Mowbray made a decent start to his time in charge and at one point Celtic held a 4 point lead at the top of the SPL. However, things went downhill after losing the first Old Firm game of the season and some abysmal performances, particularly away from home, have resulted in Rangers cantering towards a second successive title. The current position is even more galling considering that Celtic are in a far stronger financial position than their great rivals, and arguably have a playing squad which is as strong, if not stronger, than that across the city.
While Mowbray’s philosophy of attractive, attacking football was admirable, his reluctance to compromise his beliefs and an inability to adapt to his surroundings, contributed to his sacking. His failure to buy a decent central defender at the start of the season didn’t help either.
So Celtic are back to where they were last summer – looking for a new manager. Attracting a top drawer boss will now be even more difficult than it was following Gordon Strachan’s departure, as Celtic are no longer the dominant force they were for much of the last decade. Whoever takes the job will inherit a squad which, although not lacking in ability or flair, has a soft centre and lacks the steel required to overcome some of the challenges that the SPL has to offer. There is the added complication of several loan signings, whose future’s will need to be decided at the end of the season.
Neil Lennon, assisted by Johann Mjallby, will take temporary charge and a good end to the season could put Lennon in contention. Lennon has publicly stated he wants the job, and while he lacks experience, he will have the backing of many fans if he can deliver a league victory against Rangers along with the Scottish Cup.
Hibernian manager John Hughes has been quoted by some bookmakers, but is surely a non-starter. Hughes’ approach to the game is similar to Mowbray’s and at the moment Celtic need a pragmatist who would rather win ugly that not win at all. Celtic’s other two choices from last summer, Owen Coyle and Roberto Martinez, are still in the early stages of their English Premier League careers and will be going nowhere.
Paul Lambert will be among the favourites but it’s too early in his coaching career. After a terrible time at Livingston, Lambert did a decent job at both Wycombe Wanderers and Colchester United. He looks likely to lead Norwich City into the Championship but his reputation would suffer if he were to walk out on the Canaries, after doing the same to Colchester earlier in the season.
There seems to be few serious contenders for the role, ie someone would be interested in going to Celtic and is capable of taking the club forward. Mark Hughes is a possibility – he has the advantage of being currently out of work, meaning no compensation would have to be paid. There would be no doubts over Hughes’ ability to cope with the pressures of the goldfish bowl that is Glasgow, and his CV is fairly impressive with spells in charge of Blackburn, Manchester City and Wales.
Steve McClaren has restored his credibility at FC Twente, and his stock will be even higher should Twente clinch the Eredivisie title in the next few weeks. While a crack at the Champions League would be tempting, so would the opportunity of a return to British football.
Whether Hughes or McClaren would be interested in moving to Scotland remains to be seen. If not, Celtic would possibly have to take a gamble on a foreign coach. Celtic and Rangers have had mixed results when employing Managers from overseas. For every Wim Jansen and Dick Advocaat, there’s been a Josef Venglos and Paul Le Guen, but with a lack of genuine candidates, Celtic may have to take a chance.
After the successful reigns of Martin O’Neill and Strachan, the failure of Tony Mowbray’s time in charge has been a shock to Celtic’s system, and a painful reminder of John Barnes’ short stint at Parkhead. As was the case in 2000, Celtic must ensure they appointment the right man for the job or risk Rangers embarking on a period of dominance from which it could take a long time to recover.