Et tu, Brendan?
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. After seven titles and two-and-a-half seasons, Brendan Rodgers is – very likely – leaving Celtic. The day has come far sooner than we all thought. The most domestically successful manager of Celtic’s modern era – chasing a historic Treble Treble – is leaving to take charge at Premier League side Leicester City, fulfilling his lifelong ambition of bumbling along at a club who have nothing to play for.
I actually think Leicester is a good move for Rodgers and I don’t think most Celtic fans would begrudge him leaving at the end of the season to take charge at the King Power Stadium. Leicester have strong finances and a decent squad that should be aiming to compete for a European place. Rather, it is the manner in which he is leaving the club that leaves a possibly irremovable sour taste in the mouths of Celtic fans.
The signs have been here for a while: the clear distance between the board and the manager with regards to transfer policy; the short-term loan signings in January; even Rodgers’ vague language with regards to the future. However, the fans expected him to stay for 10-in-a-row – as the song goes. His contract until 2021 seemed a clear indication of this; his ten-finger signs to the crowd also a not-so-subtle sign of intent. He was destined to complete the Ten before walking off into the sunset. Now that potential legacy lies in tatters.
When Brendan Rodgers arrived, he brought with him a sense of optimism reminiscent of the Martin O’Neill appointment. He was a saviour – so much so that the fans literally adapted Church hymn for the purposes of a song about him. Brendan, in the words of Obi Wan Kenobi, “you were supposed to be the chosen one.” You were supposed to bring sustainable success to Celtic, not leave them in darkness.
His legacy could potentially be undermined if Celtic fail to achieve a Treble Treble or – worse – fail to win the title this season. Celtic fans like to think of the club as a big deal, right? At this stage in the season, leaving the club to take over aimless Leicester is a huge slap in the face for supporters. For a man who claimed he was a Celtic fan, it makes any and all previous statements seem erroneous.
Now, Celtic find themselves plunged into turmoil. Having built the club around Brendan Rodgers’ wills and wishes, they are now without the very centre of that vision – Rodgers himself. The additional blow of losing key aspects of the backroom staff does not help the situation either. Once again, Celtic find themselves at an existential point in their existence.
The lesson must be learned from this – do not build your club around one person. When that person decides that they want to go elsewhere, the house of cards crumbles in a heap. We have seen it at Manchester United since Alex Ferguson left. As my fellow Cynic Graeme McKay suggested last summer, Celtic need a different structure in order to have a sustainable long-term model.
Following on from this, the club hierarchy have their own part to play. This can be illustrated by the very public failure to sign John McGinn and Cristiano Piccini in the summer. It was clear from his attitude and comments that Rodgers was unhappy with transfer policy. In the dog-eat-dog world of modern football, you need to be able to please a talented manager or he will walk away. The club claim that they “very reluctantly” allowed Brendan Rodgers to speak to Leicester City. Perhaps if they were not so reluctant in the summer transfer window, they would not be in this situation.
So, what now? In the meantime, it looks as though Neil Lennon will be appointed as interim manager for the second time.
As well as very questionable elements surrounding Neil Lennon’s behaviour, I cannot imagine this is a good situation for him to be thrown into.
On the pitch, Neil Lennon is a very different coach from Brendan Rodgers. His methodology – from the outside – appears to be centred around old-school threat, fear and tirades. Rodgers appeared a calmer character, with a more thoughtful, technical approach. While Lennon did pick up some good European results and domestic success, there were some spectacular failures during his tenure and it left the overall impression of a wasted opportunity to develop a long-term strategy.
While Celtic played some attractive football in Lennon’s first season, there were also some very turgid periods. And for every Barcelona there was a Braga; for every Shakhtar Karagandy there was a Greenock Morton. His time at Bolton was a complete write-off for reasons beyond Lennon, and his time at Hibernian was mostly very good – albeit with a rather rapid decline.
While Lennon should be appreciated for what he has done at Celtic over the years, he is not the answer. If he is the answer, then Celtic don’t understand the question. Or they’re playing a cruel football version of Cards Against Humanity with the fans. If he is the interim boss, that isn’t quite so bad, although I will attempt to offer better solutions. It does, however, stink of cronyism and a lack of imagination. Lennon is the obvious, unimaginative choice that has good pals at the club and in the media. It must also be restated that allegations surrounding Neil Lennon’s personal life also deem him a very problematic candidate for the Celtic job.
So what about it, then? The way I see it, there are three types of appointment that Celtic can make.
The first and most soul-crushing kind is the ‘safe pair of hands’ appointment. Lennon himself is the embodiment of this – “he knows the league”; “he’s been around”; “he’s got the fight”. Other candidates of this ilk would be the likes of Davie Moyes and Steve Clarke. While Clarke is a very good manager and would be (by far) the best of the three, I am not sure he represents where Celtic want to be at this stage. He also lacks experience managing clubs that aren’t mid-table fodder. Typically, this kind of appointment is absolutely not a safe pair of hands, and given the more modern approach instigated by Ronny Deila and more successfully enacted by Rodgers, this would be a regressive approach.
The second approach is to continue the trend of young, progressive, modern coaching while – crucially – restructuring the club hierarchy, and for this role, an externally appointed head coach like David Wagner or Graham Potter would seem realistic, capable options. More outlandish versions of this kind of appointment are Red Bull Salzburg’s Marco Rose, Manchester City assistant coach Mikel Arteta and Jurgen Klopp’s former assistant Zeljko Buvac.
The third and final approach would almost be a synthesis of the two. By all accounts, John Kennedy is a very good young coach – one who has worked under several managers at Celtic, who knows the club, and who would bring a sense of stability and continuity to a tumultuous situation. Even only until the end of the season, he would be the best choice.
Today is a strange day. Scottish football is reeling at the loss of its most prominent figure, turning an intriguing season into a potentially historic one. If there is one thing that Celtic can learn from Rodgers, it is to employ his typically calm demeanour in dealing with the fallout of this monumental disruption.