It’s sad that for modern managerial failures at Celtic, Tony Mowbray is the blueprint.
Or should that be greenprint? Either way, it was a shame. The man that delighted West Bromwich Albion supporters with his attacking football and had brought the Huddle to Celtic folklore [Celtic Wiki] seemed a good fit in the post-Strachan era.
After all, he had the Premier League experience, and had been a player for us. He ticked two significant boxes. Also, he knew the league extremely well, having led a revolution at Hibs earlier in the decade [Scotsman].
So, when he arrived 12 years ago this week [Daily Record], it seemed for all the world like a reasonable appointment to have made.
Yet, Mowbray made some crucial mistakes very early on. He wanted to start a bold new era for the Bhoys, shedding some big names from the wage bill and imprinting his distinct style. Gone were the likes of Bobo Balde and Scott McDonald. Instead, Scott Brown would become the captain, and some more exotic names including Thomas Rogne and Landry N’Guemo arrived.
Here’s what Mowbray got wrong, and what the new manager needs to get right immediately at Celtic.
Don’t immediately alienate big names at Celtic
There was a certain bravery and boldness to what Tony Mowbray was trying to do, admittedly. By the time Gordon Strachan left [BBC], the pragmatism and style of football under the future Scotland boss was well past being popular. It wasn’t successful either, in the last season of Strachan’s stewardship.
So, with that in mind, Mowbray fearlessly shed the first-team of some of its leaders. However, that ended up being a mistake, regardless of Scott Brown’s promotion to the captaincy.
Stephen McManus, who had been the Bhoys captain hitherto Mowbray’s arrival, was loaned out to Middlesbrough. Scott McDonald was sold to the same club, while other big names including Barry Robson, Shunsuke Nakamura, Gary Caldwell and Darren O’Dea were shipped out, too.
That’s a lot of dressing room presence to jettison immediately. Of course, the next Celtic boss will have plenty of squad building to do, and Broony has since moved on to Aberdeen. However, there are dressing room leaders in there who are too important to get rid of. Nobody’s bigger than the club, of course, but the likes of Callum McGregor just have to stay at Celtic to provide continuity.
While there are plenty of supporters who’d happily see another extreme overhaul, there’s recent historical precedent to suggest that it’s maybe not the wisest idea. Mowbray learned that the hard way.
Too much, too fast
Another Mowbray mistake was in how these players were replaced. While some departures were inevitable, due to contract situations and unhappiness at the club, the players who came in were, by and large, not Celtic standard. While some clever scouting utilised European markets to good effect, notably Scandinavia, some promising names were brought in but couldn’t fulfil their potential at Celtic Park.
Marc-Antoine Fortuné, Zheng Zhi, Morten Rasmussen and Diomansy Kamara all came in to little effect. Jos Hooiveld had the odd decent game, but was largely unimpressive. Thomas Rogne and Ki Seung-Yeung fared better, of course, while Danny Fox was sold after just six months, despite becoming a regular.
The mix of ages, the lack of experience with Scottish football and the sheer volume of the turnover meant it was hard to establish a rhythm. Yes, Celtic will need to bring in plenty of new faces this summer, but if 2009 is anything to go by, it needs to be done cohesively.
This was a mish-mash of players, and by the time Robbie Keane arrived in January on loan, it was too little, too late. Recruitment will be a huge focus, but we can’t be signing players for the sake of it.
The jarring change of Celtic style
This is maybe the most concerning issue. Ange Postecoglou, the favourite to land the Celtic job, will be a radical departure from Lennybol. Lennon’s tactics were more the absence of a strategy, in truth.
That worked initially. Perhaps over-coached by Brendan Rodgers in the latter part of his spell at Celtic, the Bhoys played with utter freedom in 19-20. It was mildly successful, with Lennon’s seat-of-the-pants line-ups and loose instructions allowing the Bhoys to express themselves. With a talented squad, that can work for a while.
However, as we all know, by the end of Lennon’s second spell at Celtic, the team were all over the place. There was a total lack of responsibility, especially in defensive scenarios. Up front, meanwhile, Edouard was trying his best, but moves often ended up with midfielders taking pot-shots from distance.
A little like the end of Strachan’s reign, it was not good to watch. So, Mowbray attempted the style we take for granted now, but was unusual at the time. A gung-ho approach to defending, using a high line and width, was successful at Hibs, but it was a different story at Celtic.
Tony Mowbray deserves plaudits for at least trying to get us playing good stuff again. And it wasn’t like we were losing every match. But Postecoglou may want to heed that warning. This is a team that may take a little while to adapt to his style of play. Dramatic, sweeping changes from day one might not be the best course of action.