Assessing what we've learnt about Celtic interim boss John Kennedy so far

By Euan Davidson

April 28, 2021

It always seemed like a case of right job, wrong time for interim Celtic boss John Kennedy.

Whether he harboured ambitions of being the Bhoys’ manager at this stage in his career is unclear. However, it’s hard to argue there’s anyone in the world more connected to the club over the last 20 years. A former player, Kennedy looked like a captain in the making. It seems forgotten now, but before his career-ruining injury, the centre-back was a commanding presence despite his tender years.

It wouldn’t have been a huge surprise to see Kennedy make a mark in the Premier League, or elsewhere, had his trajectory not been stalled on Scotland duty. Unfortunately, he’s become an example of how a life you’ve worked hard for can be snatched away at a moment’s notice.

However, since retirement, he’s hung around at the club and earned himself coaching badges and a wealth of experience. In 2010, he rejoined Celtic as a scout [Guardian], and from then on his progression has been extremely smooth. From development coaching to first team coaching, to assistant under Neil Lennon, to caretaker boss.

What have we learned about his desired style of football? Well, a bit. There’s been an onus on playing from the back, with Scott Bain his trusted no.1 who can launch moves with his passing. When the personnel has been available to him, he’s moved the side back to a 4-2-3-1, to devastating effect against Livingston.

However, when the pressure’s on, Kennedy seems too keen to revert to Lennyball, a directionless, shapeless approach. That seems to be habit based on circumstance and nerves. It’s not the kind of pragmatism we might have expected from him.

John Kennedy having his temperature checked / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

The players love him, but what’s to become of Celtic man John Kennedy?

It seems possible that John Kennedy would return to a coaching role in a new set-up. The players adore him, and his cool demeanour seems worlds away from his predecessor in the dugout. You don’t stay at a club this long if the people you work with aren’t fans, from the youth players to the boardroom.

Would it be difficult for someone like John Kennedy to leave his ego at the door and work for a new manager? It’s hard to say, but I’m guessing no. He’s said that he isn’t trialling for the job full-time, or at least, not at the moment. At just 37, he appears willing to learn at an environment that suits him. Celtic is that.

Still, if you went from managing a group of employees, then being their equal shortly after, it’d be an odd feeling to get used to. Players will have got used to calling him boss, or gaffer. As Jackie McNamara said, that might be something Kennedy, like any of us, would struggle with.

The takeaway from all this, though, is that Kennedy is well-liked, and ambitious, with a strong career of coaching behind him. That isn’t anything new, necessarily.

Interim Celtic boss John Kennedy / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

More personality needed over final matches

The most encouraging moment, other than the 6-0 shellacking of Livi, was when John Kennedy had his first real bout with the press. Ahead of the last Glasgow Derby, Kennedy said [Daily Record]:

“I have full belief in the squad we have here, that on our day we are still the best team in the country. One hundred-per-cent. That’s the reaction you have to have. There was always going to come a point where we had a setback.”

That’s the right character to have, and it’s something we probably haven’t been able to see a lot of. Kennedy is a more calming influence than prior managers, and he didn’t seem too willing to get into a debate with the press. When they wilfully misquoted him, nonsense followed.

However, Kennedy was able to clear it up for anyone lacking the faculties to understand the fairly straight-forward message he sent out. He dealt with it without getting heated, showing an icy calm that will have won him the respect of Celtic supporters. Ultimately, that’s the kind of thing we’d like to see from him before his time as interim boss finishes.

We know there’s a character there. It’s just something we need to see more of, and that’s more for his sake. He doesn’t need to be controversial. However, a dose of gallus and charisma would make him attractive to potential employers in the future. That includes Celtic.

So, what have we learned overall? Enough to suggest there’s a good manager there in the future. But he’s still got an awful lot to work on.

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