The plan had been for McKay to leave his role as chief operating officer at the Scottish Rugby Union at the end of June and take office as Celtic’s new chief executive on July 1, replacing long-serving incumbent Peter Lawwell
That he will now be in situ on April 19, two-and-half-months ahead of schedule, can only be a good thing for Celtic.
Dethroned so spectacularly by Glasgow rivals Rangers in the quest for ten top-flight titles in a row, Celtic have unravelled. Manager Neil Lennon left at the end of February, Lawwell announced before then that he was stepping down at the end of the 2020/21 campaign and head of football operations Nick Hammond departed abruptly two weeks ago. Captain Scott Brown is also off to Aberdeen.
While John Kennedy is holding the fort in the dug-out and Lawwell remains for a couple more months, Celtic are in a holding pattern. McKay’s arrival allows them to press on.
Prising him away from the SRU at this stage will have cost a little more than planned, but majority shareholder Dermot Desmond knows the value of starting surgery now. They can use this time wisely to make sure they are in the best possible shape to reel Rangers back in next term.
McKay’s work at Murrayfield was all but done, given that the Six Nations concluded last month and pro teams Glasgow Warriors and Edinburgh Rugby only have Rainbow Cup duties to fulfil. While he leaves a void within the national rugby structure, one could legitimately argue that his services are required more urgently at Celtic.
His premature arrival means he can work in tandem with Lawwell, ensuring a smoother hand-over. While being in with the bricks at the SRU is a big job, there is little doubt that what he has to oversee at Celtic is larger.
Former Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe is widely tipped to be Lennon’s successor. While a deal is yet to be finalised, having McKay in position will assure Howe that the pillars of a strong structure are in place. Howe will want to overhaul the squad at Celtic and bring in his own players, and McKay’s presence is vital for that.
If Howe is to be snared, appointing a sporting director/director of football that he is happy to work alongside is just as important. Fergal Harkin, currently Manchester City’s football partnerships and pathways manager, is hugely admired by Celtic’s hierarchy and appeared in pole position to land a big role at Celtic. However, ex-Scotland midfielder Richard Hughes is understood to be Howe’s preferred choice in that position. They worked together at Bournemouth and his appointment could be key to sealing the deal with Howe.
McKay, therefore, has a lot on his in-tray. Factor in season-ticket renewals, post-pandemic budgets, out-of-contract players and understanding the landscape at Celtic and you quickly see the scale of the job on his plate.
McKay arrives on the Monday after the Rangers-Celtic Scottish Cup tie. He will either be walking into a club once again reeling from a blow from across the city, or a club with a Scottish Cup quarter-final to look forward to. Regardless, McKay’s early switch makes sense on many levels.