Celtic manager latest: would outward-bound Slaven Bilic represent an upgrade?

By Euan Davidson

December 16, 2020

For Celtic fans, another managerial candidate is about to take up column inches.

Slaven Bilic looks set to be removed from his post at Premier League side West Bromwich Albion (BBC).

Simon Stone of the BBC reported last night:

“It is understood the Baggies hierarchy have been deliberating over whether to make a change for a number of weeks as the club struggles to cope with life back in the Premier League.

“Senior figures connected with the club had cautioned against it, and pleaded for Bilic, 52, to be given more time.

“However, it is thought Albion’s Chinese ownership is veering towards a different conclusion, which would make Bilic the first Premier League manager to leave their job this season.”

Bilic during his Croatia days / (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

European pedigree needed at Celtic

Fine, Lennon hasn’t been removed from his job yet. This is by no means a campaign for that to happen. It’s just that there is still constant speculation about Lennon’s job.

We’ve evaluated plenty of candidates over the past few weeks, but since Eddie Howe was linked to Celtic, there haven’t been many other names with Premier League credentials.

Step forward Slaven Bilic.

In a six-year stint with the Croatian national team, he brought through a generation of incredible players. A side built in large part by Bilic finished runners-up at the 2018 World Cup. The likes of Vedran Corluka, Eduardo and Luka Modric were all integrated into the Croatia squad under his stewardship.

Under Bilic, Croatia became a team for the neutrals. With a combination of doggedness and flair, they became the perennial dark horses they are today.

Although his club managerial career hasn’t hit the same heights, he did win promotion only last season with West Brom. His un-fancied West Ham side finished 7th during his first season in charge (BBC).

Yes, at club level, he hasn’t stayed anywhere for too long. However, his overall record is worth examining.


Slaven Bilic plays a G chord / (STRINGER/AFP via Getty Images)

Attitude and approach

Bilic is known as an obsessive match planner (Independent). While he prefers open, expansive football, circumstances have dictated that it’s not always been possible.

His West Ham side, for example, were known to be a little hard on the eye. Unfortunately, though, he was jockeying for position in an incredibly competitive league. For the most part, he yielded results by doing so.

An excellent motivator, Bilic’s passion and determination are a big tick in his ‘Pros’ column. Fans have described him as “electric, magnetic, enchanting & mesmerising” (Birmingham Live).

He’s also in tune with modern supporters. Recently, he decried Pay Per View TV and the loss of football’s working-class identity (The Guardian).

Before Jürgen Klopp established himself as football’s fashionable heavy metal manager, it was Bilic who held the mantle. In fact, he doesn’t just talk the talk (Evening Standard).

As a person, he seems incredibly likeable. He would thrive at a club like Celtic, with a massive fanbase and a culture of noise, colour and political action.

He’s a self-avowed socialist, speaks three languages and has a law degree (Birmingham Mail).


Would Celtic suit Slaven Bilic? /  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The case against Bilic for Celtic

Of course, with every manager, there are downsides. Bilic has never stayed at one club for very long (Transfermarkt). 109 games was his longest spell, in the Premier League with West Ham United.

He has a habit of getting sacked when things start to unravel. If he gets his P45 from West Brom, he’ll have been dismissed from every club job he’s had.

He’s also a bit of a careless spender. In the 16-17 season, West Ham lost Dimitri Payet and shelled out £20m on Andre Ayew. He also spent over £10m on Robert Snodgrass (Transfermarkt). In total, his West Ham side made a net loss of around £40m and lost 21 games that season.

At the time of writing, West Brom sit 19th in the table (BBC), having spent £36m and making just £6.84m in return. If he was Celtic boss, his leash would be much, much shorter in the transfer market.


Russell Brand is a fan / (Photo by Arfa Griffiths/West Ham United FC via Getty Images)

Our view: a risky choice, but a potentially great one

Bilic has already claimed to be interested in the Celtic job (BBC). Again, it’s disrespectful to talk about Lennon’s job while he’s still in it, but the fact is that Celtic haven’t been good enough. It’s natural to assess the options.

My colleague David Walton emphasised the Bilic’s name will divide opinion. That’s absolutely true; his spells with Lokomotiv Moscow, Besiktas and Al-Ittihad weren’t great shakes.

Admittedly, looking at Bilic is a risk for the Celtic board. His record is spotty but his attitude is excellent. As a man-manager and public representative of the club, we would struggle to find better. His Croatia team played excellent football and made tournaments. He is an established Premier League manager.

His teams are well-prepared and well-drilled. To this point, he’s never managed somewhere that expects dominance, constant wins and European progress.

It’d be a gamble, sure. But you can’t say it wouldn’t be good fun.

In other news; this Sunday’s Cup Final matters. Find out why.