It’s a subject that everybody at Celtic Park has danced around from the moment the club started making progress in the Champions League under Neil Lennon, but a subject, none the less, that Peter Lawwell addressed yesterday when he said that he needs to start planning for life after the current manager.
Lawwell spoke of the need to have arrangements in place for when Lennon is lured away from Glasgow. As yet there has been no offer, but the Northern Irishman has never made a secret of his ambition to test himself in England at some stage in his managerial career.
“Being realistic, that is one of the by-products of success,” said Lawwell. “Your people are courted and the most high-profile guy, the most prominent guy in that success has been Neil.
“He’s done a fantastic job and if he continues to progress – he’s still a young manager – I’m sure he will be courted at some point.
“I don’t think fearful is the right word but we need to be realistic and accept – and I actually take a lot of pleasure in that, for him and for us – that we need to plan for the succession.”
Lennon could win 20 domestic titles and none of them would matter much to clubs down south, but it is the work he has done in the Champions League last season and again this season that might spark some interest among the middle-order Premiership clubs. There was talk last summer that he was in the reckoning for the Everton job after David Moyes vacated it and headed for Old Trafford, but that was pretty fanciful. Lennon’s name was mentioned but he was not a serious contender.
The feeling in England was that Lennon still had much to prove, so Celtic qualifying for the Champions League group stage – where they are still in with a shot of second place at the halfway point – will only have added to his reputation among Premiership chairmen.
“No matter who you are talking about – commercial director or marketing director or finance director – as chief executive you have to be looking within the organisation for people to take over,” said Lawwell.
“There is nothing specific. We’re not looking for a manager. We’re hoping that Neil will be here for years and years and years but it’s just in a general sense you have to think about it. You can’t bury your head in the sand. Hopefully, he’s here for the rest of his career.”
The Celtic chief executive also spoke of some contractual issues among the playing staff at Parkhead. Having agreed terms with Anthony Stokes on a new threeyear deal, Lawwell said he will next turn his attentions to Georgios Samaras and Joe Ledley with the hope of getting “some form of resolution before the end of December.
“We’re meeting Sami’s guys in the next week and we’re in constant discussion with Joe’s. Both are, I think, keen to stay and both realise what it means to play for Celtic. We need to do it ideally before the transfer window.”
On the business of his much-talked-about goalkeeper, Lawwell was philosophical about the likelihood of Fraser Forster moving on in the near future. Forster’s Champions League performances have put him on the map and he is now putting heat on Joe Hart in terms of the England goalkeeping situation.
“These things sort themselves out,” said Lawwell. “We’re bringing players here to develop them and get in the Champions League and, if they do well, then England is down the road.
“If we are offered the right fee we will take it and reinvest it in another goalkeeper or another centre forward or another midfielder. But also within that equation is if a player is trebling or quadrupling his wages, then it’s an easy decision for him. So there’s no real friction. The player is happy, the club, for the right fee, is happy and the buying club are happy. Inevitably it sorts itself out.
“No matter what we do there is a realisation that in a very short period of time, the next-door market [the Premiership] can pay huge amounts of money that we could never compete with.
“We’ve got real good stability, a good foundation to take us forward, a great young management team and a good team on the park and we’re playing in the Champions League. But, looking to the longer term, the game in Scotland still has its challenges.
“At the time [of Rangers’ implosion] we said we had our own strategy, that we were not dependent on any other club, which I think we’ve delivered on so far. But that strategy was built around the hope of European participation and also trading of players. We’ve been able to deliver on that and it’ll continue as we go forward. So, as far as Celtic are concerned, we’re doing well.”
PETER Lawwell has said that he may have to consider excusing himself from discussions about Dave King’s suitability to join the football board at Rangers if he feels he is conflicted.
As a member of the Scottish Football Association’s Professional Game Board, Lawwell would be one of the men who’d adjudicate on whether King is a fit and proper person to hold a directorship on the football board at Ibrox if Rangers put him forward for acceptance. He says that there isn’t automatically a conflict of interest, but that he may have
a decision to make on that
“On any board, if you feel you are conflicted, you would excuse yourself and let the thing go on,” he said.
“My main interest is Celtic, to promote and maximise the interests of Celtic and maximise its potential. That’s my prime concern in life. But I wouldn’t have taken the job on the SFA board if I felt the two couldn’t be aligned.
“There are areas where there will be conflict, no question, like the Scottish Cup final, where there were other bidders. I would excuse myself in terms of the final decision. I will do the job properly. There will be sensitive issues, but I don’t think there will be too many where I would be conflicted. There’s maybe one or two coming up, but that would be SFA board business and not for today.”
Lawwell is one part of the PGB which also has Rod Petrie of Hibs, Michael Johnston of Kilmarnock, Duncan Fraser of Aberdeen as well as Campbell Ogilvie, Stewart Regan, Neil Doncaster and four others. King does not need the say-so of the SFA in order to secure a position on the plc board at Ibrox – that is a matter for AIM (Alternative Investment Market) and Rangers’ nominated adviser to decide. But, if he wants a place on the football board, then he would have to make his case to the PGB at Hampden.
Asked, in theory, if there could be a potential conflict over a fit and proper rule, Lawwell responded: “It depends, which club [and] who it is. Are we conflicted more than Hibs? It’s SFA business, I haven’t even thought about it, I haven’t even discussed it, and you wouldn’t expect me to talk about it today. Not for today.”
Apart from discussions
about procedure in June last year, King has not yet approached the SFA about wishing to become a Rangers director. It is his conviction for non-compliance with South Africa’s tax laws that represent the problem. That, and his membership of the Rangers board during the disgraced Craig Whyte period.
CHAMPIONS LEAGUE QUALIFIERS
CELTIC still have not yet ruled out the prospect of playing their first two Champions League qualifying matches of next season in Dublin or at a Premiership stadium in the north of England. At present, Murrayfield remains the favourite.
Celtic Park will not be available given that it will host the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games on 23 July, after which the pitch will have to be relaid. It will not be ready for use for some weeks afterwards but should be ready for a Champions League play-off round, should Celtic negotiate their earlier ties.
“We are currently in discussion with Uefa in terms of what options we have,” said Peter Lawwell. “Once they are happy with those options then we will go and speak to the relevant owners of the stadia. There are other options to Murrayfield, probably less likely, but there are other options we can’t let you know about yet.
“Possibly outside Scotland. There is an angle there we could maybe look at, but again we need Uefa’s approval for that. It could be England or Ireland.
“The Aviva in Dublin or Croke Park or maybe even down south at a northern Premiership club. We have a big support in Dublin and the stadium was full when we played Liverpool in the summer there, so that would be great.”
Lawwell has, as yet, received no clarification from Uefa as to how they would feel about Celtic playing home matches outside their own country, but there is a precedent there in that in 1985 they played a “home” match against Rapid Vienna at Old Trafford.
“So that precedent is there and internally we are developing a few options, then we will take those to UEFA and see what they think. It’s a list of three or four, maybe five. We look at that internally and then when we come up with a preferred three we will take it forward.”
Murrayfield remains the front-runner, not least because of its huge capacity and also because of its close proximity to Glasgow. “Murrayfield is a big attraction clearly because it is near for the supporters, it’s a fantastic stadium and that would be a high contender,” added Lawwell. “That would be the only Scottish option I think. A very high contender. Neil [Lennon] would have an impact on the decision and we would need to look at ways of making sure the atmosphere was there and it was well attended.”
One way or another, the decision will be made early in the new year.
With Hampden unavailable because of refurbishment ahead of the Commonwealth Games, the semi-finals of this season’s Scottish Cup will be played at Ibrox on April 12 and 13 with the final on Saturday, May 17, being held at Celtic Park for the first time since 1998 when Hearts beat Rangers.
There may be a cry of favouritism from fans of other clubs, one of whom could, in theory, have to face Rangers at Ibrox in the semi-final before facing Celtic at Parkhead in the final. Those are issues that might be raised again depending on who is left standing in the last four.
You have to go back to 1902 to find the last – and only – time that Celtic played in the Cup final in their own ground. It didn’t end well, Hibs beating Willie Maley’s team 2-1. “It’s fantastic that we’re staging the final,” said Peter Lawwell. “We feel that our ground is the biggest and the best and, when it comes to Champions League nights here, the atmosphere generated is like no other. Whether it’s against Barcelona, AC Milan or Ajax, it’s the best so, hopefully, we can put on a show.”
Brian Stockbridge, the Rangers’ finance director, gave the Rangers response. “We are delighted Ibrox Stadium has been chosen to host the Scottish Cup semi-finals in April,” he said. “The Scottish FA’s decision to play these ties at the home of Scotland’s most successful club underlines the fact that Ibrox remains one of European football’s elite arenas. Of course we hope to travel far in this competition ourselves but, no matter who plays at Ibrox, they can be certain of the warmest of welcomes.”
Lawwell said that the idea of having Celtic Park as the venue for the final was first mooted three or four weeks ago. “It was very straightforward. This is the biggest arena and others see it as a fantastic arena to hold such an event.”
Asked about the prospect of playing Rangers in the final, he said: “If that’s the way it turns out, that’s the way it turns out. I suppose it’s going to happen some time. We miss the positives [of the fixture] but not the negatives. In my time here with Celtic v Rangers games you really want to get them over successfully and move on. The next one will create a high level of interest in Scotland and, I’m sure, worldwide.”
“A chance to win the cup final ground in our own ground would be another incentive. If you need any more incentives to win the Scottish Cup that would be one. Clearly we want to win every game that we’re in, we’ve only lost one domestic game – to Morton – and that in itself is a driver, a motivator to keep that going.”