Why Celtic should move quickly to snap up John Hughes for backroom role

By Euan Davidson

May 25, 2021

Former Celtic defender John Hughes left Ross County yesterday [BBC].

It follows the completion a successful mission: keeping the Staggies afloat in the Premiership. When he took over, County were bottom of the league, and it looked perilous for the Highland side. However, the ex-defender Hughes took a club that was leaking goals and made them harder to beat.

Along the way, Hughes picked up some fantastic wins, as his side steered clear of the relegation play-off in the last two rounds of fixtures. He told the BBC:

“I was appointed with the objective of securing Premiership football and I am proud to have achieved this under the circumstances. I wish [chairman] Roy MacGregor and Ross County every success for the future.”

All impressive, no doubt. But questions remain: does the former Bhoys defender have another job lined up? And if not, could he be just the man to introduce Eddie Howe and his team to Scottish Football? Carving the figure of a frustrated football aesthete, Hughes could work with his boyhood heroes, as well as top-quality players who could use his organisational nous.

At the very least, it’s an interesting idea: let’s discuss it.

John Hughes at Celtic / (Photo by Allsport UK)

John Hughes would join Celtic

Despite only spending a single season in the Green and White of Celtic, Hughes left an impression. His headed equaliser against Rangers in 1996 kept Tommy Burns’ Celtic in reach of Rangers. Unfortunately, despite losing just once, Burns’ Bhoys finished 4 points off first-place.

Still, the boyhood Celtic fan would surely love to be in the dugout one day. Taught by a master in Tommy Burns, Hughes’ Hibs side could be genuinely excellent to watch, qualifying for the Europa League in his first season. There’s a feeling about Hughes, that if he had top players and resources to work with, he’d be as good a coach as there is in the top flight.

We’re not suggesting that he be the next Celtic manager. However, as part of a coaching team with the aim of tearing the title back to Paradise, Hughes could excel.

From a defensive perspective, he could surely help: before taking over at Ross County, the Staggies conceded 50 goals in 22 league outings, averaging 2.27 goals per 90. They finished the league, still undermanned at top tier level, conceding 1.5 per 90. That’s quite an act of harm reduction.

In terms of compensation, he’d surely get paid as much, if not more, to be a first-team coach as opposed to a number 1. With long-term managerial ambitions of his own, it might really help Hughes’ CV to have been part of a potentially title-winning side. He’d also get the chance to help develop players like Leo Hjelde, who he took on loan to Dingwall this season.

It makes sense.

John Hughes: too established as a number 1? / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Counter-point: John Hughes would not join as a coach

As much as hiring “Celtic men” is en vogue with this board, Hughes might need some convincing to work in a “lesser” role. A manager since 2003, alongside Owen Coyle at Falkirk, Hughes has enjoyed a decent, if patchy, record as a boss. Having kept Ross County up this season, something that seemed only remotely likely at Christmas, Hughes’ stock is surely high.

It’s not a question of humility, or anything like that. It’s a question of how much Hughes believes himself to be worth, and what he wants to do next. If Eddie Howe approached him to join the coaching staff, in comparison with a Premiership chairman offering full control of a side, would he take it? And honestly, should he?

Yes, his input from a defensive perspective would be handy. For example, Hughes is one of a few coaches to identify Celtic’s key weakness this season. He did that pre-match, and predicted exactly how his Ross County side would be the 9IAR Premiership winners. That speaks to his quality.

Also, being entirely honest, it’ll take a fantastic manager to keep Ross County up again. They may have beaten Celtic on a number of occasions this season, but in general their squad may lack the depth or coaching to established a sustained run in the Scottish top-flight. Hughes has done well, there.

So why would he take any other job than as a number 1?

Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If Howe wants an experience campaigner, who knows all about Celtic and how good some of the Academy talents are, while being able to instantly improve our defending, Hughes would be an outstanding pick-up.

READ MORE: News emerges on another Hughes