Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What next?

A win, as any manager will tell you, is a win. So Neil Lennon is likely to be relieved that Celtic were able to come back from Saturday’s humiliation to beat Motherwell last night.

Rangers procession to the title will at least last into the split. More importantly Celtic look certain to enjoy a five point lead over third placed Dundee United - at the very least - going into the last five games. Finishing second in a two horse race is poor. Finishing third in a two horse requires an almost forensic obsession with achieving incompetence.

Given the opprobrium heaped upon players, management and board this season, Celtic’s likely second place would suggest that the other ten teams would be better served by jacking in this football lark and taking up tiddlywinks. But in Scottish football we’re not all measured by the same yardstick.

As they looked around Celtic Park last night what would the Celtic board have been thinking? A ground less than half full (and some suspect that figure was slightly generous). Robbie Keane, the £65000 a week gamble that didn’t pay off. The ghost of Tony Mowbray haunting a weak team and still searching for his £900,000 pay off.

I'd they were asking themselves: "What the hell do we do now?"

Some among the Celtic support would no doubt argue that club’s current board has disqualified itself from making decisions about the future thanks to their gross incompetence in appointing Mowbray and then, transfixed by the horror of what was unfolding, failing to act decisively enough or early enough to put an end to this annus horribilis.

Fair comment as that might be, the simple facts remain. Whoever sits in that boardroom needs to take decisive action. They have to pinpoint a manager who excites the fans and somehow implement a transfer policy that will allow him to rebuild a squad that Mowbray left not fit for purpose.

A big name manager, immediately given the funds to make a couple of big name signings, would probably spark some life into a dormant support. Football fans are a fickle bunch, they never forget the moments of anguish but they’re well versed at moving on at the slightest glimpse of a new dawn.

That’s a simple plan but it’s beset by obstacles. Remember that last summer there wasn’t exactly an orderly queue of big name managers forming at the gates to Lennoxtown. Some of the names mentioned seemed to run screaming from the very suggestion of taking the job.

In some ways Tony Mowbray was a compromise candidate, selected when more attractive prospects fell through. It wasn’t the cheapest of compromises though with West Brom rumoured to have received a compensation package of £2 million. Add that to his pay off demands: Celtic could have spent close to £3 million in securing and then dispensing with a manager in the space of nine months.

Now Celtic are far from the days of biscuit tin penury and I’m sure they’ll be embarking on another lucrative Harlem Globetrotter style pre season. But any strategy of attracting a big name manager will cost them again.

Will the board have the stomach for that?

A cheaper option would be to stick with Neil Lennon. There can be no doubt of his Celtic credentials and he was lauded for his honesty in tackling the issues at the club after the Ross County game.

He’s also completely untried as a manager and while admiring his honesty on Saturday we must also accept it as a mea culpa. He was powerless to do anything to stop what was happening. A Celtic manager saying that he was “living in hope” at half time in a cup semi final against Ross County? I’ve heard more persuasive auditions. Even if I feel that it's about time chewing tobacco made a permanent return to Scottish football dugouts.

Somehow Celtic need to find the answers quickly. They only need to look back on the last season to see what happens if their solutions fail.

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