CELTIC’s interregnum has continued into the month of April, with rumours about the incoming manager now dominating the discussions about supporters, even as Celtic begin their defence of their fourth consecutive Scottish Cup against Falkirk.
Supporters are rightly desperate to see the club salvage something from a chaotic and often disastrous season by retaining the cup, which would—combined with a victory against their city rivals at Ibrox—show some intent ahead of next season and restore pride to a beleaguered squad.
All that would be for naught, however, if next season does not begin with the right man installed in the dugout and a determined effort to see Celtic crowned champions once again.
The drawn derby match demonstrated that there is nothing to be scared of for Celtic, with a side that has limped through the season seemingly well able for their opponents. Celtic should have won, were it not for the usual defensive frailties, with a wild decision by Jonjoe Kenny in the middle of the park giving away a corner kick at which he was then posted missing.
That cheap goal meant Celtic missed a great opportunity to bloody the noses of the side they have surrendered the championship to, but some confidence should now have returned. Two more opportunities now remain and with the cup to fight for the underperforming players have a vital chance to make some amends with the support who backed them unquestioningly.
Regardless of how these final challenges go, it is the job of the rebuild next year which is where Celtic can make the real ground in regaining their position.
The departure of Neil Lennon in February now seems a distant memory given how much has transpired since then, but the intervening weeks have seen little communication from the club on the search for a new manager.
It is an appointment that is more crucial that ever given the change in personnel at the club, and the suggested changes in structure. Head of Operations Nick Hammond has already departed, with a Director of Football now likely to take his place. It will usher in a new era at Celtic, in which footballing decisions are compartmentalised and kept within the hands of those with the knowledge and expertise to make them. Incoming CEO Dominic McKay will arrive without any baggage from previous activity in football, and Celtic should be liberated by that new reality.
The CEO can focus on his priorities for developing the business affairs of the club, leaving the effective running of the football team to the experts.
This new dawn requires an adventurous and bold appointment, and the steady stream of rumours to the effect that Roy Keane has made it to the refined versions of the shortlist is far from that.
Granted, Keane would bring a welcome combative approach to the Scottish sporting press and would likely put a team on the park who are well aware that they cannot be a soft as the players we have seen this season, but his profile does little to suggest he is the man to develop the changes which could grow into a revolution in Celtic’s structure.
Far more appealing are the whispers about Eddie Howe—formerly of Bournemouth—whose development and sourcing of players combined with his longevity at that club make him a likelier option for success. Those whispers have become louder and louder as the vacuum of information has been filled by supporter speculation, but as the interest grows so too does the pressure on the decision makers of the club to meet the expectations of supporters.
Whether those standards are met by the club is something that remains to be seen, but the clamour for a high-profile replacement shows the desire which remains within the club’s fanbase. Far from being dulled by years of success and ready to roll over and accept a changing of the guard, the Celtic support is, instead, approaching fever pitch in its collective demand for a fightback after a strange and demoralising year for Scottish football.
Having weathered the storm and relinquished the title Celtic now have two roads to choose from at this present junction—meek surrender to a new status quo or a full-hearted rush into battle.
While talk about what went wrong for Celtic in season 2020/21 may be an interesting and absorbing exercise, and while the distraction of news reports from France about interest in welcoming Celtic into the French top-flight might be a tempting fancy for those who are drawn by glamour, the direct future is where the true priority lies.
The Scottish top-flight in 2021/22 will be a contest that has high stakes. Celtic can prove that the recent victory by the nouveaux arrivistes from the other side of the city was a flash in the pan, an opportunistic ambush in a sad imitation of a season, in which fans were excluded from matches and authorities—both sporting and governmental—could limit and rearrange fixtures and dictate team selections, often in inconsistent fashion. Celtic can also let that anomaly become the ‘new normal.’
The most important factor in which future Celtic choose is about to be decided, and no-one is observing that more closely than the supporters, whose financial backing the club is more in need of now than ever.