Yesterday, Neil Banfield sat in front of the media scrum whilst The Mooch hid out of the way. He sat there and talked up his manager and presented the case in his favour. He acknowledged that Beale has not had much managerial experience, but pointed out that he’d been “in the game” for years.
That’s not a valid argument and Banfield himself knows it.
Banfield has been in the game for years.
The closest he has come to a management gig was running the Arsenal youth team. He has never taken the step up to become the main man, and there is a reason why this is the case; he knows what his limitations are.
And everyone has those limitations.
From the moment Labour won the 2002 General Election, Gordon Brown was agitating against Tony Blair to “name a date” on which he would step down and hand over the crown. He believed (and Blair had given him no reason not to) that there was an agreement in place for the Prime Minister to do just that.
Whenever the matter was raised Blair was told that Brown would be a disaster. Jonathon Powell, Blair’s chief of staff, thought the job would overwhelm him. Peter Cruddas saw a certain amount of arrogance in Brown in thinking he could breeze it after being a successful chancellor. “He underestimated the sheer velocity of decision making necessary to being Prime Minister,” he said.
And that’s the thing. People who have been in the number two spot and eye the top job enviously sometimes mistake wanting it for being able to do it. The Mooch is an arrogant guy, and that much has been clear for a while, but where his ego comes through most in his presumption, much like that of Brown’s, that the job would be easy. The unravelling he’s going through is happening because of that presumption. His is paying the price for his own hubris.
Had he looked across the city, at Celtic Park, he’d have seen a man who should have given him pause; not Neil Lennon as some probably thought I’d say, but John Kennedy.
Lennon has actually proved that he can step up and be a manager, and take on the gigantic responsibilities and expectations that go with the job. I might not think he’s particularly great at it, but Lennon proved that he could handle it and everything it involved.
John Kennedy has had offers and approaches. He is clearly an excellent assistant, although it has taken me a while to come around to that realisation, and probably longer than it should have. But he has resisted those offers, and so I wonder if he doesn’t realise himself that the hot-seat is a bit too hot for his backside to handle.
And you know what? There is no shame or disgrace in that.
Those of us who are sensible know the limits of their talent.
I have several ideas for The Great Scottish Novel, something artistic and flowery, something Important, something that would get me on The Booker short-list, perhaps something about how communities die or how poverty affects people growing up with an ever-narrowing set of choices … I know the particulars; I have the central concept clear in my mind and I am sure I could slog my way through it but I’d do it with no enthusiasm and I know therefore that I’d hate the end result and that the effort would be wasted because no-one would read it.
In short, there is a healthy streak of egotism in me as there has to be with anyone who wants to succeed in any field, but there’s an even healthier dollop of realism. I suspect that’s Kennedy to a T. He has experienced what it’s like in the manager’s seat. He has felt the flames lick his feet. I wonder if he’s decided that being the number two is more to his taste.
But The Mooch is made of different stuff, and not necessarily better stuff.
He undermined the guy who was in the job to get it; that’s ruthlessness on top of ego, and one of Kennedy’s most notable character traits is his fantastic sense of loyalty. I cannot conceive of his ever taking action like that, and nor can I imagine him ever claiming, for himself, the successes of the men who he has worked alongside; Lennon, Postecoglou and now Rodgers.
Can you picture Kennedy ever doing that? God, it would be like watching someone grow two heads. That The Mooch got away with it speals volumes not about him but about the gullibility of the Ibrox fans and the pliability of a media corps that was determined to paint him as the right person for the Ibrox job when that was being sold to their fans.
They have done their own fascinating re-write of history. Almost all of them now claim to have had doubts from the start; it’s nonsense. Very many of them, the vast majority, welcomed the appointment, in large part because they bought into that whole “brains of the operation” schtick which was being pushed on The Mooch’s behalf.
But I think of Brown, at the Treasury, having mastered the terrain and being lauded for his control over the levers of the economy.
He really was the brains behind much of what the Blair government achieved; the description of Blair as the “president of the company” flying around the world meeting people and presenting the “public face” whilst Brown did the day-to-day work as the “CEO” was not as crazy as it sounded; in many ways it was true.
But it’s obvious that there was much, much more to the job than just getting on airplanes and gladhanding other world leaders, and Brown found the leap just too large to make.
When you look at the decisions Prime Ministers have had to take just in the last 20 years you get some sense of the size of the role as compared to Brown’s; the Iraq War, the decision to hold the EU Referendum, the way to deal with COVID … no chancellor ever had to make calls like that, and everyone who ever sought the top job has to think of these things.
The most obvious quantum leap into a whole new reality comes, in fact, on the opening day in the job; one of the Prime Minister’s very first duties is to sit down and write the four “Letters of Last Resort” which are handed to the captains of the Trident submarines before they go on duty as part of the Continuous At Sea Deterrent.
These are the letters that tell those guys what they should do if the missiles have struck the homeland and the decision to retaliate or not is the last link to a world that no longer exists.
You think you’ve got government cracked and you’ve risen to the very top of the house and after you’ve had your glass of champagne the chief of the defence staff pulls you into an empty room and tells you that you need to decide what should happen in the event that The End Of The World happens on your watch but that you’re either out of contact or dead when the commanders of those boats need to know what they should do.
Christ almighty. Talk about a mood killer.
Coaches do not have a fraction of the responsibility managers carry.
Directors are rarely seen, even the most egotistical ones, and so the manager is essentially the front man for the club, having to take care with every word he says and every single thing that he does. Some of the calls are relatively minor. Some aren’t minor at all.
Imagine being confronted with something like the Mason Greenwood situation, and ultimately being the guy who has to decide that and then defend what you’ve done.
Imagine having to walk into a dressing room with his mates in it and tell them he’s done, that he’s not coming back. Or having to tell guys protective of their wives and daughters to make space for the guy because he’ll back the following week.
You would long for the days when you were back putting the cones out on the training pitch.
Imagine being the guy who has to tell a young player who has given years to the dream of playing one day for his heroes that he’s not making the grade and that his dream is over and he’s been released on a free.
A coach can hide. No manager has that luxury.
A coach can make suggestions. A manager has to make actual decisions.
What’s more, it is those decisions which decide his future … and the future of the coaching team too. Would you be ready for that? For having the jobs of all your former fellow coaches in your hands?
Because that’s what being the man at the top involves.
Banfield knew that when he was sitting there yesterday defending The Mooch from criticism, and when he said that the manager’s experience in football is the proof that he can take the pressure and the strain, I wonder how many of our hacks saw through the façade?
John Kennedy might one day decide that he wants a crack at it again. But the chances have come one on top of the other for years now and he’s chosen to stay as assistant, and at Celtic. There’s that loyalty again, and it is more than commendable.
But it may also be pragmatic.
The Mooch could have done the same, and you might think that someone driven the way he has to be is entitled to his chance, entitled to try his hand … but over the summer he’s learned the difference between being a backroom boy and being the man at the top, and having responsibility for the spending of the club’s money and taking the flak if you get that wrong is just part of it.
He won’t resign. He can’t.
That’s any possibility of his being a manager in future virtually done because it will be a tacit admission that the size of the job overwhelmed him. But people at the top of football can sense these things anyway, and if he gets sacked it will be one of the things they’ll conclude about him whether he tries to hide it or not.
He is not entirely to blame.
He was hired for the job in the first place, and they knew what his level of experience was at the time.
The current board also lost, or sacked, the entire upper echelon above him over the course of the summer, and he had to do stuff that he wouldn’t have had to if some of those people had been there.
Tough. Crisis management is a manager’s lot just as it’s in the job description of a Prime Minister, just as picking the team and deciding the tactics are. I’ve seen managers dealing with major crises at their clubs and some of them got their heads down and got on with it even when everything else was total chaos.
The Mooch brings the chaos. He is the chaos.