FERGUS McCANN was booed by the Celtic support when he unfurled the Championship flag – a flag that Celtic had waited all the way through a desperate decade to unfurl – in 1998. Twenty three years on and time has framed his era at the club very differently from how it was viewed that afternoon.
As news broke yesterday that Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell will step down from his role at the end of this season, there was an equally classless reaction from sections of the club’s fanbase. The Green Brigade, the self-appointed gatekeeper of Celtic’s soul, were quick on the draw with their social media “one down, more to go” tweet. There were similar views expressed with equal distaste.
All empires come to an end. Lawwell has presided over the club for 17 years in which time 29 trophies have come through the door; 13 league titles and an unprecedented four successive domestic trebles. The club have reached the last 16 of the Champions League on three occasions. To view his era only through the prism of having failed to stop the ten is not just myopic but does Lawwell a disservice. As the years go by what he achieved in the role will be appreciated in a way that few appear willing to indulge at the minute.
Peter Lawwell: The man who rebuilt Celtic or the one who threw away the Ten?
Various accusations have been thrown at the 61-year-old and not just this season as Celtic’s grasp on the domestic scene has unfastened. There has been the favoured argument that the board are interested in only celebrating balance sheets rather than trophies with the very notion that the success of the club on the park is firmly married to its economics off it going over the heads of many. It is also worth noting that his presence on the board of the prestigious European Club Association helped protect Scotland’s champions route to the Champions League during the last rejig of the tournament.
Celtic have posted a loss in only two years out of the last 10, foundations which set in place the haul of trophies that created the lust – and the possibility – of the ten. The failure to deliver that comes down to a catalogue of missteps throughout the club and much of which has been a differentiation of the characteristics that were the hallmarks of Lawwell’s reign.
Virgil van Dijk, Moussa Dembele, Victor Wanyama and Kieran Tierney all brought substantial fees into the club when leagues with significantly more prestige came calling. This summer with the weight of the ten riding on it, there was a deviation from that script as Celtic held on to assets such as Odsonne Edouard and Kris Ajer, wary of the optics any moves would have created.
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Celtic’s achilles heel this term has been a backline that cannot keep a clean sheet. Much of that defensive uncertainty has come down to a goalkeeping situation that, six months into the season, remains as much of a headache as it was at the start. Serious money was spent on Greek goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas but one wonders whether the availability of Scotland internationalist David Marshall this summer as Wigan went into administration was dismissed for fear of the penny-pinching accusations it may have invited with Fraser Forster opting to head back to the English Premier League.
There have been mistakes along the way for Lawwell – John McGinn will still rankle – and there is a feeling that in the push for the ten there was an evaporation of the things that got them to that point in the first place. Everyone has an inevitable shelf-life and for the past few months a changing of the guard has been increasingly likely as Celtic have imploded.
It’s almost four years since the Parkhead side were last in the group stages of the Champions League. Marrying a domestic success with regular involvement in that arena will be the remit for the incoming Dominic McKay.