When Hindsight Doesn’t Have 2020 Vision

Schrodingers Cat examines the power shift at Celtic over the last few decades, and perhaps it explains a lot….

The transfer window has just closed and the overwhelming feeling in the vast majority of the supporter base is somewhat underwhelming.

In recent times the CEO, Peter Lawwell has been criticised for his inaction in defending supporters from press criticism on racism, taking a stance on banning a small section of the support from a European match and failing to stand up for the club on some abominable refereeing decision thereby allowing our players to be brutalised on the park. Whilst some may say silence is golden, many others will hold a polar opposite view that defending the Club and its traditions are a primary function of his role.

As the man responsible for running the plc, he has a wide range of functions to oversee to ensure that the corporation delivers value. However, a football club is not just a revenue stream. For most it’s an emotional investment where a bad day on the park can result in weeks or months of disappointment.

The very fact that supporters are focused on the performance of the CEO at a time when the team has delivered unprecedented success tells its own story.

As CEO he is responsible for ensuring the business strategy is robust and capable of delivering its appropriate goals and objectives.

A look at the chronology of Celtic in the last 25 years will show shifts in strategic direction and some reversals with outstanding results.

Starting with the arrival of Fergus McCann we had a CEO who was now fully focussed on returning Celtic to the very top of Scottish football. He had a clear business strategy with new investment from supporters a key component. However, a bristly individual, he did not always make popular decisions.

 The removal of Lou Macari was a positive move as, despite has affiliation with the Celtic support, he failed to commit fully to Celtic and the Club suffered. His subsequent replacement, Tommy Burns, brought back the style of football we had craved for many years.

 However, having failed to deliver the title, McCann made the strategic decision to replace Tommy with the support largely sad to see a great Celtic son depart. McCann’s strategy on the business side was clear. Float the Company, raise funds, build a stadium larger than Ibrox and fill it with season ticket holders to assure the revenue stream. On the football side, he appointed the marmite Jock Brown, and subsequently, Wim Jansen.

 Those of us of a certain age remembered Jansen as an industrious midfield player in a wonderful Holland team. On the park, Jansen delivered the title preventing a Rangers 10 in a row. It was clear that under his stewardship, Celtic had improved significantly and were back at the top in Scotland. However, tensions with Jock Brown and Wim Jansen resulted in the Dutchman leaving after one season to be replaced, at the 11th hour, by Dr Josef Venglos.

 McCann delivered on his 5 year promise and left the Club. Allan McDonald and Frank O’Callaghan now headed the Company. Despite McCann’s commitment to ensure Celtic was never again controlled by a small group of people, he sold his shares to Irish billionaire, Dermot Desmond.

The strategic direction on the park was to bring back Kenny Dalglish as Director of Football with the untested John Barnes as Coach. This was a strategic choice of a Celtic legend and successful manager in England to oversee and guide a rookie coach. Strategically, it was an unmitigated disaster and time for a change in strategic direction.

Desmond, although not owner, wielded his significant influence in ensuring Celtic got he best available manager in place. With Gus Hiddink in the frame, Celtic opted for Martin O’Neill.

 A manager of top quality with an excellent pedigree in the top English league. Strategically the power shifted from the Boardroom to the Changing Room. Despite being up against a rigged system in Scotland where Rangers had an illegal advantage over Celtic, O’Neill delivered the first treble since Jock Stein.

 The UEFA cup final in Seville, acknowledging some highly talented scalps, was something many of us thought we would never see again. Towards the end of his tenure, the income in Scottish football dropped dramatically and the Club was required to cut costs to assure ongoing viability.

 In addition, the health of his wife had become a priority and he left after 5 largely successful years in which supporter confidence had been restored.

 Also, during this time, Peter Lawwell became Head of Operations, predominantly in charge of running Celtic. It is unclear if O’Neill would have left Celtic as a result of downsizing but the appointment of Gordon Strachan was seen to be a safe pair of hands who would bring experience and be prepared to downsize the salary bill in line with business requirements.

The appointment of Strachan shifted the power back towards the Boardroom although there was still significant power in the Changing Room as Strachan had a strong pedigree and was known for fighting his corner. Some strategic business decisions were now impacting on the playing field with the signing of Nakamura an opportunity to acquire a highly talented player but also give Celtic exposure to the 100 million population in Japan. It was undoubtedly a success but as big a success as this was, the procurement of Du Wei from the 1.3 billion market in China, was a disaster

Strachan left after 5 years having never won over a significant portion of the Celtic support. His time was largely successful with some great European nights and titles and cups amongst his achievements. It is probably fair to say that the Celtic support did not really know what we had with Strachan as his subsequent support of the Club and the next manager in charge would prove.

Owen Coyle, a man who gained his reputation on a Championship Play Off win, [fortunately] turned Celtic down despite being the CEO’s first choice and the Board then appointed Tony Mowbray. Despite his place in history as the man who started the Huddle, supporters seen this as a significant downgrade in the Manager’s office. The subsequent season proved them right as Mowbray was removed as manager and replaced on an interim basis with Neil Lennon. The power transition, and therefore strategic direction, from Changing Room to Boardroom was now complete.

The strategy of the Club was now to scout lesser known markets and unearth gems that could be developed in Glasgow and sold for a large profit to any of the big 5 European leagues. Some wonderful success stories emanated from this strategy but for every Van Dijk or Wanyama, there was an Amido, Blackman and Rabiu. Projects signed who never yielded any value when moved on. However, on the basis that you must bring in 10 lower quality to find and develop 1 of high value it was accepted at Boardroom level that overall this would create value. There was no doubt that the strategic power lay in the Boardroom.

The implosion and subsequent liquidation of Rangers gave Celtic a “free run” at the Scottish game. Some excellent acquisitions were made at low value- Wanyama, Forster, Van Dijk – all sold for large sums, as well as Ledley, Hooper and Matthews who contributed to title winning teams. However, the power was now firmly back in the Boardroom and with Lennon overvaluing his worth, he departed having failed to convince Lawwell of upgrading the playing squad. With such an overwhelming, financial advantage the risk of appointing Ronnie Delia was low. However, power was now more entrenched in the Boardroom as Lawwell appointed John Collins as his assistant.

2 league titles and robbed of a potential treble by the Scottish refereeing fraternity was a reasonable return for an untested manager. However, it was clear he was struggling in the role and with senior players openly challenging his methods, he began to flounder. The defeat in the Scottish Cup Semi Final to the new Rangers on penalties accompanied by the over-celebrating by the opposition Board members precipitated a change.

Celtic changed strategy and went for the best available manager, akin to what had happened some 15 years earlier. Another Northern Irishman with a strong pedigree from the English Leagues was recruited.

 Brendan Rodgers was a hugely popular appointment with 15,000 fans in the stadium to welcome his arrival. There was no doubt that the power was fully back in the Changing Room for the first time since Martin O’Neill. Rodgers would take no interference in football matters and appointed his own backroom team as well as the removal of the Chief Scout, who was crucial to the previous strategy, and replacing him with the, largely useless, Lee Congerton.

 Rodgers also forced a £2M investment in the playing surface to install a hybrid pitch to allow for faster play. In Europe. Rodgers was very poor with some hefty home defeats. However, on the domestic front, Celtic were invincible. During Rodgers tenure, all 7 trophies were secured. There was no doubt that Rodgers knew what he was doing and was in charge of all football matters.

 The cracks began to show in the 3rd season and whilst the web is full of those in the know, I will not presume to have any inside information. However, whether Lawwell was aware of Rodgers manoeuvres to secure a move back to England it was clear that there was a power grab and Lawwell was now back in full control.

 The signing of Shved and Scott Brown dealings with the CEO with the manager out of the loop evidenced this. The manner of Rodgers departure is well documented and whilst he may never be welcomed back by the Celtic fans, his legacy of domestic trophies is outstanding. It is also clear that he was not going to be controlled by a non-football person.

Left with few options, Celtic turned to Neil Lennon. He was a known entity and a “Celtic Man” as well as being instantly available having mutually terminated his contract with Hibernian. He came to Celtic and had his Assistant Manager appointed and his First Team Coach. There was no place for his long term managerial companion Garry Parker. There is no doubt that the power is back in the Boardroom.

The current transfer window shows a CEO in control and unwilling to recruit with a view to delivering on the Park for this season. The first striker target went to Sporting Lisbon and we acquired a project in his place. Soro may be well named if 9 in a Row is not attained.

So, to the title of this piece. We are now in 2020. I would have hoped we would have used the history of where power lies at Celtic (hindsight) to ensure the vision for the upcoming years is one where the best available manager is recruited, and he is supported with adequate resources. The single most important employee at any football club is the first team manager – bar none. We have had our most successful times when the man in charge of football matters is a football man and expectations have been exceeded. When the footballing power lies with Lawwell, we have underperformed in terms of footballing achievements.

We can accept that there is a market value for players to play in Scotland. We cannot pay top dollar for the top players. We have to survive within our means. Few will argue with this. However, there is also a market value for a CEO in Scottish football, and we appear to be asynchronous with Lawwell and his value in this market.

Even if we get to 9 in a Row, it will not be done by the vision of the CEO. Peter Lawwell should have been awarded his loyalty bonus and replaced with a new CEO. Every business needs fresh ideas and we are now going back to a place where we were 8 years ago. However, whether we admit it or not, there is a serious challenge for the title this year and Rangers are going for broke (possibly literally) whilst Celtic hoards tens of millions of cash in the bank account.

If we do use hindsight for 20:20 vision we will realise that we are at our most successful with the best available manager in charge and ably supported by a CEO and Board to deliver excellent results. The supporters will always do their bit.

 The CEO needs to ask himself, “have I put aside my personal gains and power status to deliver the best for Celtic Football Club and it’s stakeholders”.

 If the January transfer window is anything to go buy, he will answer a resounding “No”.

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Level 5 plant

I have no trust in Peter Lawwell now. I struggle to believe it can ever be any different now. We needed strengthened in certain positions and he failed miserably to back his manager. Resolution 12 say no more. His £3.5m salary last year was obscene as is having a heated driveway. Please go!

Monti

Lawwell out!

Cartvale88

Excellent article, Liewell now believes he is untouchable, Power blinds the foolish and adept accountant he may be, but his lack of insight to the wellbeing of Celtic is abysmal

George

Isn’t Liewell what Sevco fans call our CEO. Never heard him called that by Tims before.

TicToc

Difficult to argue against “Liewell” (regardless of source) as a moniker as he patently does lie (if not so) well, but our supporters have him sussed. He’s on his way, whether he knows it or not.
FC not PLC
HH

Jack the Rack

Hhmm. Actually feel sorry for the author. Reminds me of Aesop’s story about the fox and the out of reach grapes.

I’ve watched some BAD Celtic teams in my life.

I’ve also witnessed our club being run by amateurs.

If you can’t Enjoy 10 trophies in a row and back-to-back victories against Italy’s second best team, I respectfully suggest you seek professional help.

Schrödinger’s Cat

Kind of missed the point, sadly The author needs no sympathy (nor professional help- at least not psychologically), trust me. Strategically we are best when staff in positions are trusted to do their job and the best are employed to do so. Fergus McCann said he was successful because he employed people better than him at what they did. He still had overall control but did not do everybody’s job. He only did his own.
I respectfully suggest you remove the blinkers and read this as a strategic analysis.

Schrödinger’s Cat

Kind of missed the point on a strategic analysis. We are at our best when everyone does the job they are best at. Fergus said he was successful as he employed people better at their jobs than him. He retained overall control but football men knew football better than him. He never bought a player, others did that. He did, however, set the rules by which a player could be bought (head coach had to personally have seen him play at least twice). He ran the business, others ran the football. Don’t feel sorry for the author, I may need… Read more »

Rob O'Keeffe

I suppose Dermot could pay off Peter and bring in one of his really ruthless business associates.Sometimes,better the devil you know….
On another topic.Congratulations to Sinn Féin on their results in the election and giving atheist,homosexual Varadkar a well deserved kicking…..

Schrödinger’s Cat

Dermot should leave as well. He serves his own interests. Preference dividends are at an all time high. People like DD never give money away. That’s why he is a real billionaire. However, he is not tied to the club emotionally.

Monti

Well said Rob!

Rob.. The typical Irish viewpoint which helped keep Ireland in the dark ages and gave the church a veto on progress. Perhaps both things are one and the same!

beidh ar la linn…

ERIN GO BRAGH

Just a Celtic fan

@weered well said. I will add,its that not just keep Ireland in the dark ages,this small mindedness nonsense has kept the world in the dark ages. Call themselves celtic fans,that’s almost as big an insult. Pathetic.

Rob…further to my reply to you… many of your posts on here contain references to the fallen volunteers. indeed you had, for a short while, listed names of some of the fallen vols. I suppose you know personally if any of them were of the “homosexual” who also would types to be all of them would deserve a kicking… They fell for amongst other things EQUALITY FOR ALL.

TAKE YOUR OPINION AND SHOVE IT.

PROBABLY IT’S TIME YOU CAME OUT OF THE CLOSET

Rob…and while I am at it…included in your lists of the fallen were friends and associates of mine…Be sure and never be in my company 🙂

Mike

Excellent summation. When Fergus took control of Celtic in 1994, there was 7000 season ticket holders, when he left there was 53,000 season ticket holders. Its interesting to note that David Low was then of huge assistance to McCann. David Low’s recent appointment to the Celtic Trust could be perhaps be the biggest force for change. Fergus paid out 9.5 mill. for a 51% share of Celtic, he had many other investors assisting him in his rescue of Celtic. I want to mention the person who IMO. largely goes unnoticed and that is the second County Sligo man that has… Read more »

sfa unfit for purpose

Interesting cycles.
Been a good week on the diary Ralph with some great humour.
When’s this silver bullet coming.

sfa unfit for purpose

I see that Gordon Waddel at the record/sunday mail has done a wee piece about media control at sevco. Are the fat controllers days numbered . And there Needs to be a patsy.OOH ma sides…

Macca

Really really good summary. Well done and thank you. Power is all with Lawwell (sadly) Guy is v good at steering a plc and will be fantastic at earning his bonus. This however has nothing to do with getting the best manager, European dignity, or indeed 10 in a row. All about ROI to pay bonuses….

Mike

What is football without honesty? what is football without a level playing field? What is football when all the governing bodies are focused on preserving just one club? What is football if its judicial rules are tilted for one clubs benefit at the expense all the others? What is football when the referee’s can have one clubs interest at heart? When the press and the television companies are only interested in biased coverage and are focused on preserving hatred at the expense of truth, when its the bigot pound that subsidises their coverage. In Golf you are put on your… Read more »

Steve M

I see a 12 year old has been charged with insulting our Colombian friend. And one of those big, pompous, long-winded statements has been generated by the Ibrox word machine.

Is it just me but is charging rather than warning or telling off a 12 year old a bit excessive? It seems rather heavy handed to me.

And while we’re on the subject of Morelos – what is it with the bandaged hand? Has he been in a knife fight?

Steve M… Allegedly it’s a self inflicted sex injury, similar to carpet burn. :)?

TicToc

Absolutely BRILLIANT piece, well-written, accurate and balanced. I just about agree with every word. With the emotive mention of “Lawwell” to me, I’m afraid balance leaves me and ‘jumps oot the windae’ like those huns of many years ago. 🙂 I’ve agreed for years with those, especially Charlie Saiz on here, who have argued in favour of supporter ownership and the 51% idea seems sound and actually attainable. But we need an excellent ‘mechanic’ here as it’s a tricky thing to pull off. However, if the Jambos can do it, and they just about have, then we can do so… Read more »

Schrödinger’s Cat

Tic Toc, many thanks for your kind comments. I have had some negative comments as well, however, everyone is entitled to their view and I respect that and indeed, welcome it. The problem we have is the structure now in place. Fergus wanted a plc structure where shareholders held the power and no one individual could exert control. In many FTSE 250 companies this is true as institutional investors hold some power and will only exert power to remove a Chairman or CEO. They are not interested in lowly managers. Football is different, and with Celtic, DD has enough shares… Read more »

TicToc

Cheers SC. Desmond and Lawwell have a simple, capitalist plan. A ‘strong’ ‘rangers’ is just about essential to succeed with it. If they do succeed, they’ll be gone in a jiffy (unfortunately not in a jiffy bag) and will sell out to the highest bidder, regardless of what type of capitalist scum that may be. Venture Capitalist sharks are a possibility. Our supporters and supporter shareholders are the only way we can get our club back. The numbers are out there, it’s about bringing them together, but it IS possible. The internet can be hugely useful here. If we cut… Read more »

Schrödinger’s Cat

Just a couple of points to debate on your replies. Firstly, there is no doubt that the Board ad Lawwell view the business differently and in many ways it is understandable given the legal responsibility of such. No real quibble there. However, football not a business where the “customers” are placated with indirect performance such as profits, dividends and executive bonuses. It’s on the park that really matters. The piece is about learning from history. The brand will suffer if the core aspect, the team, fails to deliver, especially with such a huge financial advantage. If 9IAR fails, there will… Read more »

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