WHEN your first point of reference is the man whose achievements as Celtic manager overshadow all others, it is only natural that you should have high expectations of the qualities required to fill the role.
There will never be another Jock Stein, of course, and as Bertie Auld promoted a new television documentary of his iconic former gaffer, he found himself at something of a loss to provide a recommendation of who should fill the current vacancy at Celtic Park.
The Lisbon Lion, as sprightly and ebullient as ever at the age of 76, had been among those who approved of Roy Keane’s candidacy, believing the Irishman would have brought the status and profile necessary to do the job justice.
Keane’s unexpected withdrawal from Celtic’s recruitment process on Monday, the former Sunderland and Ipswich manager preferring to remain as Republic of Ireland assistant manager instead, appears to have left the race wide open once more.
Steve Clarke, Owen Coyle and Malky Mackay now lead the way in the bookmakers’ pecking order to succeed Neil Lennon. But while Auld admires the work of all three men, he harbours doubts over whether they fit the bill for the Scottish champions.
“Celtic need both a manager and a coach,” said Auld. “I look around and sadly I do not see another Jock Stein figure. Is there another Stein out there?
“Is there a manager who is going to come into Celtic and stand up and be counted and say: ‘I will come in and get sacked alongside the players’?
“I look at Malky, Owen and Steve and they all have tremendous passion for the game. I know Malky and he did well at Watford and Cardiff. I actually had Owen as a player when I was Dumbarton manager and he’s made a name for himself in management.
“Then there is Stevie Clarke, who I don’t really know but who has certainly done his managerial apprenticeship under some of the men he worked under at Chelsea, West Ham and Liverpool. I also thought he did a decent job as manager of West Brom. But Celtic as a club are bigger than all of that. So it’s hard for me to look at the names being mentioned and say who I think should get it. I was so positive that Keane would be at Celtic in some capacity that I never looked at anyone else.”
Auld feels Keane’s decision to reject the chance to re-ignite his club managerial career in the east end of Glasgow is a blow to both Celtic and Scottish football as a whole.
“I was very surprised and disappointed that Roy turned it down,” added Auld. “He would have been box office at Celtic and he would have been great for Scottish football. He would have sold our game.
“With Hibs, Hearts and Rangers now all in the Championship next season, Scottish football needs something to give it an injection. Whether that was through Keane being controversial, arrogant or ignorant – whatever way you want to put it – it could only have been a good thing for the game here as far as I’m concerned.
“Keane is such a big character and also a great football man. Sir Alex Ferguson must have been looking over his shoulder at Keane constantly when he was at Old Trafford. He has always been something special in the game and Celtic have missed out on a huge opportunity.
“I also thought Keane was still a great player and great reader of the game when he came to Celtic at the end of his playing career. He became good friends with John Clark, my old team-mate who is now the kit man, and I spent some time in his company because of that.
“Any time I heard him talk about football, I was happy to listen and you could tell right away that he possessed a great knowledge of the game and had a great passion for football. Scottish football lacks characters these days and Keane is certainly one of them.
“He reminded me a lot of my own time in football. When I first started playing for Celtic, one of the first bits of advice I was given was to ‘kick or be kicked’. I quickly learned that you had to retaliate first. Keane would have brought that culture back to Scottish football, he would have made it a contact sport again which is what I’d love to see.
“You need to see something with a bit of dig as well as the need to entertain. At Celtic, entertainment is rightly the priority and I think Keane could have given us both sides of the game very effectively.”
Auld, who won 16 major honours as a Celtic player, is saddened by the diminished level of domestic competition the club will face in the Premiership next season. As a manager, he led Hibs to promotion at the first attempt in 1981 following their relegation the previous year and he fears for their prospects of a similarly rapid return to the top flight this time around.
“Hibs have been on the slide for a while and there are obviously some problems there,” said Auld. “It’s going to be tremendously difficult to get out of the Championship next season, with both Hearts and Rangers also down there with them.
“I still have a lot of good feeling towards Hibs and there’s no doubt we need them back up. They have a great support who I’m sure will stick with them. But the same goes for Hearts and Rangers.
“It can’t be good for Scottish football to have three of our biggest clubs outside the top division.”
l Bertie Auld was speaking at the Glasgow Film Theatre which last night showed a preview screening of purpleTV’s new documentary Jock Stein which airs on BBC Alba on Monday 9 June at 9pm.