Far be it from me to deny someone else an opinion, but when analysis of Celtic and the Celtic manager feels particularly harsh and mean-spirited, it does leave one scratching the head.
We often stick to discussing out-and-out former playing pundits on 67 Hail Hail, rather than delve into the mad world of journalists and columnists across Scottish football. There’s regularly plenty of wild patter flying about that is healthily ignored.
This morning, however, the proudly proclaimed ‘sports columnist of the year’ Gary Keown has launched a pretty over-the-top, scathing review of Brendan Rodgers’ return to Celtic in The Scottish Mail on Sunday [20/08 print edition, page 113] that feels worth commenting on, simply to note that another Bhoys boss is getting written off very early based on, well, nothing really.
Describing Rodgers as having “blank eyes” and being “boring” since his return, Keown seemingly longs for the glory days when he attended Celtic press conferences a few years ago and was caught up in the excitement of getting called upon to ask a question. Now he watches on from afar and reckons a “cowed” and “subdued” Rodgers is getting run over roughshod by the Celtic hierarchy.
Keown wonders why Rodgers is here at all for what he calls “a vanity project for Dermot Desmond”, to sign “some blokes from South Korea”. Sure, the writer owes it to nobody to be respectful of Celtic, but it does all come across slightly bitter and lacking any sort of appreciation for the hard work that goes into building a successful squad and preparing it for another European campaign, never mind a transfer policy that has worked well over the past few years.
The columnist reckons Rodgers’ interesting and insightful comments on Friday about working with Mark Lawwell on a pipeline of players is a sign the Celtic boss has lost his mojo, rather than taking at face value that Rodgers believes processes are improving at the Bhoys to help deliver sustainable, consistent success and progress.
Yes, what he is saying has a different vibe to some of his bullish wrangles with key Celtic figures in the past, but Mark Lawwell isn’t simply part of the “Old Boys Network” as Keown concludes. He spent a decade learning a trade within the City Group. There’s a football plan in place, and Rodgers signed off on it before coming back having taken extensive meetings at all levels of the clubs, from players and staff right through to the executives. It’s a bit early to suggest he’s a victim of the system, man. The lack of drama may be inconveniently dull for some, but they’ll have to live with it. Celtic are stronger with a bit of unity.
It’s also suggested that the “fire in his eyes is weak” these days, which for me doesn’t really chime with what we’ve witnessed. Rodgers has come across as a focused and work-orientated individual – less involved in partaking in grand anecdotes about the Celtic experience and simply looking to keep an eye on the challenges ahead. That’s not a sign of weakness. It’s what we wanted. We don’t need a storyteller, we need a winner.
Listen, criticism of Celtic is accepted. I don’t shy away from that. There’s no doubt that some of the club’s own supporters and former players have been a little restless about transfer activity this summer – especially with no real proven talent having yet arrived to replace Jota. It’s valid and Celtic do need to have a strong end to the window.
However, painting it all as some part of a declining Rodgers on the brink of a downfall is more than a little melodramatic. The columnist has gone in with both feet here and, as I see it, played the man and not the ball, so to speak.
Ultimately Rodgers will relish having high-profile doubters. While he may have had figures such as Keown in the palm of his hand between 2016 and 2018, certainly there’s a different environment for him now.
The manager recently said: “My journey, my football life, as I sit here today, I’ve probably been belittled a lot and disrespected a lot because I didn’t have a big playing background.
“But I feel that’s when I’m at my best, really. It doesn’t worry me, though. Don’t get me wrong. I just think in general, when anyone has to prove a point, then that’s when you’re at your best.”
So, he’s well aware of what is ahead. It’s up to the Celtic manager and his squad to continue to improve and show that this is far from a faded echo of former successes. Any early analysis of that task that is proven to have been overly harsh will certainly be interesting to view with hindsight.