Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Who is Stuart Baxter?

Update


The Herald now reports that:
Central to the delay in naming the Irishman had been the make-up of Lennon’s backroom team. He is set to be assisted by Alan Thompson, Johan Mjallby and Garry Parker, team-mates from his spells at Celtic and Leicester City respectively.

Despite suggestions that the Finland manager Stuart Baxter would be installed in a director of football position, Herald Sport understands his role will be as more of an advisor not only to Lennon but the club overall.

Baxter has still to negotiate his part-time release from the Finnish Football Association, though, and as things stand he is not part of the management team which will be unveiled today. The Finns will have to soften their opposition to him working for Celtic before any deal can go ahead.

He will remain as manager of the Finish national side, and Lennon is comfortable with the working environment he will find himself in after being named the permanent successor to Tony Mowbray.
The same source reports that as many as ten new players will be shipped in. Garry Parker meanwhile was working as a painter and decorator having previously coached Lennon at Leicester.

Neil and Stuart?


At last Celtic are ready to unveil Neil Lennon as their new manager. An extended audition in the role has turned into a protracted end of season waiting game. I'll admit I jumped the gun announcing his appointment a couple of weeks ago. Although, for once, I was right.

Lennon will be assisted by Johann Mjallby, Alan Thompson and Garry Parker. A young coaching staff but one that Lennon obviously feels he can trust and rely on.

The extended "will they, won't they" saga that has turned Celtic and Lennon into the SPL's very own Ross and Rachel might be because of the complexities of Tony Mowbray's contract.

But I'm also convinced that there were voices inside Celtic Park who wondered, despite his excellent league run towards the end of the season, if Lennon lacked the experience they needed. Undoubtedly Celtic spent last season in crisis. Is this, as the man said, any time for a rookie?

Which leads us to the most intriguing member of the new set-up. At a press conference tomorrow Celtic will unveil not only Lennon but also Stuart Baxter in an as yet unspecified role that appears to be somewhere between senior advisor and favourite uncle.

Baxter has been linked to a number of Scottish jobs over the years including, at various times, the role that Lennon can now call his own.

But, a season without a game at Dundee United in the mid seventies aside, he has never actually had any professional involvement in the Scottish game.

His father was Scottish and Baxter considers himself a Scot although he was born in England and his playing and managerial career has been peripatetic.

Most closely associated with Scandinavia (he has managed in Sweden and Norway) he has also plied his trade in Portuguese and Japanese club football, with the South African national team, the English under 19s and, in his current and continuing role, as Finland boss.

It's a career that could define the global nature of the game, no job too far away, no club too obscure, for the Brummy born coach. But it is also a career devoid of longevity or stability. And, though his successes include championships and promotions, it is not a career studded with glory.

It might be that Celtic consider Lennon well enough steeped in the SPL to cope with the Scottish game allowing Baxter to advise on the more subtle intricacies of Europe and the general art of management.

I am unaware if Lennon and Baxter know each other although I can't find any likely crossovers in their careers. Given the strength of Lennon's footballing persona I find it strange that he would accept somebody he doesn't know as a mentor. Unless he was given no choice.

I also wonder how satisfied Baxter will be in a role that doesn't appear to have any real forerunner in the British game - Bob Paisley's role with Kenny Dalglish is different as they were both Liverpool men while the role Dalglish was supposed to play at Celtic with John Barnes was a lot more formal.

In the past he has said: "I think it would be important for me to come back to something that's an interesting project." I suppose this could turn out to be exactly that.

On the other hand how interesting is the role of Neil Lennon's big brother likely to be?

Baxter himself speaks glowingly about Roy Hodgson and Arsene Wenger and would seem more at home with their more continental methods than certain Scottish managers might be. You can see why that would appeal to Celtic but how much benefit will they see if Baxter is isolated in a marginal and part time role?

Given his experience and his knowledge of UEFA endorsed coaching methods it might be that Baxter will be on hand to offer advice to Lennon if the manager finds his tactical knowledge or his training ground methods fall short.

That would seem sensible although it does raise questions about why Celtic went down this apparently convoluted route when an experienced manager could have done the job of both men.

I await the press conference with interest and I'll be watching how things develop closely. I can't help feeling, however, that after a rudderless season the powers that be at Celtic Park are about to present the fans with a fudge that might quickly become a muddle.