The debate over who will – and should – be the next Celtic manager has been raging ever since Brendan Rodgers snuck out the backdoor in order to pursue his ambition to achieve 7th place in the Premier League.
It’s been an emotional debate, centred mostly on a complex and emotional man: Neil Lennon. Whatever your opinion on him again becoming a permanent feature in the Celtic dug-out, that debate, as important as it is for the future of the club, is in danger of becoming a red herring, overshadowing something which is arguable even more critical.
Rodgers’ sudden departure was in one way a godsend for the Celtic board and Peter Lawwell. With what has become known after he left, it seems likely Rodgers would have been gone in the summer regardless. In that scenario, the reactions among Celtic fans would have been very different.
The anger now justifiably levelled against the former manager would instead have been directed at the upper management of the club, rather than the man who – quite possibly – had just delivered an incredible Treble Treble, two Champions League qualifications and two advancements to the last 32 of the Europa League. Questions around financial backing and the way the club is run would have been more intense than in a long while.
Those questions still need to be asked, regardless of how Rodgers left the club and no matter who the board now appoints to lead the first team on a permanent basis. In an article last year, Graeme McKay argued that Brendan Rodgers’ eventual replacement should not simply be another manager, but a change in the structure at the club. This is the debate that needs to be had, and it should happen now.
Brendan Rodgers’ work in modernising operations at Celtic should not be underestimated, with seemingly a whole new level of detail and professionalism injected into the support facilities around the first team. Rodgers is known to demand full control within a club – it was a prerequisite for him at Liverpool (where relationships with the infamous ‘transfer committee’ became very strained) – and he was seemingly given almost carte blanche at Celtic (at least for his first two years there).
Having Rodgers as a benevolent dictator of football operations at Celtic was successful up to a point. But it also had its limitations, especially around player recruitment and scouting. And tying such big transformational tasks to a manager will always come with some huge – and obvious – risks: the manager position is the most volatile at any club, creating both a danger that he’ll leave suddenly (which definitely happened with Rodgers) and that his decision-making is driven by short-term thinking and gain (which seems a likely influence on Rodgers this season).
Peter Lawwell has been the Chief Executive of Celtic for over 15 years and there can be no doubting his ability to successful lead the business side of the club. His handling of Celtic’s financials has been very prudent and sensible. The club’s outgoings are at a responsible level, especially when so much of the income is tied up to a few crucial and unpredictable games right at the start of the season.
The main criticism of Lawwell should not be centred on how much Celtic spend, but how they spend it. As highlighted by football finance blogger Swiss Ramble, Celtic’s income and wage spend places them pretty much in the middle of the clubs who made the last 32 of the Europa League this season. There are some very good teams in some of the best European leagues (outside England) that don’t earn as much as Celtic do every year – or spend as much on wages as what Peter Lawwell has authorised. And while Celtic is hampered by being in a league not as attractive to players as most of their Europa League rivals, it raises the very valid question of why Celtic is not getting more out of the amount of money they spend?
For me, the obvious gap is in the structure of the football club. Celtic Football Club lack a person whose responsibility is the long-term planning and improvement of every single facet of their football operations.
A person responsible for making sure the club follow a set wage structure and recruitment policy, that the club has the best possible scouting network, supported by the top level analysts and modern tools such as advanced statistical data.
A person responsible for making sure a certain playing style and principles are embedded throughout the club, so that it both more easily facilitates the progression of youth players into the first team and make replacing key players a lot smoother process: the type of player that can more quickly fit into this set way of playing has already been identified.
A person with the network and guile to close football deals quickly and well.
Call it what you want; sporting director, director of football, technical director. Celtic lack the person that can drive long-term improvement and implement key changes throughout the club, that can ensure the club is in a position to gain every single small advantage available, making it operate in the smartest and most efficient way possible.
A person responsible for Celtic Football Club spending every single pound in the best possible way.
Such responsibility should not sit with any manager. It’s simply too much and too risky, as seen with Brendan Rodgers. It cannot sit with Peter Lawwell. For all his qualities as a business leader, he has not shown that he has the required football knowledge and skills to implement such successful changes.
And it’s not enough to simply hire a person and give them a title. Celtic Football Club need to change. They should give less power to the manager and less power to the chief executive. And the Celtic manager and the club’s chief executive both need to not only accept that, but embrace it.
Whether it is Neil Lennon or any other coach that take charge of the Celtic first team on a permanent basis, they should be exactly that: the Head Coach. And Peter Lawwell should truly be what he is now and nothing else: the Chief Executive. How Celtic replace Brendan Rodgers should be less about a new face in the dug-out and more about a new position and a new way of running the club.