As I sipped my morning coffee at my desk earlier today, I read with interest mounting speculation that incoming Celtic Chief Executive Dominic McKay may be looking to assume his new post a few months ahead of schedule. If the newspapers are to be believed, it’s possible he may take up his role with Celtic as soon as this week.
This would unquestionably be good news for supporters, as it would suggest the club do not want to wait until the end of the season to start making the necessary changes. Indeed, this is quite possibly the biggest rebuilding job Celtic have had for more than 20 years. I would say that the only one in recent memory that comes close is the new regime that Martin O’Neill brought with him when he assumed the manager’s role back in the summer of 2000.
Perhaps even more importantly, this renewed drive to get things moving seems to suggest that Celtic may finally move beyond what has, in my opinion, been the biggest recurring problem with how the club has been managed over the past ten years or so. Our biggest problem has been a lack of urgency in tackling issues as soon as they appear. We lost the league this year because we did nothing about a malaise that has been all too apparent to all but the most myopic of fans for at least a couple of years.
However, we need to manage our expectations carefully in the days and weeks ahead.
Whilst a new manager will, hopefully, be announced within the next few days (At the moment it seems it will be Eddie Howe, but then again many of us said the same about Roy Keane last week), don’t expect any serious moves on the transfer front for a while, possibly until after the Euros in June.
I would hope that our new manager, assuming he comes in soon, will spend the remainder of this season assessing what we have and deciding who will stay and who will go. He will also, no doubt, have his own ideas about who he wants to bring in to build his new team.
It’s difficult to say with exact detail, but we could quite easily have a Celtic regular starting eleven next season with 7 or 8 new faces. Such a big turnover of players means that the new additions will need time to bed in.
Back in 2000, within a matter of days of the season beginning, we thrashed Rangers 6-2 and made it clear that there was a new boss in town. While I, of course, hope that can happen again, we shouldn’t expect it. Just a few years later, that Martin O’Neill team took us back to a European final, something that, even then, I had doubts Celtic would ever do again in my lifetime.
We had a very special group of players then, a group that, if we’re being brutally honest, would annihilate the current team if they played them. I expect we could be in for a long haul with this next rebuild, and we won’t have anything like the financial resources we had back in 2000.
The problem isn’t money in itself. Celtic still have plenty in that regard. The problem is that the value for money that was to be had in 2000 simply isn’t there anymore. Look at Chris Sutton as an example. When we signed him, he was a misfiring Chelsea striker. We got him for six million pounds.
Timo Werner, it could be said, is having similar issues as Sutton did in his time at Chelsea. However, he would, most likely, still command a fee in the region of 25-30 million pounds, and he probably wouldn’t even give Celtic a second thought. The days of us taking struggling players from the top of the EPL and rejuvenating them sadly appear to be over, for the time being at least.
Instead, our best hopes lie with signing up and coming prospects. We need to unearth a few new gems as we have in the past with the likes of Virgil Van Dijk and Moussa Dembele. Such raw talents take time to refine. Even in the case of a striker as sublime as Dembele, it still took a few months before we truly saw him playing at his best for us.
I worry however, that our current fanbase simply doesn’t have that patience any more. Of course we need to challenge and do all we can to win the title again next season. However, I for one won’t be calling for the manager’s head immediately if we don’t. Sevco made that same mistake numerous times over the past decade. Rebuilding takes time, and sometimes it takes more than one season to get it right. We need to prepare ourselves for that possibility.
Even Henrik Larsson, arguably our greatest ever player, had a nightmare on his Celtic debut. He made several mistakes before losing the ball in possession, leading to Hibs’ Chic Charnley scoring the winning goal. All I can say is, thank god we didn’t have Facebook and Twitter back in 1997, or Larsson may have been written off as a dud that very afternoon!
Whoever our new manager is, whoever our new players are, we need to give them time and space to get things right. Criticism is fine, as paying customers we are entitled to that. However, we need to focus on keeping it constructive. As I mentioned before when I discussed mental health, our words have a real impact, even if we ourselves don’t always see it. Above all else, if we are to get back to winning titles sooner rather than later, the support we give the team will be absolutely crucial.