We have long since adjusted to the economic reality that even the top football clubs in Scotland are no longer able to attract or retain high profile players from other leagues, regardless of their history and reputation, and despite their global appeal, kept vibrantly alive through the Scottish and Irish diaspora.
Given the unimaginable riches on offer elsewhere, Scottish football clubs have had to position themselves as stepping stones to the English Premiership and beyond, or as the school of hard knocks where youth players from the English leagues might be sent to toughen up. We now take that as standard practice and have grown a bit numb to it. It no longer hurts the way it should.
As others have gone out of existence trying, Celtic’s survival instincts have sharpened sufficiently to maximise the few opportunities available to Scottish clubs, playing the market brilliantly and reaping incredible financial returns, whilst making a spirited go of the Champions League.
In a sense Celtic has mastered the niche market of unearthing relatively unknown players from foreign leagues and developing them into highly marketable products. The very same strategy may now need to be adopted with respect to recruiting a replacement for Neil Lennon.
After a good few years of managerial stability provided by Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan (omitting Tony Mowbray) and Neil Lennon, we may have to recognise that the manager’s position at Celtic is no longer one in pursuit of which top managers across Europe would crawl across broken glass.
It could occasionally result in failure, as it does with some of the players recruited in this way, but Celtic may need to master a new niche market – giving relatively unproven managers a unique platform to promote their abilities to clubs in more lucrative leagues elsewhere.
The seeds of this strategy have already been sewn with regards to Neil Lennon and there is no reason why the next manager should not be of the same type – someone who understands the game, knows how to get the best out of people and has something to prove. They definitely don’t need to be Celtic minded and they definitely don’t need to have a glittering track record, but they do need to have more than a bit of grit.
There is a darker reason why the market is heading in this direction. Unless there is fundamental reform across football’s governing bodies and a paradigm shift in our thinking about sport as a special type of business, small pockets of this industry will continue to attract investors with ridiculous wealth to the detriment of others, and their appeal will continue to grow as hiding places for criminality and corruption.
That is not Celtic’s immediate concern of course, but regrettably it does have an indirect impact on the business, marketing and recruitment strategies of every football club in every league, albeit in different ways. Only a few clubs will be able to make a success of it, whereas others will go bust trying. It is a very difficult balancing act to achieve and recruiting the right manager – not necessarily the big name manager – is integral to that.
Whoever is fortunate enough to be offered the manager’s post at Celtic will be fully aware that it is still a very unique opportunity in its own right, and if the club is fortunate enough to unearth the next rising star in football management, even if his appointment is not the box-office one that instantly captures the imagination, it may turn out to be another significant milestone in the club’s history.