The next Celtic manager's mission: make us good to watch again

By Euan Davidson

February 23, 2021

For a Celtic manager, losing is one thing.

But to cede victory without so much as a whimper? To perform so laboriously against the worst side in the Premiership? To be so defensively vulnerable [Daily Record] that teams know exactly how to beat us?

Frankly, watching Celtic has become much more of a chore than a joy. Once or twice a week, we tune in out of a sense of duty, and Neil Lennon’s directionless, tactic-less Celtic leave us wanting. When was the last time a Bhoys team played so convincingly, you came away from a game feeling satisfied?

We can’t remember either. And that’s because this team has no identity whatsoever. Around the league, you have teams like the defence-first Dundee United. The counter-attacking Livingston team. Regrettably, Rangers’ possession game with a high-press. Celtic, under Neil Lennon, aren’t anything.

Under Ronny Deila, the football wasn’t always good. The Norwegian insisted on such a high line that we were often caught out, especially in Europe. Equally, with his preference for two inside forwards on the wings, he didn’t utilise the likes of Kris Commons to maximum effect. However, when it worked, it worked. On the pitch and off, there was a culture; fitness was vital, as Celtic looked to play teams into submission.

When Deila’s Celtic were on form, we were magnificent to watch.

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The same is true of Brendan Rodgers’ first two seasons in charge; the training was obviously intense, because Scotty Sinclair and James Forrest/Patrick Roberts ran endlessly, allowed to do so by the energy of Scott Brown and enterprise of Callum McGregor. In terms of the on-pitch product, it was incredible, as we tore through opposition like tissue paper.

That isn’t the case now, and it’s not personnel that’s the issue.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon / (Photo by Paul Campbell/Getty Images)

Celtic under Neil Lennon have no real identity

During Lenny’s first spell with Celtic, it was the same. Granted, we probably had more exciting players, or nostalgia has tinged the era with some preference for players who weren’t universally popular at the time.

It was Lennon’s man-management that was heralded in the post-Mowbray era. Under the Englishman, who wanted his teams to play in a very modern, albeit vulnerable manner, some key players lost their confidence. We aren’t privy to what happened behind the scenes with Mogga, but it seems to be more like bad luck than bad coaching.

Lennon brought that squad, so lost for confidence, back into title-winning prominence. His signings were almost uniformly excellent, with John Park leading the recruitment drive. With the likes of Gary Hooper and Victor Wanyama excelling, there was no real tactical identity, but it didn’t matter all that much. As far as Lennon saw, he had good players: go out and play well.

Football’s changed landscape

Football has changed radically since the start of last decade though. Leicester City proved that you don’t need revolutionary talents to win big. Instead, systems have become the driving force behind team success. That was the case under Rodgers; some players who have moved on and done very little, thrived at Celtic. They were being played in the correct manner, befitting a cohesive ideology.

That’s not been the case with Lennon. Instead, a number of players have underperformed because they’re unclear about where they’re meant to be, and what they’re meant to be doing.

Look at Ryan Christie, for example. Clearly a number 10, his role has changed during the season, played as an inverted winger to accommodate Rogic in the middle. Therefore, he’s been forced to try to cut inside and take shots from outside the box, rather than attack central positions and look for the pass.

A playing style, please: Eddie Howe / (Photo by Robin Jones – AFC Bournemouth/AFC Bournemouth via Getty Images)

What next, then?

You’ll notice that some of the managers popping up in the gossip pages have a distinct outlook on football. From Eddie Howe to Shaun Maloney, via Frank Lampard, it’s clear Celtic supporters want more than a manager. We want someone who has a distinct style, and a proven record of winning while doing it.

We’re unlikely to ever be linked to a Sam Allardyce, for example. Or, when David Moyes’ name is linked, fans cringe. We are resistant to coaches who are defence-first, and that’ll always be the way.

That said, I think the majority of fans would take a (small c) conservative coach over what we have at the moment, though. Somewhere between gung-ho and aimless, Lennon’s brand of football has become appalling to watch. We were on the verge of credibility with Soro anchoring a midfield 4, but the Celtic manager seems reluctant to placate the supporters who pay him.

Culture Change at Celtic

The next step will be a culture change at the club. The Directors aren’t watching the matches, it doesn’t matter a great deal to them.

A Sporting Director, or Director of Football, however, will be attuned to what the supporters want to see. Celtic, by all rights and every measure, should continue to win titles at a canter. The neglect for the footballing side of the club has been incredibly clear to see. A total revamp is required here.

Otherwise, in 4 or 5 years, we will find ourselves at the same situation, where managers with wildly contrasting (or absent) styles will undo the work of all who came before. We need a culture, a way of playing.

And we need it now.

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