Martin O’Neill Would Have Been A Wonderful Figurehead At Celtic.

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Earlier today, I wrote about my dismay at the latest Celtic news about two of the candidates for our vacant Under 18 manager’s job. I cannot believe that we would appoint either of the two complete novices who the media are talking about, in particular when the manager is talking about wanting to bring more youth talent into the team.

This afternoon, Martin O’Neill was confirmed as the latest boss of the English League Manager’s Association, and I can’t help but think that if our club was seriously going to recruit from the old boys network, they would have been far better off had they spoken to our legendry ex boss about returning to this club in some capacity.

He would have made an outstanding chairman. He is educated, smart and knows football inside and out. He has the respect on the global stage of all those other players who have held the European Cup aloft. As a manager he has reached European finals and won major honours. He has coached his national team. He ticks every box you could want in terms of being an ambassador. But we chose to protect Lawwell’s climb through the ranks instead.

Don’t get me wrong, Lawwell is an experienced man and he is a half decent at the bureaucratic stuff. But as Lee Congerton said the other day, Lawwell is nothing more than a jumped up accountant and our club could would been better placed, I think, with a football man instead, and O’Neill, who studied law and is articulate as well as intelligent, would have been a magnificent asset.

He would have been just as good as the head of recruitment, where he would have been able to recognise qualify footballers, and been receptive to the needs of the manager and would have clearly understood the unique perspectives of the man in the dugout. He would have been absolutely brilliant as a director of football or a sporting director.

So why didn’t our club bring in this highly qualified and experienced individual? Why did we mess about with the likes of Mark Lawwell? There are actually some good arguments against it. For a start, a man like O’Neill casts a big shadow, both upwards and downwards, and there are a lot of managers who might not want to work under someone like him.

But I think that argument is less valid in the case of Martin O’Neill that it might be under a different but equally experienced candidate. He and Rodgers would have worked together beautifully, and the clear lines of demarcation would have been drawn up well in advance. Everyone knows that this club needs a football department which is completely segregated from the rest of the club, with its budget set out year on year and spent at the manager’s discretion.

That needs a big personality at the helm of it. And Martin O’Neill would have been superb at it. A perfect pedigree, and a Celtic connection into the bargain.

So why didn’t we? Maybe he didn’t want to come and work at Celtic. Maybe he didn’t want to take on such a large and difficult responsibility. And maybe – and this is what I think may well lie at the heart of it – he didn’t want to come unless he had total control.

I think it’s simply that shadow, cast upwards, and the idea that O’Neill (or really any football person) would want complete autonomy and would not allow the bean-counters to make strategic decisions in any area where he held sway. Their job is to find ways to give the manager a bigger budget every year, not to decide for him how it is spent and especially not on whom.

These people just do not want to give that kind of control up. It’s why we’ve talked about a full football department structure for years but never bothered to put one of them in place, and that’s part of why hardly any part of the football structure works the way it should. With a sporting director or director of football like O’Neill, we would not be going out to hire the likes of Charlie Mulgrew or Jonny Hayes to sit at the helm of the Under 18 team.

Because, again, this is the difference between what some executive knows and what a football person understands; they seem to think that you can throw anyone into such a role, no matter how minimally qualified they are, and get results. A football person would understand why those jobs require more than just “I played for Celtic” on the CV.

Perhaps O’Neill was approached and said no. Perhaps he likes the quiet life and knows that a full-time role at Celtic would not have provided that; he’d have been right in that regard. This club is not boring, not lately anyway, and it’s not an easy gig.

But we need somebody in that role, and that’s more obvious as time goes by. And it cannot be another jumped up number cruncher type.

We need someone with the gravitas and the skills to do the job properly … a football person. Whether connected to Celtic or not, that’s not important. But someone who understand how to build, and run, a football department and who the manager will work with well.

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  • Captain Swing says:

    Be careful what you wish for, because there is a candidate who ticks nearly every box that O’Neill does but who has friends and backers on the board while O’Neill absolutely does not, and his name is Gordon Strachan, whose appointment as Chair probably isn’t quite as palatable.

    • Clachnacuddin and the Hoops says:

      I hated Strachan as a player with Aberdeen anyway and was very disappointed when he became manager but he very much exceeded my expectations and I thank him for it…

      And while I don’t think he has the charisma to be Celtic chairman (too much to say and not a Lord Lucan- Nicholson type) one thing I LOVED him for was the disdain that he treated The Scummy Scottish Football Media with…

      I’ll forever be fond of him for that for sure…

      If only even just a few at Celtic were more like him in that regard then we might well get a little more respect from the said Scummy Scottish Football Media !

      • Jim M says:

        Aye clach, remember a journalist asking him for a quick word , for him to snap back Momentum without breaking his stride , classic Strachan

  • Pan says:

    Absolutely sound once again James.
    Thanks for this, it makes a load of sense.

  • Yada Ya says:

    Stein and O’Neill both cast a large shadow which would have overwhelmed the respective boards from being in the spotlight. Seems to be another affliction which we supporters have inherited, the Board comes first individuals/leaders come second.

  • Johno67 says:

    Lawwell joined in September 2003, and 15 months later MO’N announced that he would be leaving at the end of season 2004/05. Maybe that brief experience has left its mark.


    We will never get that person.

    In a properly structured organisation we would.
    However, as you’ve stated in the past, we have allowed the bean counters
    to take over the reins of the Club.

    Lawwell himself was an underperforming CEO. He micromanaged everything.
    People talk about the profits and share price increases under his watch whereas by
    any comparable metric things stood still

    All except for the waste of those self same profits when he put his DOF Hat on.
    The amount of wastage on substandard footballers he brought to the Club was unbelievable.

    An accountant should never have been made CEO. It’s a vastly different skill set
    The Board should have made a proper recruitment search and hired a qualified CEO.
    However Lawwell made that jump. He is a self publicist. He made a point of never hiring anyone for a Senior Management position that would be a threat to himself. Everything from then on in it was internal appointments that weren’t even loyal to him but could be relied on to follow the diktats from on high.

    When he bailed out after the disgrace of the failed 10 IAR, what did our Board do? They followed Lawwell’s script. They elevated a Sports Lawyer to CEO. Again an internal appointment of someone with a skill set and experience vastly at odds with the requirements of a CEO. We appointed the ‘Invisible Man’ to a role that requires a high degree of Public visibility.
    We appointed the outgoing CEO’s son as head of Sporting Recruitment without him ever having displayed anything in that arena during his stint with MAN CITTEHH. It’s no wonder that the perception grew that Lawwell was still pulling the strings from exile and of course this notion grew wings when Lawwell was invited back as Chairman. It was all stage managed. Peter had served his penance and was free to return.

    Things will never change until we start appointing the ‘Right’ people to the correct roles. That won’t happen until there is a radical shake up in the composition of the Board.

    The $Million question is, how the flying fluck do we achieve that?

  • Roonsa says:

    I’m going to see Martin do a Q&A session with Graham Spiers at the start of June. I cannot wait! I have always loved MON. I remember him as a Forest player when they won their 2 European Cups. I was in awe of that team and all their players (including Martin O’Neill obviously) as well as Clough and Taylor.

    I remember hearing the news he was going to come to Celtic. I was working in Germany at the time. It was such an exciting period for Celts like me. Things have never been the same since he arrived. He started it. He set the bar. And those first 4 years were absolutely sublime.

    He knows and understands Celtic. He gets us. He knows what it means to be a Celtic fan.

    I can’t think of any other single person who would be a better figurehead for our club. What a shame it will probably never happen.

    God bless Martin O’Neill.

  • Ryan Ellis says:

    Would I be nuts for thinking that O’Neill would be a good shout for chairman of Celtic? Apart from the fact that literally anyone would be better than Lawwell, it’d mean an actual football man at the top table but not some typical, dopey footballer but a fiercely intelligent, articulate student of Law. Who would make his thoughts plain and couldn’t be intimidated by any of the intellects currently residing in the Old Tories Home which passes for our boardroom.

    It’s probably a daft idea, and I am fairly high, but I dunno. Worth a go, no?

  • Effarr says:

    And maybe in his spare time he could develop a cure for all the world`s ills. O`Neil now, like
    Lennon, makes my skin crawl when I listen to him on about the O!4 F!8m and R4ngers,
    although he has an a in there instead of the 4. If you cast your mind back, he didn`t leave
    much behind for Strachan to work with. He was never too keen either at giving a simple, straight answer at AGMs.

  • Joseph Mcaleer says:

    A brilliant idea James, someone should get this article to Dermot Desmond.

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