With the long-awaited arrival of Neil Lennon’s substitute lastly confirmed, Celtic can transfer on from their season of discontent.
Ange Postecoglou’s appointment has come out of left-field, however turned a necessity after drawn-out talks with former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe finally broke down.
Howe seemed to be a shoo-in, however Celtic shortly turned their consideration to the 55-year-old former Australia head coach, who will instantly be within the highlight as he tries to rebuild a damaged squad, negotiate Champions League qualifiers and set up a foothold inside Scottish soccer, all while making an attempt to settle in Glasgow.
The strain is on to put the foundations for speedy success – however what must be achieved within the coming weeks to re-establish Celtic’s place on the prime?
Dealing with the scrutiny of being Celtic boss
Glasgow is the last word soccer strain cooker, like no different metropolis within the UK with reference to the main focus positioned on its soccer stars. Postecoglou is unlikely to be afforded a lot goodwill from a assist that has been rife with discontent for a lot of the previous yr.
Final season was a making an attempt time for all soccer followers, locked out of grounds by the pandemic and denied their proper to vent emotion, however Celtic’s demise on the pitch, though inside empty stadia, prompted a few of their “supporters” to trigger headlines of their very own.
The surprising scenes of violence final November exterior Celtic Park after a defeat to Ross County laid naked divisions between a vocal minority of Celtic’s fanbase and the membership’s hierarchy. Whereas some protested in individual – at instances breaking Covid-19 protocols within the course of – Lennon, outgoing chief govt Peter Lawwell and majority shareholder Dermot Desmond have been within the final yr topic to vitriolic criticism, significantly on social media platforms.
The preliminary chance of Howe’s arrival, collectively along with his observe report at Bournemouth, appeared to energise followers longing for a recent begin, however it’s now Postecoglou who should make a fast influence.
In the end, solely optimistic outcomes will suffice. If Rangers streak forward within the league within the autumn, or if Celtic fall quick in Europe as soon as extra, the wrath of the plenty will shortly envelop him.
Soccer division shake-up
In a wider perspective, that is an opportune second for Celtic to reset. The obsession of reaching the fabled landmark of 10-in-a-row held the membership again lately; after a season like no different, Postecoglou’s arrival, coupled with adjustments greater up, permit Celtic to take inventory after which transfer ahead with a extra healthful, much less blinkered imaginative and prescient.
Incoming chief govt Dominic McKay joined Celtic early to assist the large rebuild on a number of fronts. Having surrendered the league title in meek trend, many key figures from a wonderful decade for Celtic are departing – or have already left.
McKay’s determination to affix the membership virtually three months early emphasised a want from Celtic to get their home so as as quickly as doable. Initially, he was not resulting from arrive till the beginning of July, shortly earlier than Celtic’s new season begins with the Champions League qualifiers, which have grow to be extra hazardous with each passing yr. But he has been concerned since mid-April within the decision-making course of across the managerial place, whereas assembly supporters teams and attending to grips with the complexities of working a soccer membership.
The whole overhaul of Celtic’s total soccer division is now starting to crystallize. Neil Lennon’s exit in February was adopted by that of head of soccer operations Nick Hammond in March, the person chargeable for a lot of the recruitment over the past two seasons.
The place of sporting director nonetheless appears prone to be created, a task akin to that stuffed by Ross Wilson at Rangers. Bournemouth technical director Richard Hughes was tipped for a task alongside Howe, however Celtic’s board have at all times been intent on appointing their very own figurehead, which is why Manchester Metropolis’s former Head of Soccer Partnerships Fergal Harkin was beforehand linked to the position.
Postecoglu’s lack of European expertise shall be a fear to Celtic followers, and at this stage it is unclear who will take cost of recruitment, however the teaching setup additionally requires readability.
Postecoglu could select to inherit John Kennedy from the previous teaching staff, whereas former Rangers defender Kevin Muscat had briefly been linked with a return to Scottish soccer as an assistant coach. Whoever is lined as much as assist the brand new boss absolutely wants some data of the Scottish recreation, and Celtic’s decidedly combined current report within the switch market should enhance to provide Postecoglou an opportunity of success.
A radical squad overhaul
Celtic’s decidedly combined current report within the switch market should enhance to provide Postecoglou an opportunity of success.
Whereas Jeremie Frimpong was purchased for simply £300,000 from Man Metropolis after which bought to Bayer Leverkusen for greater than £10m, dearer arrivals similar to Patryk Klimala and Albian Ajeti have disenchanted. The power to scout the decrease leagues in England and overseas markets for undiscovered bargains, a as soon as fruitful coverage, faces its largest take a look at but.
Celtic’s squad badly wants an injection of recent capital and personnel, with some already heading out the door and others clearly eager to go away. Scott Brown’s departure to Aberdeen as a player-coach leaves an enormous management hole that may most likely by no means be stuffed. For all his advancing years and gradual decline, Brown’s affect within the Celtic dressing room and on the pitch was immeasurable.
Frimpong and Olivier Ntcham departed within the January window (although Ntcham is due again this summer time), whereas Odsonne Edouard and Kristoffer Ajer could be the subsequent to go within the coming weeks, if the worth is correct to money in. Edouard is attention-grabbing Leicester, the place he could be reunited with Brendan Rodgers, whereas Bayer Leverkusen are the newest membership to chase Ajer.
Ryan Christie’s contract is working down with no signal he’ll prolong it, and Callum McGregor is close to the height of his powers with suitors in England circling. If each play effectively for Scotland on the Euros, they are going to be in demand. Removed from a gradual transition, the squad that gained an “invincible” treble for Rodgers in 2016-2017 might quickly be fully dismantled.
Celtic have three goalkeepers who’ve did not shine, together with one – Vasilis Barkas – who’s threatening to be an costly flop. The defence, suspect all season, requires a complete rebuild. Ajer is itching to maneuver on, Christopher Jullien is recovering from a severe harm and three loanees (Shane Duffy, Diego Laxalt and Jonjoe Kenny) have departed. Greg Taylor may very well be the long-term reply at left-back however at the least 4 additions are required to determine some stability.
Choices are stronger within the centre of midfield, the place Ismaila Soro and David Turnbull have shaped a optimistic younger heartbeat for the long run. McGregor’s future is unsure: if he stays and inherits the captaincy from Brown, he could lead on Celtic for the remainder of his profession, however the feeling persists he is able to take a look at himself at the next degree.
Nir Bitton and Tom Rogic each appear prepared for a recent begin elsewhere, whereas reinforcements are required within the extensive areas; loanee Mohamed Elyounoussi could not return, Mikey Johnston is but to make a serious breakthrough and James Forrest has solely lately recovered from severe harm.
In assault, Klimala has departed for the MLS whereas Ajeti should show shortly he could be a dependable substitute for Edouard – or be moved on at a loss. And what of Leigh Griffiths? A constant goalscorer when sharp, he has been unable to achieve full health because the begin of the pandemic, and Celtic are but to substantiate if they’re activating the choice on his contract.
Refocusing on Europe
Celtic’s fixation on reaching “10-in-a-row” has been to the detriment of the membership’s European ambitions. In 13 seasons underneath Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan and through Lennon’s first spell as supervisor, Celtic reached the Champions League group phases on eight events – and 3 times they progressed to the knockout phases. Since 2014, they’ve combined with the elite of Europe simply twice – underneath Rodgers – and did not qualify each instances.
Regression in Europe was maybe inevitable as a result of widening monetary gulf between Celtic and Europe’s prime golf equipment; the times of Barcelona and Manchester United being toppled within the group phases at the moment are consigned to historical past. That doesn’t excuse Celtic from failing to beat groups with smaller budgets; Malmo, Maribor, AEK Athens, Cluj and Ferencvaros have all claimed the Scottish champions’ scalp in qualifying in current instances.
Celtic Park’s status as a European fortress is now a distant reminiscence. The membership have suffered some embarrassing current defeats at dwelling, the nadir being a 4-1 reversal to Sparta Prague on this season’s Europa League. Whereas there have been some memorable European outcomes, such because the 2019 double in opposition to Lazio, it has been a gradual decline. Celtic’s lack of ability to spend money on the squad on the proper time to allow Champions’ League group stage participation has grow to be a recurring fault.
Much more galling is the spectacular report in continental competitors established throughout town by Steven Gerrard. In three seasons of Europa League competitors, Rangers have gained or drawn each of their qualifying matches, and misplaced simply six European video games in whole, making the knockout phases in every of the final two seasons. Postecoglou has by no means managed in Europe – however his first aggressive video games as Celtic supervisor shall be essential European qualifiers, the place the “non-Champions” path is especially demanding.
Scotland’s co-efficient has skyrocketed since Gerrard’s arrival, a lot in order that for the primary time in additional than a decade the highest two in Scottish Premiership will each take part in subsequent season’s Champions League qualifiers. But the most important prize of all lies forward – Scotland’s champions in 2021-2022 are virtually sure to qualify instantly for the group phases, and inherit a monetary jackpot.
Celtic are lucky to have this chance in entrance of them, paradoxically created by Rangers’ enhancements, however with Gerrard’s facet now at full velocity, the stakes couldn’t be greater for the brand new man coming in.