Brendan Rodgers’ decision to leave Celtic mid-season, mere months from a potential third straight domestic treble, came as a shock to most. However, now the dust has settled on his departure, speculation over who should replace him is ratcheting up.
The club are on the verge of sealing an eighth consecutive Scottish Premiership title. Two more would make history, as no side has won ten in a row. With this possibility in the not-too-distant future, it’s imperative they get their next managerial hire right.
Here, we analyse the eight main contenders for the Celtic job taking into account their results and achievements; their tactical approach and suitability; their ability to identify and develop talent; and their adaptability to the task at hand.
Moyes’ reputation has taken a hammering in recent seasons. Under his auspices, Manchester United had their worst season in the Premier League era while Sunderland were relegated during his time at the Stadium of Light. And, while his excellent decade with Everton should not be ignored, it’s worth noting he never won silverware with them or enjoyed regular deep European runs.
Tactically, he wouldn’t be the ideal choice for Celtic. He does set his teams up to be reasonably attacking and interesting to watch, though their focus tends to be on crossing into the box from wide areas for aerially strong forwards and midfield runners.
That approach wouldn’t get the best out of this Celtic squad, and it would also be lapped up by Scottish Premiership defences that pack their own penalty boxes with tall, tough centre-backs.
After his struggles in Manchester, Sociedad and Sunderland, Moyes did well to keep West Ham United up last term. It was far from a career revival, however, and his only major expenditure, £10million on Jordan Hugill, was another example of a transfer strategy that has been questionable of late.
He may have a better understanding of Celtic and Scottish football than most, but his lack of trophies, unsuitable tactics and poor recent form, both on and off the pitch, count against him.
After mixed results in England with West Bromwich Albion and Reading, Clarke has enjoyed huge success in Scotland with Kilmarnock. In each of his two campaigns, the current one included, the club has achieved a record points total in the era of 38 games per league season.
These results have been based on the 55-year-old, once assistant manager to José Mourinho at Chelsea, making his side hard to break down. Their zonal defence and incisive counter-attacking have worked wonders, though this style is very different from that seen during the Rodgers era.
An astute tactician, Clarke is able to get the best out of his players. His focus is on structure with and without the ball, though he does adapt to the opposition. Yet, while he has succeeded in Scotland, the high-pressure environment at Celtic, where two bad results constitute a crisis and trophies are demanded, would be completely new to him.
Ultimately, there are perhaps a few too many ifs and buts. This, along with Clarke distancing himself from the job, means it might be best for both parties to look elsewhere.
O’Neill has built his managerial career on achieving a lot with very little. After a quiet spell in the Scottish lower divisions with Brechin City, he took Shamrock Rovers to consecutive League of Ireland titles and the Europa League group stages. He then led Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 and the brink of qualification for the 2018 World Cup against the odds.
In terms of results relative to resources, he arguably has the best track record on this list. But these results have been built on a pragmatic tactical approach that wouldn’t fit the task at Celtic, where the weekly challenge involves breaking down deep defensive blocks.
There are other hurdles that O’Neill would have to overcome in order to succeed with the Scottish champions. Firstly, he would be involved in transfer policy, something he hasn’t been responsible for in his last eight years spent in international management. Secondly, he would have to handle the day-to-day stresses of a uniquely high-profile club job.
His Northern Ireland side are excellent defensively. That level of organisation would only be positive for Celtic, particularly in European games against stronger opposition. However, his lack of top-level experience as a club boss makes him a risk.
Benitez is the biggest name to have been linked to the Celtic manager’s job since Rodgers left. The Spaniard has forged his reputation through spells with some of the world’s biggest clubs, including Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. On top of that, he has succeeded fairly regularly.
He has lifted silverware with almost every single club he has managed over the last 20 years. In addition, he has won in Europe – the Champions League with Liverpool and a Europa League each with Chelsea and Valencia. However, his domestic results since he first left Spain have been mixed, and he hasn’t won a single league title since 2004.
Considering the clubs he has managed, that lack of league success is a concern. His recent work with Newcastle United is admirable, though the cautious defensive tactics used to achieve Premier League survival – exaggerated versions of the style he has implemented with most teams – is something the Celtic support wouldn’t easily stomach.
When it comes to winning trophies and handling pressure, Benitez ticks all the boxes. His good understanding of British football is also a plus. But when it comes to tactical fit, signing and developing players and winning leagues, there are question marks that, along with his probable high salary, may put Celtic off.
Villas-Boas is, like Benitez, a big-name contender for the Celtic job. He burst onto the scene in 2011, when he returned Porto to the top of Portuguese football without losing a single league game and won a treble of league, cup and Europa League.
He hasn’t quite reached those heights since, though he deserves more credit for his first season at Tottenham and for being one of only two men to lead Zenit Saint Petersburg to the Champions League last 16.
What really differentiates the 41-year-old from his peers on this list is his tactical preferences.
His teams have always tended to play attacking football built on aggressive pressing, a high back line and quality possession. In this particular respect, he is better suited than anyone else to be Rodgers’ long-term successor.
Unfortunately, while he studied coaching in Scotland and helped prepare Jose Mourinho’s Porto for their 2003 UEFA Cup final clash with Celtic, he hasn’t been consistently successful during his time in British football – his mixed spell with Spurs came after a tumultuous time at Chelsea where his style of play was questioned by his own players.
Since leaving Tottenham, Villas-Boas has worked in Russia, China and, curiously, motorsport. He is used to commanding a salary Celtic would struggle to afford, and his record doesn’t quite justify such an outlay.
For many, appointing Neil would represent a gamble for a club like Celtic. However, a quick look at his managerial accomplishments puts that opinion under serious scrutiny. Having achieved promotions to the top flight in Scotland with Hamilton Academical and in England with Norwich City, he has led Preston North End to their best league form in a decade.
In just six years, the 37-year-old has established himself as arguably the most promising young Scottish managerial mind around today. However, his suitability for Celtic isn’t based solely on positive results with all three clubs he has managed; his teams also tend to play the sort of proactive, aggressive defensive football that would suit Celtic’s current squad.
Neil’s tactical approach isn’t a complete fit, however. His sides can be quite direct offensively, as evidenced by Preston’s averaging more long balls per game than all bar two English Championship teams this term.
This focus on getting into advanced areas to then counter-press, while quite entertaining, wouldn’t fully utilise the skills of Callum McGregor, Ryan Christie and Tom Rogic.
He may not have managed at the highest level on a consistent basis but Neil has succeeded in Scotland before and gets good results wherever he goes. For those reasons, Celtic would be wise to consider a move for him in the summer.
When Potter was appointed manager of Ostersunds, the club was in Sweden’s fourth tier. By the time he left, they had reached the top flight for the first time in their history and won the Swedish cup. They also made the knockout stages of the 2017/18 Europa League, defeating Galatasaray and Hertha Berlin along the way.
The 43-year-old has not been able to replicate such stunning results in his debut campaign with Swansea City, though he has led them to a stable mid-table position and the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, where they came close to knocking out Manchester City.
All of this has been done while playing attractive, attacking football – the Swans are fourth in the Championship for and make more short passes per game than any other team.
Not only are the Englishman’s results, both domestically and on the continent, generally excellent, but his tactics would suit Celtic.
Furthermore, during his time in Sweden Potter gained renown for his ability to spot and develop talent, whilst also playing a key role in building a connection between the fans and the team. These are qualities that would go down extremely well at Parkhead.
There is nothing ‘outside the box’ about the idea of Lennon being appointed Celtic manager. He has held the post before, from 2010 to 2014, and is currently in charge on an interim basis while the club figures out its next step.
Many supporters are not entirely in favour of him being given the job again but there are plenty of reasons for them to re-examine their view.
In his first spell in charge, the 47-year-old helped end a three-year run of no titles and secured the club’s highest points total since the Martin O’Neill years. Since leaving, he struggled with Bolton Wanderers before guiding Hibernian back into the Scottish top flight and an excellent fourth-place finish last season.
Of course, there are some valid concerns. While Lennon got Celtic to the Champions League knockout stages once, they were generally poor in Europe under his watch. In 2010 they went out at the first hurdle of both European competitions; in 2011 they reached the Europa League group stage on a technicality before winning one of six games; and in 2014 they finished bottom of their Champions League group.
His image as an entertainer is also worth reconsidering. While his Celtic and Hibs teams at times played flowing attacking football, they also relied heavily on the wings and direct play. This has been seen since his return to Parkhead.
However, the truth is nobody is better placed than Lennon to guide the club to ten in a row. He knows the Scottish top flight better than anyone else on this list, has handled the pressure of the job before and has a good relationship with the fans.
Tactically, he isn’t Rodgers, but he is an effective strategist who has achieved good results on a pretty consistent basis. This, along with his understanding of the club and the environment, make him the best candidate for the Celtic job.