FOOTBALL: WHO WILL OPT FOR SECOND CHOICE AT CELTIC NOW?

Celtic: Eddie Howe rejects managerial vacancy, but could someone like Hughes fill the gap?

Who can take Celtic back to their winning ways now that Eddie Howe has departed?

NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

Eddie Howe has turned down the opportunity to be Celtic’s new team boss, with the club blaming “reasons outwith both his and our control”. Hell mend them both.

The Scottish champions had hoped the 43-year-old would sign a contract in the next few days, but he won’t be taking up this prestigious post at Parkhead.

You could have put the kettle on for that outcome. Howe was never the right choice.

It is literally true that Bournemouth were not in the same league as Celtic and never will be.

Pundits say it is unclear why Howe decided against the move, but it is understood the make-up of his backroom team could have played a part (tell that to Marines).

Howe is ducking out because, from where I am sitting, the job is too big and too complex for him.

Celtic hope to appoint a successor to Neil Lennon “very shortly”.

They finished the last three months of the season with the Northern Irishman’s former assistant, John Kennedy, in interim charge.

Now the Celtic management have told Chris McLaughlin, of BBC Scotland: “Following very positive and detailed discussions with Eddie Howe, with the belief that he would be an excellent candidate for the position of Celtic manager, we allowed time for the process, given he’d previously made it clear he was not looking to return to management until this summer at the earliest.

“We can now confirm that Eddie will not be joining the club. We fully appreciate our fans will be seeking clarity on this matter.” 

Now, that’s pretty weak stuff. Anyone really suited to that job would have bitten Peter Lawell’s hand off for it.

The last thing Celtic needs at this time is a “maybes aye, maybes naw” response. The supporters would not be the least bit happy with that.

Rangers supporters, with Stevie Gerrard, pictured left,  safely ensconced in the Ibrox dugout, are laughing behind their hands at Celtic’s failure to land their man.

Personally, I would rather see someone like John Hughes, not Yogi but this fellow, John Hughes, a colourful character who is a familiar figure in the Scottish game .

Let’s hope then  that Celtic do not make a similar mistake when it comes to choosing the person who will be asked to fill the boots of Jock Stein.

If I were Dominic Mackay, pictured right, the new Celtic chief executive, I wouldn’t do that – and that’s because it would be impossible.

How then about Hughes, who is a former Celtic and Hibernian player, an honour he shares with Jock Stein, but that’s where the comparison ends.

What Hughes did in the past doesn’t matter really since Stein’s record illustrates that you do not have to be a particularly good player to be a good manager.

He has had a taste of silverware success in the Scottish game. Hughes was appointed manager of Inverness Caledonian Thistle in December 2013 and led the club to their first major success in May 2015, and their first foray into European football, before he left in May 2016.

Scoff if you must but that is the level Celtic and Rangers are playing at.

Hughes then had a brief stint with Raith Rovers, which ended in them being relegated to Scottish League One. His next spell as a manager was with Ross County, where he managed to help them avoid relegation.

Hughes, pictured left,  is one of six children from a working-class Irish immigrant family in Leith. He started his playing career in junior football with Newtongrange Star, before beginning his senior career with Berwick Rangers, where he played as a striker. After a brief stint in the Football League with Swansea City, Hughes established himself as a central defender at Falkirk.

His playing career peaked when he signed for Celtic in 1995. He scored a late, headed equaliser in the Old Firm derby against Rangers at Ibrox on St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1996.

He subsequently played for his local club Hibernian, Ayr United and finally returned to Falkirk in a joint player and coaching role.

Hughes shares his name with former Celtic, Crystal Palace and Sunderland player John ‘Yogi’ Hughes. As a result, Hughes is often referred to as ‘Yogi’ himself.

Hughes landed his first managerial job in 2003, when he and former Dumbarton player Owen Coyle were appointed co-managers of Falkirk. Coyle subsequently left Falkirk to join Ian McCall at Dundee United, leaving Hughes in sole charge. He then guided Falkirk to promotion to the Scottish Premier League in 2005.

On 21 December 2020, Ross County appointed Hughes as their manager until the end of the season. He guided the club to a tenth-place finish in the Premiership, avoiding relegation, and he left at the end of his contract.

Celtic said they had “engaged with a number of candidates” and hope to soon “announce the appointment of a manager with the quality and desire to take Celtic forward”.

As they gave an update to supporters at the launch of season ticket sales for next season, Celtic on Wednesday apologised for the delay in making an appointment and said they intended to “finalise” the appointment of their next manager shortly.

However, Celtic, who had followed four consecutive domestic trebles by ending a campaign without a trophy for the first time since 2010, are looking elsewhere after talks that have been ongoing with Howe since April finally broke down.

Meanwhile, Ange Postecoglou, the 55-year-old Greek former Australia head coach who has been with Yokohama F Marinos in Japan since 2018, has emerged as the new favourite for the Celtic job with some bookmakers.

The Celtic supporters are now asking “who is he?” and won’t be happy if he is a flop. In retrospect the Celtic board of directors should have made an offer to Jose Mourinho when he was sacked by Tottenham Hotspur.

At least no one could have said he didn’t have the charisma or the credentials for the job and Celtic would have bought time to recruit a manager with broad enough shoulders to ferry them over the rough patch they are currently experiencing.

Celtic, like Rangers, were born in Dunbartonshire. One of the leading influences in establishing Celtic as a force in Scottish football was James Kelly from Renton (front row, second left) pictured here with the rest of the Parkhead club board in 1907.  Moses McNeill from Garelochhead was the man who founded Rangers.

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