How can John Kennedy bring back hope to Celtic supporters? “Resign!”, I hear you type.
Aye, well; it wouldn’t be entirely unfair. Since Neil Lennon left, we have only seen flashes of quality from the Bhoys under John Kennedy. For all of his much-valued attributes as a coach, the caretaker role couldn’t have come at a worse time for the former centre-back.
With Celtic in utter free-fall, it was a case of putting a sticking plaster on an open wound for Kennedy. While he’s certainly had chances to freshen up the squad – chances he hasn’t taken – you can’t pin too much on him at this stage. By the time he took over, the league was gone for all intents and purposes.
Still, though, we had a chance at a Scottish Cup, and yet another meek Glasgow Derby performance can be put on his shoulders to some extent. Neil Lennon never suffered an on-pitch indignity like Sunday, either. This isn’t revisionism, and it was still the right choice for Lenny to depart, but John Kennedy’s stock has fallen as the hypothetical turned into reality.
So you might think there’s absolutely nothing Kennedy can do to inspire even a grain of hope going into 21-22. Or, that the best thing he could do after Sunday would be to step aside and let someone like Stephen McManus or Darren O’Dea take the last two matches.
But there are bits and pieces Kennedy can use to make sure his interim spell wasn’t an complete write off. Let’s explore them.
Give confidence back to a Celtic outcast
Vasilis Barkas has been filling opinion pages all season, and quite rightly too. Celtic just don’t spend £4.5m [BBC] on a player and give up on them shortly afterwards. It just doesn’t happen.
But Scott Bain proved once again that he just isn’t the goalkeeper we need long-term. Essentially, we have three keepers who would be third or even fourth-choice in a normal season. Primarily, because our big investment just hasn’t been anywhere near the pitch for months.
We have nothing to lose at this point. Our collective pride is on the floor. It does nothing to keep trusting in Bain, but we could get some kernel of optimism from a two-game Barkas run. If he can, after all these months, make some saves in a Celtic jersey then it’d create at least a modicum of goodwill.
It’s a zero sum game for Kennedy anyway.
Use some exciting players
With Callum McGregor presumably set to spend some time out, and Scott Brown showing he’s ready to move on, there’s no point trying to collect any more blood from particular stones in the Celtic team. Again, with the motto of “well, why not at this point”, Kennedy is as well to let some youngsters get on the pitch.
Exciting ones, too. We’re talking Karamoko Dembele, Armstrong Okoflex, Dane Murray, Adam Montgomery. Just play them. Why not? James Forrest obviously still isn’t 100%, and Mohamed Elyounoussi was barely a factor at the weekend, and will shortly leave the club.
Greg Taylor has been fine, but he’ll be sticking around next season anyway. Montgomery might be a real talent, and we just don’t know it yet. Dane Murray has made first-team squads, we’re as well giving him a go. These are the exact times when we’d expect youngsters to make an impact for the first time; the pressure is non-existent and these games mean nothing in material terms.
If we can head into summer knowing we’ve got some talented players looking to step up, then all the better.
Keep being honest with the Celtic supporters
To Kennedy’s credit, he’s not going to blow smoke up the Celtic support. He’s frank when things aren’t good enough, and he’s a massive Celtic supporter himself. He’ll be hurting as much as anyone from this season.
While, sure, there are so many that don’t rate Kennedy (long-term or recently), he’s at least been pretty straight-forward. That’s a good thing. He shot down rumours of a Sporting Director role, and when there’s so much uncertainty around the club, that kind of thing is refreshing and genuinely useful.
So, that kind of attitude will serve Kennedy well for his final games as Celtic caretaker. What his future holds is anyone’s guess, at this stage. For now, though, he’s keeping things simple with the press, and being clear with supporters. For all his faults during his time as the interim boss, that’s something he can take credit for.