IT MIGHT be expected that Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink favours a big name being appointed as manager of Celtic, or at least someone who is well-versed in what he described as the club’s “handbook”.
The position of Neil Lennon’s successor cannot be filled by just anyone, he suggested yesterday, as the issue of who is next for the Parkhead hotseat continued to dominate the agenda. Although he played in the same side as Lennon, Vennegoor of Hesselink, who then Celtic manager Gordon Strachan signed from PSV Eindhoven in 2006, did not coincide with Henrik Larsson’s time at the club. However, he believes the legendary former striker is “destined” to become reunited with Celtic, just as Johan Cruyff was with both Ajax and Barcelona. As a fellow Dutchman, Vennegoor of Hesselink was quick to compare the situation to the clamour for Cruyff to return to places where he had been feted as a player.
On both occasions, Cruyff managed to find success once more. However, this is not always the case when players are charged with the task of repeating former glories as a manager. According to Vennegoor of Hesselink, the sheer force of will from the stands for Larsson to succeed would help him prosper – if he desired to take the chance.
“He has such status within the club with the fans,” he said. “He’d always get the time and have the backing of everyone. He’s the fans’ choice but I don’t know if he’d come, and of course that’s up to him. But if he came he’d get the backing of 99.99999 per cent because everybody loves him. If you look at his record and everything he did, it’s almost too obvious,” he added. “It doesn’t matter who you ask, everyone would say the same. I read that one day he could return to Celtic and like Cruyff with Barca or Ajax, it seems destined [for them] to come back together.”
Cruyff returned to manage at both Ajax and Barcelona after enjoying successful spells at the clubs as a player. He guided the Dutch side where he started his career to European Cup Winners’ Cup success in 1987 and implemented a new system of playing.
Under Cruyff, who left Ajax to return to Catalonia in 1988, Barcelona won four La Liga titles and the European Cup. He could certainly not be said to have ruined any legacies, although this is clearly the danger should a hesitant Larsson be persuaded to leave Swedish side Falkenbergs, with whom the 42-year-old is planning to see out the season, which ends in November.
Vennegoor of Hesselink, now 35, contends that to be manager of Celtic it is necessary to possess a big personality. Another quality is the knowledge of how the club operates as well as an understanding of just how much scrutiny is involved.
“I think it needs to be a coach who has a little bit of a Celtic history,” he said. “Celtic is a club that comes with a handbook. It’s not a club where you can go in and say: ‘Let’s start fresh’. It has a history and a fanbase with expectations.
“It is not the easiest of coaching or management jobs,” he added. “There is a lot of pressure on. Last year, Lenny won the title quite easily but there was still pressure with getting into the Champions League and trying to get results there.
“I think it needs to be a coach with a little bit of history with the club – but that is only my opinion.
“I think Henrik is the fans’ choice,” he added. “I think everyone would like to see him back.
“If he was to come it would be a huge thing. But I don’t know whether he feels ready for it himself. He is a manager just now in Sweden. I read that he had talked about coming back to Celtic at one time but we’ll have to wait and see what happens.”
Vennegoor of Hesselink admitted he was “surprised” by the news that Lennon had decided to leave the manager’s post. “A lot of people would love to take it,” he said of the now vacant position. Also being linked with the club are Roy Keane, David Moyes and Malky Mackay, all former players. Vennegoor of Hesselink had expected Lennon to aim for a fourth successive title, just to place him above the likes of Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan, who guided Celtic to three league titles each. Willie Maley and Jock Stein also achieved this feat.
“I thought Lenny would go for his fourth title but he stopped at three and all the big Celtic managers have three titles,” said Vennegoor of Hesselink. “I thought he would maybe have cheekily gone for four [titles]. But I think what Lenny did after four years, he can hold his head high.”
Reports suggest Lennon was unhappy with some of the budget constraints he was being forced to operate under in the coming season, while he can also expect to lose some of his top players before the season begins.
Dutch defender Virgil van Dijk, whom Vennegoor of Hesselink knows well, is a prime target for clubs, and has already been linked several times with a move to the English Premier League. This is just how it is, stressed Vennegoor of Hesselink. Even in Holland, there has to be an acceptance that players who catch the eye will quickly move on.
“That people were asking why he wasn’t involved in Holland’s World Cup squad says enough about his contribution this year at Celtic,” he said.
“It’s the same in Holland,” he said. “Ten years ago you could build a squad and keep them together for five years and try to do something in Europe. Holland is now the education. You can’t hold the players back when a big club comes in – for example when Luis Suarez left Ajax to go to Liverpool.
“If a club from the Premier League comes in it’s hard as the clubs need finance. It’s the same in Scotland, you can’t spend big money on big players with big salaries.
“You just have to hold yourself to a strict budget and that’s how it is. You can’t change it – the big monies are in the big leagues.”
• Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink was speaking on the eve of his participation in today’s Scottish Footgolf Open in Dunoon, the first event in Scotland for the hybrid sport combining football and golf. The Scottish Footgolf Open is supported by PA23, a Business Improvement District campaign to bring events and projects to the Argyll town. The event takes place at Cowal Golf Club in Dunoon and Footgolf hopes to recruit more courses across Scotland in the near future.