In 1997, Celtic made a shock appointment as Rangers looked to romp to 10-in-a-row. Former Dutch international Wim Jansen was brought in, a man whose only connection to Celtic at that point had been beating the Hoops in the 1970 European Cup Final.
His last full-time job had been at Sanfrece Hiroshima, following spells in the Saudi Arabia set up, and two KNVB Cups with Feyenoord, where he spent 3 years coaching at the club that had made him as a player.
It wasn’t the fashionable appointment, nor was it a “Celtic-minded” one; Jansen replaced the inimitable Tommy Burns, who had come so close to securing a title to break the Rangers hegemony but just couldn’t get there.
Needless to say, if you know your history, it worked a treat. To this day, 10-in-a-row has never been achieved in the top flight of Scottish football.
Jansen pulled off some incredible business in his brief time at Celtic, with Paul Lambert, Johnathan Gould, Marc Rieper, Harald Brattbakk, Stephan Mahé, Craig Burley and – of course – Henrik Larsson donning the Hoops for the 97-98 season.
While his time at Celtic was short, he brought in players that changed the course of the club’s history and signed unheralded names from outside of Scotland who more than made their mark in the Green and White, at a critical time. It’s a tempting thought experiment to consider what 3 or 4 years of Wim Jansen’s Celtic would’ve looked like.
‘The Goldfish Bowl’
If, indeed, Neil Lennon loses the top job at Celtic Park any time soon, a similar story arc develops. Of course, football has moved on an incredible amount since the 1997-98 campaign, but another 10-in-a-row hunt is in the balance, and the ‘Goldfish Bowl’ of Glasgow, compounded by the impact social media has on the game and its figures.
Lennon did a brilliant job taking over from Brendan Rodgers, a man who talked like a ‘Celtic man’ but was proven to be anything but. Securing the 8th and 9th titles was an enormous success, as well as keeping our domestic clean sweep of cup competitions going, cannot be considered as anything but a fantastic achievement, even if we were “expected” to win those trophies.
There’s no doubt Lenny is and will remain a Celtic legend. But it might suit us to bring in someone who has separation from Celtic, from Glasgow and Scottish football in general.
Whenever the job at Celtic comes up, former players and coaches tend to be linked. That’s natural, and I certainly don’t blame anyone in the press or support for following that train of thought. I’ve often daydreamed about Henrik Larsson and Shaun Maloney leading Celtic to silverware. I’m only human, after all.
But just as Wim Jansen arrived with no baggage and did a fine job, there’s potentially a vacancy which would raise the stock of a considerable number of coaches. Coming in and salvaging the 10 would make any coach an eternal ‘Celtic man’ after the fact, but it’s proven that when the pressure is on, having someone who’s already a part of the furniture isn’t guaranteed success.
If anything, it can be a hindrance.
That’s why the speculation and comment (from myself included) is more than a little heartbreaking. In an ideal world, Neil Lennon would be able to galvanise this team and a textbook ‘Celtic man’ would be the person to lift our 10th successive title. I doubt there’s anyone in the Celtic support who wants anything but the best for Neil Lennon, the man, and his links to the club and obvious passion for the job makes all this much harder to accept.
If we win our 2 games in hand, it’s only a 5 point gap, for goodness’ sake. A loss and a draw for Rangers and two wins for us.
However, a cold and calculated move from the board will get fans back onside immediately. Fergus McCann and Jock Brown made a tough decision in 1997 and it paid off, regardless of that story’s ugly ending with disagreement and disappointment abound.
Interestingly, two future Celtic managers, Leicester City’s Martin O’Neill and Coventry City’s Gordon Strachan, were linked to the Celtic job when it became available in 1998.
Sometimes, to move forward, you have to remove emotion from the conversation. Placating the supporters with a ‘Celtic man’ may have worked to some degree in the past. Still, if we’re going to have a ‘Celtic man’ in the post, it probably needs to be one who takes responsibility for defeats, shows long-term ambition and is willing to incorporate modern nutrition and scouting ideas, keeping the standards of a huge club high.