Celtic FC: Crossroads
Celtic Football Club are currently dominating Scottish football; They recently secured the Premiership title - their eighth in a row - and won the League Cup in December. Victory against Hearts in the Scottish Cup Final on May 25 will deliver a third consecutive domestic treble for the men from Glasgow's East End.
While this period of superiority will be remembered fondly by fans of the club there is always a need to look forward, ensuring success is maintained. As someone who doesn't support Celtic, or any Premiership club for that matter, the current situation facing the Scottish champions is an interesting one from a journalistic and sporting point of view.
The remainder of this article will outline why I believe Celtic are approaching their most important summer in a long time as well as presenting opinions and thoughts from several Celtic Park Season ticket holders.
Pretty much all of the recent success Celtic have achieved occurred under their former manager, Brendan Rodgers. Rodgers was appointed in May 2016 and guided Celtic to all the domestic trophies available to him during his tenure at the club. It was widely expected that Rodgers would move on in the summer, so it came as a bit of a surprise when he departed for Leicester City on February 26. In doing so he passed up the opportunity of completing the 'treble treble' and writing himself into club folklore.
Celtic needed a manager to step in to lead the team to the league trophy as well as winning the Scottish Cup.
Conveniently, someone with intimate knowledge of the demands and pressures of managing Celtic was available. Neil Lennon, having recently parted company with Hibernian, was appointed manager until the end of the season.
Within Scottish football, Celtic are expected to play well and win every game. Their massive fan base demands it. A one or two game slide may be tolerated from time to time but three games without a win is seen as a crisis. Working under these conditions isn't for everyone but Lennon, having managed Celtic from 2010 until 2014, knew exactly what he was getting involved in.
As expected Lennon shepherded the team to the league title. It would take a significant upset for Hearts to deny them the Scottish Cup next Saturday - Hearts haven't won a game for over a month and don't look equipped to handle a motivated Celtic team.
Off the field Celtic are an extremely well run business. Scottish clubs don't have the massive TV revenue that teams from England, Spain, Italy and France benefit from, therefore they must rely on good scouting and player development. The costs of buying and paying established world class players are far too high so Celtic must look at players who might potentially become world class. Celtic have done this very well in recent years; Players such as Moussa Dembele, Victor Wanyama and Virgil Van Dijk have been signed for fairly small transfer fees and sold on for huge profits to clubs from cash rich leagues - Smart business. With 50 thousand season ticket holders there should be, in theory, a reasonable budget for a manager to spend on new players. Of course a healthy balance sheet is a good thing but ultimately the supporters want a high quality product on the field.
Will the club shell out for a manager who would demand big money be spent upgrading the team in order to ensure they keep winning domestically and are competitive in the European club competitions?
Celtic will play their first qualifier for the European Cup on July 9/10. Whoever becomes the next permanent manager will have plenty of work to do in a short space of time. The financial rewards for qualifying for the group stages of the European Cup are huge - I would suggest it is worth the Celtic board doing as much as they can in a spending sense to help the team try to reach a tournament they missed out on last season.
So will Celtic award Lennon a longer contract or are they working on bringing in a manager with a slightly higher profile?
With this question in mind, along with wanting to hear some ideas on who the fans might like to see appointed and what is needed to prevent their team from stagnating, I invited four Celtic season ticket holders to share their thoughts with me.
Answering the call first was Darren Masson: "I don't want Lennon. The team is needing at least one, maybe two strikers. Up front we have Bayo, Edouard, Griffiths and Shved is arriving this week, but we can't rely on two of them at the moment. Also a left winger, a right back and a centre back are required. I have heard Chris Hughton, Jose Mourinho, Rafa Benitez and Eddie Howe from Bournemouth mentioned as being linked with the job but it is a hard one as we don't know who would be willing to come. At this point I'd take any of those managers. I really don't want Neil Lennon or David Moyes."
Next up, Barry Robertson had his say: "Lennon is a no from me. A failure at Bolton and Hibs. He was brought in under difficult circumstances after Rodgers walked and hopefully a win in the Cup Final will be his parting gift. As for a replacement, I'm hoping for someone with a good pedigree but that might mean wanting a hefty transfer kitty that I don't think the board are willing to do. Player recruitment is needed - this team is done! Lustig should have been replaced two seasons ago. We need cover for Tierney - if he's not sold - and to find a replacement for Brown. I believe all the loan players plus Boyata, Izzaguire, Gordon and Hayes will be away. It's going to be an interesting summer."
Robert Jones didn't hold back with his comments: "Lennon is a step back. I love the guy to bits but he's had his time as the gaffer. Celtic have a history of not building from a position of strength. I have no idea who I want in but if the club haven't been doing due diligence on potential new managers from last summer - when Rodgers' deal to China fell through - then those responsible should be removed from their positions. Taking the piss out of the fans. Player wise, there is too much dead wood there stealing a wage. Too many £1 million projects. We need first team players. Fingers crossed the board do what's right."
Finally I heard from Kevin Bradley: "Neil Lennon is a Celtic legend and always will be. I don't understand the negativity towards him although I do agree that we should be looking for a manager with European pedigree. I don't know if the board share that thought. My feeling is we may end up with David Moyes. I hope to be wrong though. Rafa Benitez would be my choice but I don't think the cash would be spent to attract him. Sometimes realism should kick in as playing in Scotland makes it difficult to attract top players and managers."
So the view from fans who spend good money following Celtic is a fairly united one. They respect Lennon but at this moment in time they don't see him as being the right man to be charged with rebuilding their team for the challenges of next season and beyond. They would like a manager with a proven European track record but are realistic about how difficult it is to tempt someone with a top quality CV into coming to work in the Scottish league.
It seems likely that all will be revealed just after the Scottish Cup Final. If Celtic want to remain as the top dogs in Scottish football and get back to the top table in the European arena then they need to make the correct decisions over the short off-season. An important summer lies ahead for them - the most important decision will be getting the right person in the manager's chair.