The Structure | Should Celtic Change?

It’s becoming increasingly common to discuss the structure of a football club, now more than ever before. This is especially true when it comes to the current debate around what should happen at Celtic Football Club after the sudden departure of Brendan Rodgers. At the same time as the intense speculation around who will be the next permanent manager, there are many voices arguing for a more fundamental change at the club: adopting a new model, a new structure, a new way of managing the first team.

Historically, and especially in British football, power has been given to one man: the manager. This has led to the induction of some real legends to our game such as Sir Alex Ferguson, widely regarded as potentially the greatest manager of all time, or even someone a little closer to home, Jock Stein. A man who dragged a group of local boys from the streets of Glasgow to the heights of European success. Stein was a prime example of a manager who knew how to both coach and man-manage. Does it just take a phenomenal leader to achieve all this or is the structure itself outdated? With football developing into a global game and big clubs into global business organisations, are managers in this setup now doomed to fail?

Sporting Director

A lot of people like to throw around the term ‘Sporting Director’ when it comes to this debate. It’s new and trendy and therefore, of course, draws a divided opinion. While some see it as an innovative way of supporting a club’s vision, others see it as cutting the manager’s legs from underneath him. The problem is that many struggle to define a sporting director, and I don’t just mean fans.

Liverpool is an example of a club who utilise the position well. The role of their sporting director, Michael Edwards, is to support Jurgen Klopp with identifying new talents, giving the German manager more room to work with his current squad. Edwards is reported to have played a significant role in the scouting and transfer of Mohammed Salah, and several other of Liverpool’s recent successful signing. While the club have spent big money, they have also used it very wisely, branding the current Liverpool structure a fundamental success story. However, many clubs have a ‘Head of Recruitment’ so is Edwards a Sporting Director in the way we would usually perceive it?

This modern setup is commonplace in German clubs. In the Bundesliga, it is common practice that a Sporting Director takes charge of all footballing matters while a Head Coach is left to work with the squad. The Sporting Director outranks the head coach and works as a link between the coaching staff and the board. So should a Sporting Director at Celtic actually be on the board as a ‘representative of football matter’, so to speak, or is the boardroom simply not their place?

Michael Edwards, Liverpool’s sporting director.

Long-term Vision

A key aspect of using this structure is that long term vision is prioritised over short term goals. The setup could make a Head Coach almost interchangeable as the role becomes just another job with a set of criteria to fulfil. A way of viewing this is that everything suddenly becomes almost quantifiable. A system takes charge. On the other hand this means that a manager like Ferguson or Stein can’t take control of a club and wrestle them to success.

This isn’t to say that a single manager in charge of everything can’t have vision. Arsene Wenger was at the helm for Arsenal for over two decades. He perhaps epitomised the vision and achievements a man in his position could have. As well as bringing the London club an invincible season and countless Champions League qualifications, he made the enterprise a lot – a lot – of money. So, if this is within reach why resort to an entire structure change?

While his departure was very acrimonious, Brendan Rodgers demanded full control at Celtic and has been credited with modernising the structure around the first team in many ways – bringing the club great success with it, especially domestically. Is it just the case of finding the right person to fill the manager position?

The issue is that modern managers can be sacked almost as quickly as they take the job. This ruthless style of recruitment doesn’t leave time for someone to come in and leave his stamp on the team. In an ideal situation, managers like to lead and sign players who subscribe to their footballing philosophy, educate and retrain them into slightly different positions to accommodate their preferred style.

Crystal Palace sacked Frank De Boer, a manager who wanted to implement a more passing-based and attacking style of football, after only 4 games and then replaced him with Roy Hodgson, a lot more pragmatic and defensive coach. With a Sporting Director guiding the club and ensuring consistency in the playing style of the club, changing Head Coaches on frequent basis might mean less fundamental changes and disruption then when powerful managers are traded in and out.

Moving forward

It’s critical to understand the implications such a structure change could have on Celtic as a club. Many potential managers could be put off by it: having to answer to a Sporting Director would add a whole new dimension of stress to the role and could also possibly lead to them being used as a scapegoat and getting fired for things beyond their control. Plus, it’s hard to imagine some of the top managers in the world, with the egos that can come with it, to voluntarily give up any amount of power.

That being said, if, like the current loan system, Celtic fans are mostly willing to accept bigger and better talents on the condition that they won’t be with the club for many seasons, then such a structure could bring a new dimension to Celtic. With players such as Virgil van Dijk and Moussa Dembele using the club as a stepping stone into the elite leagues in Europe, the same could be the case for young and hugely talented head coaches. They could bring new, innovative ideas around tactics and man management to the club, before they – if successful – move to a bigger league.

In this case, it makes perfect sense to introduce a Sporting Director to oversee the club and provide a clear, long-term direction while head coaches come and go more frequently.  Celtic’s Europa League competitors have shown where the club could be even on its current budget. 10 in a row is the priority at this moment but where do the club go from there? It’s time to take the next step up into Europe and this ‘European’ model might just be the last piece of the puzzle to get Celtic there.

Despite growing up, and now studying, in England, Celtic have always been a huge part of my life. I first watched the team with my dad; I fell in love and then there was no turning back. Torn between a statistically enhanced footballing style and a good, old-fashioned get-it-in-the-mixer-and-score style.

'The Structure | Should Celtic Change?' have 2 comments

  1. March 25, 2019 @ 6:44 am Stuart Robertson

    This approach of Sporting Director is one I feel that Celtic should not only go down but must go down if we are to thrive in the modern football wold . As Rodgers has proved with his midnight flit, Managers will now treat us like players ( not all obviously but a significant number ) as a steppingstone to the so called big leagues. With the correct system in place then the almost bi annual departure of management can be handled in a way that causes minimum upset to the structure of the club. As the game moves into its latest era the figure of the Manager who is all encompassing like Stein or Ferguson is become a thing of the past. If we want to compete in Europe again and not just fill the role of Champions League group stage canon fodder then I wholeheartedly welcome the idea of moving to this system of management.


  2. March 25, 2019 @ 11:12 am John Smith

    If something is not broken then why try and fix it, I disagree with sporting directors if other clubs want them then fine, Do they really work no/yes/maybe, Extra expense but at what price, Look at it this way we have a club chairman some like the guy and some dislike the guy, My personal opinion he has done a remarkable job by keeping our club financially sound, There has been some outstanding managers in the past and there are still some good managers (Quote-Unquote) in football today and yes their clubs not all have a sporting director, When things work out then everything is fine, Then all of a sudden things take a turn for the worse, Then it’s a blame game Oh it was the players, Oh it was the team coaching staff, Oh it was the manager, Oh It was the sporting director, Oh It was the the chairman, Oh it was the board and so on and so on, I think that Peter Lawwell and Dermot Desmond have got together regarding appointing a sports director, I don’t really know I think that I smell shite, As I have already said financially our club is on a sound footing, So why go and throw thousands of pounds a month to someone and something that may end up back-firing on us, As I say good luck to any other top club that have already got this on board and is working for them, Our club unfortunately do not have millions of pounds thrown our way from television rights etc etc. So would I even like to try it “Absolutely Not” Should we just go ahead with the idea “Absolutely Not” Do I think it’s a starter “Absolutely Not” Should the supporters have a say “Absolutely Yes” (OR) Do I think that this has already been thought about and spoken about, “Absolutely Definitely” Shall the supporters who support the club year after year and spend their hard earned cash on season tickets, travelling near and far booking flights, accommodation for themselves extra expense on food and beverages not forgetting those fans who bring their loving family with them week in week out, Also buying items from the Celtic Shop for their family (ie) New Tops, Scarf’s, New Track-Suits etc etc, Do we get a say, Yes/No/Maybe, If not “Why Not” We are the life blood of our club and everything Celtic. “IF” We the supporters do not have a say on what goes on within our own club, A club that we have supported through good times and not so good times, I personally think that shall be ignorant, arrogant, despicable, shocking not even to ask supporters their views and opinions of a sporting director at Paradise, Some of our supporters may be fine with the idea and that is their right and some supporters may disagree with the idea, Also this is their right, My personal opinion has to be “NO”, But this is only my opinion and yes everyone of us has the right to his or her own opinion, “Only Time Shall Tell” !!!


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