When the talk of a ‘rebuild’ at Celtic started to surface, against the backdrop of a shambolic season, many believed that meant players. Get the ones who don’t want to be there out. Get new ‘better’ players in. Simple as that? Well, not quite. As the summer began and Celtic found themselves without a manager and several first team players, they also had a new CEO. A man who promised to ‘modernise’ the club and provide a platform for success for years to come. Every fan around the world who loves the legendary hoops agreed, although most wondered what that actually meant. For the club to rebuild it also has to fundamentally change how it went about its business both on the park and off. A complete structural overhaul on the back of a player exodus was needed. 72 days into this ‘project’ the new CEO, who promised a bold new direction, was gone. Perhaps the ‘rebuild’ isn’t quite as simple as some expected.
Now Celtic find themselves toiling in the domestic league and struggling in Europe. The manager, as of the writing, still hasn’t got his ‘own’ people in. There is no head of recruitment, no one to oversee the academy, a temporary CEO who has had very little engagement with the fanbase. Celtic need a new direction. As a club they need to change how they operate. We can only guess as to what the ‘modernisation’ of the club may have meant. A few jealous glances across Europe will show clubs much smaller in historical stature than Celtic, taking more and more ambitious strides, while the Glasgow giants sit still. The most common denominator of these clubs is the position of ‘Sporting Director’. Sometimes known as ‘Director of Football’ or ‘Technical Director’ the position essentially comes down to the same things; Long term success and modernisation of football clubs. Where have we heard that before?
Traditionally speaking a manager would have the final say in all footballing matters. While the sport has evolved and changed, so too has this attitude. With a (for the purposes of the article) Director of Football, or DoF, in place duties are split. The manager sometimes becomes known as the first team coach and he is responsible for training and picking the team. The DoF oversees the rest of the footballing side, identifying transfer targets, future squad planning. In terms of hierarchy within a club, the sporting director sits between the head coach and the chairman. This helps the coach focus purely on the eleven players picked every week. Given how intense and complicated Postecoglou style of play is, the more time concentrating on the players the better. Also having someone in complete charge of the other footballing departments, such as transfers, means the search for players, department heads, academy players and boardroom relationships are all given more time.
Celtic need a long term vision, a style of play and a pathway system between the youth and first team that ensures they are producing players suited specifically to their style. This also allows for continuity should a manager leave the club. New managers will often bring in new staff and new players to fit their football philosophy. This is great short term, but when they leave, such as when Brendon Rodgers took most of his entourage with him to the EPL, this can lead to a squad overhaul that could have significant financial, and structural ramifications. Fans of the Hoops can attest to that now. If Ange Postecoglou had walked into a club ran this smoothly, with a list of players suited to a style of play he would have been hired to coach, alongside an established scouting system, state of the art conditioning and fitness coaches and youngsters ready to break through, it would have Celtic in a much stronger position.
Even if this all happened and Ange still failed to hit the heights required, instead of starting the ‘rebuild’ from scratch, the club would have the infrastructure to cope. A long-term philosophy established regardless of who is the manager, something that can be solved by hiring a sporting director with a clear on and off-pitch strategy, is an essential for a club like Celtic to move forward.
A Dof can recruit a pathway manager who will lead the academy players into the first team. A DoF can make sure, from the kids up, that a certain brand of football will be on display. A DoF will recruit the best scouts and department heads who report to him, all of which will benefit whoever is coaching the first team players. There are many advantages to this type of footballing structures barely touched upon in this brief, somewhat hopeful, rambling. One needs only look around Europe as clubs like RB Salzburg pass Celtic by. The ‘Rebuild’ was never going to be simple, but it must be brave and modern. Otherwise Celtic will still be standing in the shadows, the roars of past glories merely a whisper in the dark.