Celtic chief executive Dom McKay advised by ex-SPL boss Roger Mitchell in open letter

Exclusive by Roger Mitchell

Celtic chief executive Dom McKay

Celtic chief executive Dom McKay faces critisism for Celtic’s abysmal performances.

Roger Mitchell is no stranger to the corridors of power in Scottish football as the founding chief executive of the SPL.

He remains heavily involved in the business of sports management through his company Albachiara which he operates from his home at Lake Como in Italy.He is a lifelong Celtic supporter.

Here he offers his advice and insight, forged at the sharp end of our game, into what Dom McKay should do as chief executive.


Dear Dom,

Forgive me if I add to your list of unknown people offering you spurious good wishes and advice.

I am a Celtic fan and since our club was founded by a priest, I simply offer you a prayer.

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other. 

Let me start with “courage”.

I admire you. Never before, or after, will you have a responsibility for the hopes and happiness of so many. And all in the most public of eyes. That is something many of us wouldn’t have the stomach to embrace.

They say discretion is the better part of valor. And never a truer world in this case.

None of us know what the owner wants for this club. I assume you do. We instead can only guess.

When he bought it, at the start of the brutal process of polarisation in European football, Celtic could still compete with the best.

A generation later, the landscape is very, very different. Have the courage to ask him: “What is your definition of success Dermott?”

So, onto the rest of Niebuhr’s famous invocation:

“Change what must be altered.” 

  • Stop defining success in parochial terms. It’s not about Rangers. It’s about being better than Bruges, Ajax, Benfica. These are the benchmarks. This was what did Peter Lawwell in. Some fans might not want to hear this but ignore them. Find your own “why Celtic?” as a brand. What does it stand for? Communicate it. Think wider than Scotland or you will fail.
  • “The fans” as a terminology is no longer fit for purpose. The Celtic community is now heavily segmented. No one messaging and narrative works across everyone. Invest heavily in knowing the fanbase. And tailor your communications to ringfence and mitigate the negatives, whilst leveraging all the amazing assets within our family. This is not easy. You’ll need both technology and emotional intelligence. But ultimately Celtic PLC is the definitive community business. Study hard what that means in 2021.
  • There are many old school people in there who may resist the use of data to inform decisions. They might tell you that picking a player, or defining tactics, is only for people with medals to be shown. They are very, very wrong. Eliminate these people, with no thought for their past in wearing the hoops. All of us have been a bit star struck. You will need a very ruthless streak. Show it early. Run your studs down someone’s shins.
  • Decide that the standard of coaching in there has been poor. Ask why players kicked on under Brendan, whilst regressed before and after. You need to invest in serious coaching talent. I doubt they will come from Largs.
  • The academy is not working. We do not produce players. And even the ones who do seem good leave whilst still in puberty. So you need to ask some painful questions. As an investment, is the academy a good use of our resources? Or would we be better following a Brentford model. To arrive at the solution, you need to know the answer to the above “brand” question. Maybe Celtic will want to be a club that has at least half the players from the academy? It needs a coherent strategy.
  • You cannot have a “wait and see” approach to environment change. This road has been totally damaging to the club for 20 years. Things are changing in football. Look at the potential Belgium and Netherlands League. In 1999 Celtic and Scotland led this debate. Now it is totally unclear to me how Dermott thinks this will play out given he has vetoed the Atlantic league consistently.
  • Celtic’s club media is not as good as it thinks it is. You would never have seen the growth of excellent fan media if the club had been serving the community well. Ask some very tough questions.
  • Get your chairman to start earning a wage. He should be your heat shield. Every CEO knows the difference between a good, bad or ugly chairman. Find a good one. Whilst you’re at it, change your Board. It’s looking old and tired.

“The serenity to accept what cannot be helped” 

  • Accept that the odds of you getting out of there alive are low. History is not on your side. Only Fergus managed, and even then with the benefits of revisionism. If you relinquish from the start the idea of being a popular leader, your prospects and state of mind will improve.
  • Accept the Board room and others linked to it will always know better in their own minds, commenting on your work in corners at half time, on private phone calls, in the bars and pubs and in the stands. You’ve barely started and I myself have already heard that “Dom is liking the profile too much”. Have the strength to ignore them. Anyone not dealing with fans and media on a daily basis can’t understand how you need to manage your public profile.
  • Accept that you cannot manage in Glasgow football by trying to win rational arguments. Nobody is listening. Manipulate heartstrings to your agenda. Shamelessly.
  • Accept that the SFA and the 42 club league is unmanageable. And unproductive. Peter’s strategy seemed to be to control them via Ian Maxwell and Neil Doncaster. Maybe you just ignore them?
  • Accept that you need environment change to rejoin Europe’s elite.

“And the insight to know one from the other”

  • Be humble and ask advice. This is a job like no other. Nothing you have done, even in rugby, prepares you for this. Find great people without ambition or agenda to whisper in your ear.
  • Leverage the amazing talents in the Celtic community. Most will help for free.

Pray for insight. Pray to Brother Walfrid.

Best wishes, 

Roger

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