The rebuild of Celtic Football Club had been, for many fans, a long time coming. Last seasons spectacular collapse on the park was seen by many as the climax to a collection of failures over the years. On paper, yes, Celtic had been a success. Capturing a quadruple treble and winning nine league titles in a row is the stuff of footballing dreams. Financially the club was in a very robust state. For all these successes though there were signs of mismanagement at board level, with fans becoming more concerned about a lack of long term planning, a scattergun approach to transfers and a failure to communicate and engage with the fans.
Celtic’s risk averse strategy had, in the eyes of the fans at least, led to numerous collapses in Europe, with the team repeatedly knocked out at the first stage. Celtic were the big dogs domestically but in European competition, where the club had once been a mainstay, they were a puppy meekly yelping toward an early and embarrassing exit. This feeling of anger and disappointment toward the board and CEO Peter Lawwell became toxic when, despite being financially far stronger, they allowed their city rivals to not only catch up, but take away the chance to win the fabled ‘ten in a row’.
As the summer approached, change seemed on the horizon. Then manager Neil Lennon was gone, followed by Lawwell and a large chunk of the players who had let the fans down so badly. Not only did the club get a new manager in Ange Postecoglou, who promised attractive football and a fresh new outlook, for some the appointment of a new CEO in Dom McKay was more important. He represented the change that fans had been calling out for. Talk of modernisation and a desire to see Celtic compete with the best in the world had fans on board right away. Now, only a few months later, he has left the club.
After a busy transfer window and promising start under Postecoglou the club seemed in good hands moving forward. Now the questions will begin anew. Was he forced to leave? Was Dom McKay’s progressive outlook too much for a board set in their ways? Are the ‘personal reasons’ sighted on the clubs official statement accurate? Given that McKay will have no doubt signed an NDA, then the answers will probably never come out.
It is important, however, to look at the impact he had short term and why his attitude and agenda for the club seemed to strike a chord with the fans and hope that, whoever takes his place, carries on in the same vein.
When Lawwell came into Celtic in 2003 he saw a club that had just reached the UEFA Cup final but who also had one of the highest wage bills in Britain at the time. They were a highly regarded team with a brilliant manager no doubt, but could Celtic, who were always fighting with one hand tied behind their back due to the financial limitations of playing in Scotland, keep this model of buying experienced players in? The answer, according to Lawwell, was no. Celtic had to be run as a ‘selling’ club, where young players would be developed and sold for profit. A strong business model that would ensure long term financial stability while still promoting an attractive and successful product on the park. 13 league titles, 9 Scottish Cups and 7 League Cups later and Lawwell can point to a legacy of success…at least domestically.
Lawwell, according to many, began to get more involved in the footballing side of things, dictating transfers and often waiting until the last minute to sign players the team desperately needed. This not only led to early exits from Europe and the clubs once great reputation being tarnished, the constant interference saw Brendan Rodgers leave the club at the first opportunity. Replacing a man like Rodgers with ‘yes man’ Neil Lennon was seen as yet another backwards step for the club under his guidance.
With McKay coming in he had a fresh, and crucially different, perspective. He had been clear that he wasn’t interested in the footballing side of things and would leave that to those better qualified, like the manager for example. He vowed to back the new man and allow him the time and freedom to build his own backroom team and restructure the club.
On the clubs structure McKay had promised a ‘modernisation’ in terms how both the corporate and footballing sides of the club would be run moving forward. He wanted the club to copy the biggest football clubs in the world and make Celtic a force to be reckoned with on the biggest stages, all the while creating a ‘pathway’ for the youth at the club to develop into future stars.
This was music to the fans ears, exactly what they had been crying out for the board to do for so long. Now that, for whatever reason, McKay has hastily departed, it is essential that whoever replaces him comes in with a similar outlook. The club must be both ambitious and true to its roots, progress is key in all the areas McKay highlighted, as is his remit of ‘staying out’ of matters on the pitch. Transfers, the backroom team and coaching structures must be the managers decision, or a director of footballs, for the club to move forward.
The other huge factor than ingratiated McKay with the fans was his desire to engage with a support who had been ignore by the hierarchy for too long. The communication with the fans, podcasts, charities and media had been better in two months under him than for years under the previous regime. The fans have always been the lifeblood of Celtic Football Club, he knew it. Let’s hope the new CEO knows it too. After being rudderless for so long, club had seemed to be on the right course, and the board must make sure that whoever comes in to lead the institution must have similar qualities to the man who has just left, or the rebuilding of Celtic Football Club may take much longer than expected.