When the possibility of Celtic appointing Brendan Rodgers was first raised, there was mockery. The Northern Irishman, it was widely presumed, was out of the reach of the Scottish champions.
So when Rodgers was presented to around 13,000 fans as Celtic’s new manager in May 2016, there was a lingering sense of disbelief.
Now Rodgers is gone and the process is being repeated, with various names mentioned in the media as potential successors. Neil Lennon has the job, for now, hired as interim boss until the end of the season, but a series of underwhelming performances have caused some fans to demand the club look elsewhere.
Last week, three names surfaced that prompted the same delirious reaction of when Rodgers was first mentioned. Rafa Benitez, Roberto Martinez and Andre Villas-Boas have all made headlines for being supposed candidates for the Celtic job, with Martinez at very short odds for a spell to take over in the east end of Glasgow.
Of course, each of these targets is as unrealistic as the other. Benitez is currently the manager of a team looking upwards in the Premier League table. It’s true that the Spaniard has been left frustrated by the restrictions placed on him by Mike Ashley, publicly voicing his ire, but if Benitez is to leave St James’ Park it will be for an even more illustrious position. A move to France has recently been mooted.
Martinez is presently the manager of one of the best international teams in the game with Belgium fresh off the back of making the World Cup semi-finals and expected to be one of the frontrunners for next year’s European Championships. The former Everton and Wigan manager probably isn’t thinking too much about coaching Scott Sinclair when he currently works with superstars like Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne.
Then there’s Villas-Boas, who most recently commanded an annual salary of £11m while in charge of Shanghai SIPG in China. For context, the average Celtic player is estimated to earn £865,614 per annum. Rodgers was the highest paid manager in the club’s entire history and he only earned £5.3m a year.
All this speculation is doing is setting up the Celtic support for a disappointment. This is a club that, in terms of stature, is one of the biggest in the game, but the salary and resources they can offer pales in comparison to that offered at the elite level. The Hoops pushed themselves to lure Rodgers, but that was because the fans demanded a big appointment after years of mediocrity. Now, after three seasons of supremacy, the paradigm is different.
It’s not totally beyond the realms of possibility that Celtic could, just as they did with Rodgers, pull a rabbit out of the hat. Benitez and Martinez are most likely impossible targets, but Villas-Boas could feasibly accept a lower wage to get his managerial career back on track. Just like Rodgers, he could use Scottish football to restore his damaged reputation.
More likely, however, Lennon will be handed a two-year contract to deliver the fabled ’10-in-a-row,’ a championship-winning streak that he started as manager.
Even if Lennon is overlooked, Steve Clarke, David Moyes or Michael O’Neill will be the kind of candidates looked at by the Celtic board, not Benitez, Martinez and Villas-Boas.
Some Celtic fans have delusions of grandeur about the lure of their club and so recent speculation has massaged those misconceptions. But such pandering only works if the appointment is made in the end, as was the case with Rodgers three years ago.
If it ends with Lennon being kept on or Clarke being hired from Kilmarnock, a sense of apathy will be instant, even if he delivers a Treble.
There was always likely to be a managerial drop-off after Rodgers.
The hiring of the Northern Irishman not long off the back of leading Liverpool to within two points of the Premier League title was an exceptional case. The problem is that Rodgers’ appointment has unrealistically raised expectations of what should follow.