The John Kennedy Celtic myth

By Euan Davidson

February 24, 2021

John Kennedy is, temporarily, the Celtic manager.

After years of developing his coaching nous under Ronny Deila, Brendan Rodgers and Neil Lennon, it’s the job he’d have wanted, at the exact wrong time.

Mischaracterised as a “defensive coach”, to the dismay of pedants everywhere, Kennedy has taken much of the blame this season. It’s hard to understand why, in a logical sense. Kennedy wasn’t praised last year when things were going right. Nor did he receive plaudits when Brendan Rodgers was winning consecutive trebles.

A member of Celtic’s skeleton staff of 4 this season, it could’ve been all so different. Twice in the last few years, Hibs have sounded out JK as a potential manager [Scotsman]. In a Sunday Post article from November of last year, Lennon spoke of the Edinburgh club’s approach and Kennedy’s value:

“He has worked under Ronny Deila, and he has worked under Brendan Rodgers for the last four years. So he has a wealth of coaching expertise now.

“You can see the way he works with the players that he has a great relationship with them, and he was really important to me coming in. I needed that stability, and I am so glad that John has decided to stay.

“I am not surprised Hibs eyed him because he has a very good reputation now.”

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

John Kennedy can coach Celtic with freedom

Rather than looking upon this with disappointment, there’s genuine optimism to be had here. First, we don’t know what kind of manager John Kennedy is. Given the combination of coaches he’s worked with, we’ve no idea what his style of play is; it might just be the perfect tonic to Lennon’s meandering, stodgy tactics.

He’s young for a manager, at 37, but has been developing as a coach for over a decade since retiring in 2009. As for his education, he couldn’t have been more integrated in the Celtic culture, the expectations of the supporters and the club itself. If anyone knows what the fans want from their Celtic team, it’s John Kennedy.

We need to get past this idea that he’s at fault for Celtic’s slide. He coached the team under Lennon’s auspices; he cannot implement his own style and tactics. Ultimately, he was hamstrung by Lennon’s limitations, and is far more than a “defensive coach”, if such a role were to exist.

Yes, his main responsibility was trying to organise the defence, but it’ll be up to him to make Celtic less beatable. For example, if he can sort the Bhoys’ slackness from set-pieces, we’ll win more matches before the end of the season.

An unleashed John Kennedy might end up being everything Celtic fans wanted, albeit far too late. Expect a coherent tactical identity, as the long-exalted coach makes his own, temporary, mark at Celtic Park.

READ MORE: Why Lenny had to go now.