Tag Archives: Scottish football managers

A New Niche Market for Celtic?

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.


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Great Scottish Football Managers: Why We May Never See Their Likes Again

When we talk about ‘great’ Scottish football managers, the names Bill Shankly, Matt Busby, Jock Stein and Alex Ferguson immediately spring to mind.

When we talk about some of the ‘good’ Scottish managers, we are edging slightly into a different generation, and perhaps significantly so.

In this group we would probably include the likes of Graeme Souness, Kenny Dalglish and Davie Moyes.

Perhaps we would also mention a couple of the others breaking through, such as Owen Coyle and Paul Lambert.

But what is the difference between those who are deemed ‘good’ or ‘better than others’, and those we would consider to be among the ‘greats’?

It is a widely held belief that achieving greatness grows out of a combination of some kind of compulsion in life, some kind of innate, relentless drive, and a particular attitude to the events and circumstances that happen to these individuals along the way.

The compulsion behind greatness – whatever causes it, and wherever it comes from – is rarely articulated, nor is it easily recognised. It is almost never chosen. Mostly it just happens, it is just there, whether the individual wants it or not.

And the particular attitude that seems to make the difference is one that has been nurtured and shaped through a certain type of upbringing, and through certain types of experiences in life.

This attitude appears to develop out of the influences these individuals have grown up with, through the hardships they have endured, through the circumstances they have found themselves in, through the tough choices they have made, and through the risks they have been willing to take on.

But this still does not quite get to the root of why they would be considered great, rather than simply good. The mix of ingredients that would appear to have been responsible for driving some Scottish managers to greatness, are also the mix of ingredients displayed by those who are ordinarily considered to be ‘good’.

Deep within the Scottish psyche there is a persistent, nagging, relentless fear of failure, and almost an expectation, in some cases, that achieving greatness is something for other people.

Yet it would appear that those who do achieve greatness in their field are those who are continually haunted by this fear of failure, and who therefore struggle intensely against what they think failure would feel like in their lives.

We are not just talking about ‘not wanting to fail’. We are talking about an intense, all-consuming belief that failure would be the worst possible thing to ever happen to them in their lives. It is a continuous battle against negative, destructive emotions, much of which goes on subconsciously, with very few of us ever getting an opportunity to witness the inner conflict.

Whereas the compulsion to achieve can take most people only so far, the compulsion to greatness takes a few people that bit further, because it is partly constituted by the recognition that the psychological dissonance created by the feeling of failure, the feeling of losing control, would be completely unbearable.

So whilst the Scottish psyche contains the seeds of low achievement and failure, the flip side is that it also contains the seeds of greatness and incredible success. The few great Scottish football managers we talk about were brought up in tough, impoverished times, and worked in harsh, unforgiving environments, before embarking on the path that led them to greatness.

They would have spent their lives struggling with an intense fear of failure; they would have been brought up with strict discipline and rigid routine; they would probably have lived an impoverished life by today’s standards, and yet displayed a work ethic, and respect for authority, that few people today would ever recognise or understand.

They would instinctively know how to instil this hard working and disciplined approach to life into their football teams, and create the type of belief and attitude in their players that achieving success, and nothing less than success, was their reason for playing.

They would have been natural psychologists, understanding exactly when to push and when to hold back, when to bring people together and when to pull them apart, all in the name of ensuring that they achieved their own relentless ambition. And anyone who failed to co-operate, or live up to expectations, would have felt the full ferocity of the manager.

When other people are trusted to play a role in helping this type of manager succeed, but let them down, these people become psychologically associated with everything that the manager fears. The internal battles he is constantly fighting against his own destructive emotions, normally kept in check, become played out in full view of other people.

It is as if their inner battles had suddenly spilled out into new territory. Their emotions and fears are out there. And this can be quite ferocious, like the letting loose of a caged, angry animal.

There are not too many of this breed left. Being ‘great’ often comes with a heavy price. Few people are ever allowed to get close to such people and many others are viciously cast to the side. Few people have the strength of character and the strength of mind to take it on and pay this price.

And perhaps, given the way the world has changed, given the way society has changed, given the way our attitude to hard work and discipline has changed, given the way our attitude to authority has changed, and given the way football has changed, we may never see their likes again.