was derided and few shed a tear when he left. Martin O’Neill found an interesting balance between defensive solidity and tactical exploration, but by modern standards, his style would probably be considered old-hat.

The “Celtic Way” is a pre-requisite for the next manager. Brendan Rodgers perhaps over-strategised towards the end, while Neil Lennon didn’t seem to strategise at all. Someone who allows a degree of tactical freedom to attacking players, while making us hard to break down and exciting in possession is what the fans are crying out for; whether old, young or in-between.

Ok, it’s unlikely… / (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

2. A recognised name

After the doldrums of latter-era ‘Lennybol’, one of the biggest disappointments was going from an established name like Rodgers to the “cheap” option, albeit a very well-compensated “cheap” option.

Yes, Neil Lennon was a “recognised name” in terms of Celtic Football Club, but as a Celtic manager he wasn’t exactly the blockbuster appointment that the club needed. You could reasonably argue that in the Bhoys’ history, big-name managerial appointments have been rare. History shows that the club often promotes from within, creating managerial careers. Willie Malley, Jock Stein, Billy McNeill and so on.

After Rodgers’ arrival though, expectations have been raised. If we have been able to lure a Champions League-quality manager before, we should believe we can do so again.

I’m not suggesting Celtic hire a big name for the sake of it (John Barnes’ spell shows the folly of that approach). However, to get supporters back onside to a certain degree, some pedigree is needed. Another gamble, however educated, might alienate supporters unless there’s tangible reason to believe in who we appoint.

You get me…? / (Photo by Steve Welsh/Getty Images)

3. Recruitment is key for any Celtic manager

This is another factor which separates the Sean Dyches from the Eddie Howes.

Any prospective Celtic manager will need to be able to hit the ground running from a recruitment stand-point. Even if Pep Guardiola stepped in to Lennoxtown tomorrow, he’d need to get his address book out.

Established links with European elite clubs is a huge bonus here. There are gems to be found around Europe; either youngsters who need opportunities, or established names who’d instantly improve the squad. No small feat, that. That’s what’s appealing about the likes of Enzo Maresca, a man who has ties to Sevilla and Manchester City.

It might seem laughable to clubs around Scotland, given the disparity between us and the rest of the Premiership, but Celtic need to be shrewd. Shrewd by European standards, that is. Yes, us spending £4m, £5m on players puts us at a massive advantage compared to clubs like Aberdeen, Hibs and – to an extent – Rangers.

Ultimately, though, Celtic have ambitions beyond winning titles. That’s important, but it’s breaking into Europe’s top competition that is vital to the club.

To do that, you need quality players. Quality players come easier when A: there’s a top coach and B: that coach has a network of contacts to draw from. Obviously, the infrastructure behind the new manager will be different, with a Director of Football likely to be put in place by the summer.

Don’t underestimate the draw of a manager, though. We all want to work for a boss we admire, who has attractive ideas. That’s exactly the same for footballers, and to attract those of a higher standard, the right managerial choice is absolutely vital.

READ MORE: The toughest of tough sells.