By Brian P. Dunleavy
With the unrequited flirtation with Northern Ireland’s Michael O’Neill fresh on the minds of the Tartan Army, it comes as no surprise that SFA chief executive Stewart Regan fell on his sword last week.
Now, the only question is: Who will be the one to pick up the pieces and, for Pete’s sake, finally appoint a manager for the men’s national team?
By most accounts, Leeann Dempster, currently working as chief executive at Hibs, who oversaw a resurgence during her time at Motherwell, is the front-runner for the job. However, as is always the case at the SFA, nothing is clear-cut. Remember: O’Neill was said to be their man when former national team manager Gordon Strachan resigned last fall; yet, despite receiving permission from Northern Ireland to speak with the Edinburgh-resident O’Neill soon after “Wee Gordon’s” departure, the SFA waited months before making a formal overture.
And, of course, ultimately lost their man.
That O’Neill would even have a decision when weighing Northern Ireland versus Scotland is the story that isn’t being told here. The Scots haven’t qualified for a major tournament since the 1998 World Cup. Northern Ireland, meanwhile, were the darlings of the 2016 Euros, and narrowly missed out on this summer’s big tournament in Russia.
This despite the fact that the north of Ireland has a population less than half that of Scotland, and does not have a full-time professional league.
When Dempster—or whoever—does finally take charge at Hampden, they will have a bunch of major decisions to make. As noted, there’s the manager position, which to date is being filled on a caretaker basis by race relations expert Malky Mackay (we know; too soon). Recently, candidates such as Walter Smith and Alex McLeish have been mooted; however, it’s worth mentioning here that both have had the job in the past, and failed to make an impact.
And then there’s the future of Hampden itself, at least in its role as the national stadium, and the controversial May friendlies in South America, which are particularly worrying for Celtic, given the short offseason the team will have with Champions’ League qualifiers starting in July.
Another executive parting ways with his long-time employer in Scotland is Dundee United chairman Stephen Thompson, who announced his intention to step down at season’s end on January 31st. Thompson has been the target of supporters’ ire over the club’s failure to keep players like Stuart Armstrong at Tannadice when bigger-budget sides come calling. United’s relegation and failure to dominate the Championship (the team currently sits second, gulp, 14 points behind St. Mirren) the past two seasons hasn’t helped.
Interestingly, despite Dundee United’s recent struggles on the home front, the Tannadice board is reportedly considering launching an expansion team in the fledgling National Independent Soccer Association, a third-tier league here in the U.S. that may or may not begin play in 2018. Thompson, it is said, will head up the effort.
To which we say, “What could go wrong?”
Finally, was Celtic’s 1-0 loss at Kilmarnock on Saturday proof positive that manager Brendan Rodgers and the Parkhead board failed to do enough to freshen up the squad during the January transfer window? With 60 points from 26 games, the Hoops have the lowest point total at this stage of the season that they’ve had in four years—yes, lower than during each of Ronny Deila’s two seasons.
Not a good look, to be sure, but also maybe not as much of a crisis as some would like to think. True, it could be argued that a club of Celtic’s size and resources should always look to bolster its squad. However, it’s worth noting that the Hoops’ current first team includes 29 players, a number that counts relative novices Calvin Miller and Mikey Johnston. And, 12 of those players are currently out due to injury.
It could be argued that Celtic simply need to get healthy. In other words, no need for Rodgers to follow in Regan’s, or Thompson’s, footsteps. Not yet anyway.