Celtic What If… | Lennon or Deila, No Caley Disaster & An Offer From England

In a new feature, Cynic writers are asked what they would do in some – often far fetched – hypothetical Celtic scenarios, set both in the present and the past. This time it is Ronan Kearney, Stephen Russell, Alex Papadopoulos and Keith McGinty imagining the happenings in a parallel Celtic world.

What if…the only choices for the next permanent Celtic manager over the two coming seasons were Neil Lennon and Ronny Deila. Who do you choose?

Kearney: Lennon. This is a toughie but I am going with Lennon as he is a proper Celtic man…No, I think Lennon would be a better option as I think he may be better equipped to handle the pressure that would invariably ramp up as we approach 10 in a row. I imagine the closer we get, the more desperate our rivals will become and given both men’s pasts, I feel that Lennon may be better placed to handle it.

Russell. Deila. While my heart says Lennon, my head says Deila. I think it’s important to remove emotion from a decision such as this, especially considering the two seasons we have ahead of us. Assuming we make it to 9 in a row, the last season will potentially be the most passionate, high tension season in our history. Every single kick of the ball will be fraught with aggression and I do not think Neil Lennon has the composure we need to get us over the line. While I don’t trust that Deila would necessarily do us the same job in Europe, the next 2 seasons are about the 10.

Papadopoulos: Deila.While I have a lot of respect for NL when it comes to the past, I think it can be seen from his work at Hibs this season and our past two abject performances, that his style of blood- and – thunder management is outdated. On this basis it must be Ronny for me, despite some of the turgid football that was turned out by his Celtic side.  When Brendan left, I thought I could never trust anyone again, but maybe with Ronny I could learn to love once more.

McGinty: Lennon. We all love Ronny, of course we do. He laid the foundations for Rodgers to modernise Celtic as a club, made KT a first-team player and who could forget that glorious first half against Dundee United? Deila was good but he’s had his time. So too has Lennon but through a weird twist of fate he’s here. Changing Lennon for Deila would not be a popular choice amongst many fans or the media and the last thing we need is a feeling of negativity going into the Champions League qualifiers. The players are getting used to Lennon’s methods and his knowledge of Scottish football will be useful as we push for 10 in a row.

What if…Henrik Larsson doesn’t get injured in October and Celtic beat Caley Thistle convincingly in the Cup in February. For how long is John Barnes the Celtic manager and who eventually replaces him?

Kearney: 2002 & Marcelo Bielsa. Barnes loses the league by a few points but wins the Scottish Cup to go along with the League Cup. Buoyed by this, the board give him money to spend instead of appointing O’Neill but it backfires in spectacular second season syndrome fashion and he is replaced by Marcelo Bielsa who walks out on Argentina months before the 2002 World Cup. Bielsa lasts a few months before moving to take over West Brom and Celtic hire Mick McCarthy after his exploits for Ireland in the World Cup. Henrik Larsson signs for Man United and Ian Wright becomes the oldest player to play for Celtic at the age of 43 but has to leave at half time to do a punditry gig on Match of the Day.

Russell: April 2000 & Martin O’Neill. In all honesty, I don’t think this would change history too much. While we were absolutely rotten in the Caley Thistle game, I don’t think that’s the sole reason Barnes was sacked – it was more the straw that broke the camel’s. Of course missing Larsson was a huge blow but honestly, I don’t think Barnes was ever up to the job. Maybe he stays a couple of months longer if we beat Caley and Larsson isn’t injured but he was never going to be able to be carried until the end of the season. I’m not sure if it’s just my lack of willingness to remove O’Neill from our history but for me Barnes was always getting sacked and Dalglish was never getting the job. But maybe we get rid of that nightmare headline, I’d be happy with that.

Papadopoulos: May 2000 & Kenny Dalglish. Even with a thumping win over Caley, I can’t see that Barnes would have lasted until the following season.  Even with Barnes gone the damage was done with a 21-point gap at the end of the season to Rangers. Does this all change with Stubbs, Larsson and Lambert all available? Maybe, maybe not. Potentially Kenny Dalglish as permanent manager after that.

McGinty: May 2000 & Guus Hiddink. Despite Barnes’ 4-2-2-2 clicking in early February we go out to Aberdeen in the fourth round of the Scottish Cup. Rangers still win the League and Barnes leaves the club by mutual consent a few days after the last game of the season. The low that every Celtic fan feels is reminiscent of when Wim Jansen left. That is until former Real Madrid manager, Guus Hiddink, is filmed arriving at Glasgow Airport. Hiddink goes on to have a highly successful 7 months in charge before falling out with Dermot Desmond, the board and the players in the lead up to his dismissal. Rangers go on to dominate Scottish Football forever more. The scariest Twilight Zone ever!

What if…before the Glasgow Derby, Scott Bain falls ill during the warm-up and Dorus de Vries injures himself after three minutes trying to do a Cruyff turn. Which player do you choose to go in goals for the rest of the game?

Kearney: French Eddy. Simple really. When he scores and he throws them beautiful arms out I always thought it was as if he was saying “give me your love and affection” but in reality he is saying “look at the length of these things, stick me in goal there gaffer”. He would prove to be as equally adept at saving goals versus Rangers as he is at scoring them. Let’s be serious though, it’s Morelos he is up against. That lad can’t buy a goal against Celtic.

Russell: Kristoffer Ajer. Is drugging Bain up and playing him anyway an option? If not, I’m going to say Ajer. With his height, he should have a fairly decent reach in the goal. He’s fairly quick to react to the ball outfield so hopefully he can do an okay job but most importantly he’s got that little bit of crazy passion in him that goalkeepers need. With Benkovic and Boyata we’re still be able to field a back line.

Papadopoulos: Filip Benkovic. Any chance we can pap Stevie Woods in? If not, got to be either Big Benko or Kris Ajer, think they have the right attributes. Both tall enough, both a bit mad enough plus if Benkovic’s dancing is anything to go by we would be sorted. I can imagine Ajer still trying to move up the pitch with the ball or two-footing Candeias inside the box.

McGinty: Nir Bitton. Who else would you want in a combat situation? None other than the only member of the squad with actual military training. It was a tough choice. One based on a steely calmness under pressure with the ball at their feet and superior reach due to their height advantage. Ultimately it was a straight choice between Bitton and Benkovic. While I think the man mountain that is Large Filip would make an excellent emergency keeper, I want that little bit of crazy out there in Sunday’s Derby.

What if…a new state-sponsored Scandinavian Tourism Company agrees a deal with Celtic: they’ll cover the cost of transfer and four year of wages – no matter the price – for one player. The only condition: he has to be from Scandinavia. Considering and balancing current team needs, playing style, re-sell value and need to create publicity, which player do you buy?

Kearney: Andreas Christensen. Centre half? Check. Young? Check. Scandinavian? Full house. Celtic need a new clutch of centre halves and Christensen would tick all the boxes. He has Champions League and Bundesliga experience with Mönchengladbach and has over 20 international caps by the age of 22.

Russell: Christian Eriksen. The obvious option is Eriksen. Although we already have a wealth of midfielders, Christian Eriksen is definitely a level above what we have and could potentially lift us up in Europe. With him being 27, 4 years would take him to 31 which would still command a fair resell value. Signing a player from a competitive Premier League side would gather a lot of big headlines and seeing him come to us from there would help in selling us as a viable option for European talent.

Papadopoulos: Alexander Isak. It should really be either a centre-back or a fullback in terms of squad needs. Omar Elabdellaoui from Olympiacos is a nice option, as he can also play further up the pitch and add some balance to Celtic going forward. But in the interest of sell-on value, it might be worth a punt on Alexander Isak at Borussia Dortumund, a great emerging striker who is set for big things.

McGinty: Jonas Svensson. If I was Director of Football the answer to this would be Christian Eriksen, who you sell for a profit after 6 months and a successful Champions League group stage, reinvesting the money in Thomas Delaney, Björn Johnsen and Birger Meling. However, thinking of the areas of the team in dire need of an upgrade, I opt for a right back and choose Norway’s Jonas Svensson. An attacking player who is as comfortable on the right wing as he is as right back.

What if…when Celtic have won 10 in a row it finally happens: an offer from the English FA and the Premier League to join the English league, starting in League Two. The Scottish FA and UEFA have given the green light for the move. If Celtic don’t say yes, the offer will go to another Scottish club. Do you accept?

Kearney: Yes. Celtic are not so much hitting the glass ceiling but repeatedly crashing into it leaving a very messy smear. It can be argued that a better use of wages as well as a new structure incorporating a director of football would propel Celtic further in Europe but the simple facts are that competing with clubs owned by countries and states is now out of the question. I would willingly sacrifice a few years without trophies to navigate our way through the English leagues. Anyway, there’s bound to be the English equivalent of the Petrofac Cup up for grabs if we are craving silverware after 12 months. Win-win.

Russell: Yes.I have no doubts that we would succeed in England. We’d be much less bound by Financial Fair Play than other clubs given that in 2018 our match day revenue made up 43% of our income while the Premier League averaged at this figure being 13% in 2017. Considering that we survive and are more than financially stable without the astronomical TV money in England, we’d essentially have that  whole amount to spend on players. With the size of our fan base we’d grow and thrive in no time in that climate and become a European force again. However, we are a Scottish club and I feel that this move would be another move towards the polished, commercial football world and away from the rough football world we know and love. Overall, with us having won 10 in a row at this point, and with our rejection meaning another club get the offer, I’d be tempted to take it. Not an easy decision.

Papadopoulos: Yes.With a heavy heart, I would accept. While I’m no fan of the sanitised football south of the border, it would be a potential gateway to success at the highest level once more. It would be a slog to work from League 2 to the Premiership, but so is playing against Hamilton Accies and we have to do that 3 times a season. A huge concern for me would be fans being treated as commodities due to the vast amounts of revenue the club would start to receive, but this is balanced out by the buying power when it comes to players. I would also hate for that mob to get the opportunity.

McGinty: No. Celtic is a Scottish club and should always play domestically in Scotland. We should continue to push for reform in Europe that will see us participate more often at that stage. If UEFA are willing to sanction such an important rule change then a European Superleague is not out of the question. England may have the money but Europe is where the real prestige lies.

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