Tonight Brendan Rodgers is preparing for his first cup final as Celtic manager. Tonight, Mark Warburton is preparing to be sacked following his club’s failure to tie up a secure second place in the SPL, a target I thought and still think is wildly unrealistic.
Who says so? Dave King does.
We’ve now come full circle, and the key prediction I made on this blog in January last year has come about early. Mark Warburton is exactly where Ronny Deila was this time last year, except worse. Ronny was still chasing a treble. Warburton is chasing a Scottish Cup and a place in Europe, and the next few games will sorely test his skills, such as they are.
You could see this coming a mile away, but the media, like Sevco’s fans, were caught up in a euphoric over-reaction to a single cup match, and one they won on penalty kicks. The hammer blow of losing the Scottish Cup Final itself was also coming, and it shattered Warburton’s reputation as some kind of genius. That reputation is now in ruins.
Before Celtic travels to Ibrox at the end of December I fully expect our club to have won the first domestic cup competition of the season, and for our league lead to be virtually out of sight. I would be very surprised if Warburton was still in charge for that game; removing him will cover a multitude of sins at Ibrox, and assuage the need for January spending.
A new manager will be trusted to get the best out of the current squad, prior to moving half of it on in the summer, if there are any takers for the dreck Warburton has signed. Only last week he claimed that his signing policy has been a success; today the chairman cut the legs from under him by branding his summer a failure.
He couldn’t have been clearer if he tried; the manager has to oversee a clear out of the squad he himself has built. King’s ego will not allow Celtic to move further ahead – as if he could prevent that – and when the crunch comes he will not be gentle. He has reiterated that second is the minimum he will accept, and if the club falls significantly behind Aberdeen then the party is well and truly over for Warburton and his backroom team.
I would have felt sorry for him if he’d been put in this spot at the end of last season; indeed, when I heard he’d fallen out with the Ibrox hierarchy I thought, for his own good, that he should see it as an opportunity to run before the expectation level and the unrealistic demands of the club ended his career. But he stuck it out, and his arrogance and level of bitterness has overwhelmed any good feelings I had about him.
(Yes, believe it or I don’t simply hate everyone with an association with that club; the directors, most certainly, because I think the guy in the director’s chair is a loathsome man and he has surrounded himself with like-minded individuals, and I include the managing director in that no matter how much respect for him other Celtic bloggers have; fair play to them, they have more milk of human kindness in their veins than I have in mine maybe.)
Brendan leads a charmed life by comparison. He is a man totally in control of his own destiny and the club he’s managing. It’s impossible to imagine him allowing anything to knock him of course, and even a defeat in the League Cup Final wouldn’t damage his standing too much. I don’t expect that, but it wouldn’t dent my confidence in what he’s trying to do. Perhaps that’s unfair to Ronny, considering the stick he’d have got for it, but I just get the impression that Brendan has set us on a certain direction and that he’ll get us there. I never had that faith in the man from Norway. In his second season I thought we looked leaderless.
The injury to Scott Sinclair – which we were all worried about – has probably ruled him out of the final, but Brendan has options within the squad, one of which is Patrick Roberts and another is to play Leigh Griffiths wide. I would choose the latter, but we’ll see what the boss decides to do. There’s a feeling of confidence in the Celtic camp; the danger is that it becomes over-confidence, or even arrogance. Nothing would lose us this game more surely.
But I expect Brendan and the players already know that.
Sevco can’t afford to lose a single game at the moment. Had they dropped points against Dundee last weekend – and they came within a minute of it – the atmosphere at the AGM today would have been akin to a murder victims funeral where the killer decides to take a seat in the back row. The late goal from Forrester saved a lot of people from what would have been an uncomfortable day to say the very least. Warburton spoke to the media at the end, King didn’t. Because King doesn’t want to answer certain questions and even with pet hacks virtually on the payroll he can’t be sure some rogue reporter out there won’t do a spot of journalism.
But he did talk to his in-house media, and he spelled things out in language no-one could fail to understand. This has been a failed start to the campaign, and the manager hasn’t spent the club’s money – its soft loans – wisely enough.
The writing is on the wall for this guy and I have no doubt that he can read it as well as the rest of us can. Talk about turning up the pressure in advance of crucial games.
November is almost finished, and it should finish with Brendan on top of the league, a cup winner and in a strong position for the treble. December is do our die for the Englishman at Ibrox. I would not bet on him lasting the year. Brendan Rodgers will look back on 2016 with a certain amount of satisfaction. Warburton will have very different memories.
This time last year, Brendan was still smarting from being sacked at Liverpool. Warburton had seen a league challenge emerge from Easter Road; at Christmas he took a huge step towards killing that challenge off and Hibs league form never recovered. Ronny Deila’s Celtic had just been knocked out of Europe, and hard, hard questions were already being asked about his future. For all we agree that Ronny was a decent human being and a good man, some of us – and I include myself amongst them – saw disaster looming and wanted the board to take a decision there and then and halt what looked like an inevitable slide.
But I couldn’t help thinking even then that Warburton too was living on borrowed time.
The holes in his approach were already standing out to anyone with a mind to look.
Twelve months on, how different it all looks, and yet how oddly it all fitted into the picture many of us could see at the time. Now it’s the man at the other end of the city who can hear a big ticking clock in the background, counting down.
In Brendan We Trust.