JOHAN Mjallby has revealed his ambition to prove himself as a manager capable of being considered for a future vacancy in the role at Celtic. The 43-year-old Swede believes he has made a “brave decision” to quit his position as assistant manager to Neil Lennon at the Scottish champions to seek a fresh challenge elsewhere.
Mjallby, who will leave Celtic after they are presented with the Premiership trophy following their final game of the season next weekend, says he will seek a coaching or managerial opportunity “anywhere in the world” as he takes the next step in his career.
But, having now served Celtic with distinction as both a player and assistant manager, he admits he harbours the notion of returning to the club again as manager further down the line.
“If I’m a manager and doing well, then definitely,” said Mjallby. “You don’t say ‘no’ to a job like manager of Celtic.
“It’s like when Neil phoned me up four years ago to ask me to be his assistant for the last eight league games of the season and a Scottish Cup semi-final against Ross County when he was first given the job on a temporary basis.
“He gave me a minute to decide and I said ‘of course’. Then the journey started. After we lost to Ross County, we didn’t think we would keep the jobs but, luckily for us, the board decided to stick with us. After that, we turned it around. It’s not been plain sailing but it’s been good. Will you see me back at Celtic again one day? Maybe, you never know.”
Mjallby, who has helped Lennon lead Celtic to three successive titles and back-to-back appearances in the Champions League group stage, has been contemplating his departure for much of this season. “I was thinking about it for a few months and it comes to a point where you have to make a decision for your own good,” he added.
“I just feel I need a new challenge, because I’ve been at Celtic for ten years of my life – six as a player and then four as assistant manager. People on the outside might think it’s surprising to decide to leave such a massive and successful club, but sometimes you have to develop yourself as well. It was a very hard decision but I see myself as quite brave to make it in a way.
“I don’t necessarily want to be a manager right away. I’d like to try it one day but I’m happy being an assistant as well. So I’m not ruling anything out. I can see myself working anywhere in the world, it’s not like I’m just going to work in Sweden.”
Mjallby does not anticipate his exit to be followed imminently by that of Lennon, despite persistent speculation linking the Celtic manager with a move to England.
“Neil is obviously not going to be at Celtic forever,” said Mjallby. “But I think he is very happy being Celtic manager. He feels at home here and he knows Celtic inside out. He knows what a big club it is and that, hopefully, there will always be the chance to get into the Champions League.
“He loves Glasgow, so does his family. So I don’t see him moving on any time soon. One day, obviously he will because as a manager you always want to go and do other things.
“There was a time when it was difficult for Neil here, when it was a wee bit over the top. It was hard for him as a civilian, if you like. There were too many things outside football. But it’s been very good for him in the last couple of years. Getting into the Champions League has been very important for him and for the whole club, especially with Rangers not in the top flight.
“Neil is definitely a much better manager now. He is calmer now, although he is still passionate and still has that hunger. He needs that – we all need it.
“Tactically, he has improved a lot. He is very interested in all football around the world. He goes to watch a lot of European games and players, he goes to see other managers. I have to say he has improved a lot tactically and I think we would see that last season in the Champions League.
“It was a great learning curve for all of us. We really had to prepare the team well before those games.
“He isn’t a hard mark to work with – not for me, anyway! Maybe for the players. I had the benefit of playing in the same team as him for four years and we used to argue on the pitch most of the time anyway.
“There hasn’t been a problem, we have worked really well together. We have never, ever fallen out. Sometimes we might not have the same view on things, but I wouldn’t be a good assistant manager if I always had the same view as him. He can bounce things off me, then we sit down together to speak about the team.
“I hope the Celtic fans appreciate Neil. I don’t really follow if they are pro or anti-Neil. But I think he’s held in high regard by most of the fans. They have liked the way he has put Celtic on the map again. They love the passion he shows for the club.”