It’s beginning to look a lot like Muscat.
The extensive, detailed, “global search” looks as if it will end, coincidently, at a former player for the first Ibrox club and one who followed in the footsteps of Ange Postecoglou as a boss. I know that to the likes of us – intelligent, informed, cynical – this looks like a lazy option and something to scorn and mock, but let’s not be too hasty.
When a club is incapable of good judgement when it follows its own path, perhaps it is right to follow the one laid down by someone else. Pathetic, yes, needy and clingy and lacking in any basic strategy of their own yes, but maybe it can pay some modest dividends.
It’s not quite as stupid as it sounds. Although I grant you, it sounds pretty stupid.
Some in the mainstream media do, however, recognise that they are on the cusp of another major mistake. Alison Connell was talking yesterday about the “madness” of giving the new boss a four or five year deal. Celtic did perfectly well handing its last few bosses the one year rolling contract; yes, in the end, it cost us a few quid in terms of Ange’s departure to Spurs but our strategy was basically sound. A one year rolling contract means you can terminate in the event it’s a disaster, and not have done yourself much damage in the process. It’s the smart way to go.
The reason Rodgers got a longer deal this time is also surely obvious; we know what Rodgers brings to the table already. It’s the least risky contract we’ve ever offered.
Andy Walker doesn’t always get praised on this site, but today he is because he’s essentially right about what he says about the financial position they find themselves in; if they bring in Clement, they are never going to be able to fund his plans in a million years. If they go for Muscat, it is in no small part because they believe he can deliver on the cheap.
As I said yesterday, one of the things that the Ibrox fan sites are haunted by is an inability to do basic maths. They look at the squad we built and the fact that we did it with no net spend and it is easy to convince themselves that it was also delivered “on the cheap.” This is an example of their capacity for doublethink as well, because they also consistently slam their board for allowing us to outspend them and have even accused us of “buying” the trophies.
But they look at the signings we’ve made – the bargain basement success stories – like Hatate and Maeda, and they see that Kyogo is very obviously a far better player, and for less money, than any of the dreck they signed over the summer and they conclude that Japan and Asia is where the bargains are to be found, and that someone who knows that market might be handy to have in there. The “comparable” managerial records – which I’ve already written about and dismissed – is what seals the deal.
But the question automatically arises: did Ange already get the best footballers Japan had to offer within an SPFL club’s price range?
Specifically, within ours, because they aren’t spending Kyogo style money on anyone for a while after this catastrophe.
Is there another Hatate or a Maeda over there?
All of England is watching now, and Celtic was active in that market right up to the moment Ange left for Spurs. If there was another player of that calibre, we’d already know who he was and we’d probably have him in the squad. I know the impression is sometimes given in the media, but there is no “infinite” talent pool anywhere; look at Scotland, where you cannot identify one single home-grown player who would be an obvious first team footballer at our club. When have we ever known that?
Abada, Jota, Carter Vickers, our defensive signings from this year, Juranovic … these guys all cost big money, more than they might be able to spend even in the summer. Don’t forget that Ange’s entire rebuild was financed by the sales of Edouard, Ajer and Christie. Without those sales, we would never have gotten half of it done. They have no saleable assets at that level.
They scraped together the cash for the rebuild they just did. They are now in a much more desperate position because of that, and facing a Celtic which is already doing forward planning and which has the money and the muscle to do it at the right level.
It’s not even the financing of the rebuild that’s the problem. Hell, they might just find mugs on the board daft enough to write £2 million cheques and throw them on the table in enough numbers to give him something approaching what we spent this year … but there are considerations which they need to take into account beyond that.
A number of first team players are out of contract in the summer. Some of them, like Jack, Lundstram and Barisic presently play every week. Their fans might well argue that this is part of the problem; nevertheless, they are not talking about mere squad players here but first team regulars who are not cheap to replace at the best of times.
They are top heavy up front. Sima will go back to Brighton; fanciful chatter that they might be able to cobble together enough to buy him is exactly that. Roofe is out of contract and they might well decide to cut him loose. Still, they have Lammers, Dessers, Hagi and Danilo. They might well try to augment those guys with another front man but it would be mad.
Even if they were of a mind to buy more front players, there is more than one area of the team where there are obvious, and enormous, issues. The scale of this job dwarves anything we had to do under Ange.
Their real problems are going to be out wide and at the back, although losing their two holding midfielders for free pretty much changes the way they play unless they make central midfield a priority as well. But as we know well, you can’t do it all.
The choices they will face are enormous and hard to wrap your head around. At central defence they have three thoroughly dreadful footballers when you compare them to who is presently at Celtic Park. We now have no fewer than six centre backs to choose from since Scales has so excellently staked his claim; Nawrocki, Phillips, Scales, Carter Vickers, Lagerbeikle and Kobayashi. Even if you aren’t a fan of the Japanese and think Phillips will return to England in January that still leaves four and that’s a better number than we’ve had there in years.
All six of them would get into their team. Five of them would displace any of the current pairings comfortably. Not one of that Ibrox back four would get in our first eleven. None of those centre backs is good enough for our squad. They are looking at replacing them all.
Which brings me to the full-backs, and that is the biggest headache they are going to have over there, by far. Because it’s hard enough to replace your first choice left and right backs with limited funds but it’s much, much harder to do when they are also your only attacking options out wide. The contribution both Barisic and Tavernier make to their goal and assists stats are impossible to ignore. Barisic’s contract expires soon.
Tavernier is getting to that stage in his career when those big lung-bursting runs up the park are going to be impossible … and he’s just not that great a defender. Any decent manager would have to change the tactics anyway because with him and Barisic so far up the park most of the time they are vulnerable to the counter attack.
If you take those two players out of their team, you take half the goals with them because that’s what they are responsible for providing. That headache faces their team no matter who the manager is. That team needs a full-scale Ange-style transformation and they need someone who can do it cheap. Ange himself had plenty to spend on his rebuild.
Regardless of what they do next, they will still have the budget for the second biggest wage bill in the country; that’s formidable, that’s to be respected, even if it is currently leeching the life out of them with the number of sub-par players they have on the books.
If I were in their shoes, I would be despondent.
Because I have looked at this from every angle, a million times, and even with 30 years of building Football Manager squads on small budgets and thus having some conception, some low-level understanding of the process, I cannot see how it can be done in under four transfer windows of constantly moving guys in and out, which creates massive uncertainty and turbulence, and all of it in the growing shadow of Celtic. Even four windows might not be enough, because you almost can’t afford to make a mistake.
Because a mistake, any mistake, is likely to be seized on by those fans over there as proof that you aren’t up to the job.
They won’t suffer through four transfer windows – two full campaigns – just to see the first tangible signs of progress … they’ll want that guy’s head on a spike long before that, and because that board panders to their every whim they’ll get it, and another two or three years salary will need to be paid to him and his backroom team to move them on.
Yet time is exactly what they do need to give the guy.
Back when we were marching towards ten in a row – a quest which would have been successful and added Gerrard’s name to the list of the sacked but for COVID – my mate said to me that “what they need over there is a Michael Howard” and I totally agreed.
What he meant by that is that they need a guy to transition them from their current revolving door shambles to stability. Not victory. Not titles or trophies but stability.
A guy who is not there to win things but to reset the dial … and that’s a creditable job, that’s something smart businesses do all the time.
Football clubs have done it. They can claim to have done it with Gerrard, but that’s entirely false because I know and everyone knows that he was facing the sack at the end of his second campaign and would have gotten bagged but for COVID which, becasue it brought the league campaign to a premature end allowed the creation of the myth that his hapless team would still have caught us.
The following season was a never-to-be-repeated cataclysm which was only made possible by the scale of the lockdown. Rather than conclude that, and temper their expectations for the years to follow, they let themselves get carried away.
Most football clubs are not usually so far up their own rear-ends, with a fan-base that thinks it is special and too important not to be winning things.
Celtic fans knew that when Fergus took over that there wouldn’t be instant results, but that man saw the future and knew that it involved putting down roots … they can’t chase us whilst doing that, and that’s the truth they don’t seem to get.
They can spend the money they make putting in place the necessary scouting and analytics systems and developing youth or they can throw it at players and managers until the cows come home … and they’ll be right back where they are now.
At some point they need to stop trying to mirror Celtic. They are the ones who need to break out of the Old Firm bubble; we left it behind nearly two decades ago. They are still completely defined by it.
That second biggest wage bill in the country I talked about, that’s a good place to look for what’s gone wrong.
Since Sevco crawled out of Rangers grave in 2012 St Johnstone has won two Scottish Cups to their one, and the Perth side has a League Cup as well.
That second biggest wage bill in Scotland has been there the whole time. That is a failure on an industrial scale and all of that money was pissed against the wall.
They need a planner, someone who will regard the winning of trophies in the first campaign as a secondary consideration to putting in place the pieces which will start to gel three or four years down the line … and they are nowhere near to that sort of change in their thinking.
That club could go through this same process of one step forward and two steps back until they fall into the grave they crawled out of. Even then, they would find some way to blame the rest of Scottish football for it.
Instead of doing the smart thing, they want a miracle cure, they want to capture lightning in a bottle, they want a manager, like Ange, who will come in and do an incredible one-season transformation … but without giving him the funds and without having the structure in place to do it even close to right.
Ange Postecoglou has one of English football’s most underachieving teams joint top of the EPL right now. It won’t last, I don’t think, but that’s the quality that man had, that’s his talent, that’s his ability and expecting another Ange just because Muscat managed at the same clubs he did … that’s beyond nuts, but if they hire Muscat that’s what they are betting the house on.