It was an invidious situation into which the 37-year-old was placed when the departure of Neil Lennon meant he had to fill a void that was adjudged, in part, to be down to him. The disasters of the failed ten-in-a-row season may have buried the Northern Irishman, but they also left his assistant Kennedy muddied in the eyes of an apoplectic support.
In truth, the former Celtic defender – who boasts almost a decade coaching experience with the sole club he has known in across 22 years as a professional – hasn’t been able to cleanse himself of the guilt by association. Yet, rather than being the consequence of how he has handled both himself and the predicaments required to address on moving into the frontline for the first time, that was always destined to be impossible. The wounds inflicted by this calamitous campaign are too raw and too deep for any other outcome. Which is a real pity because, results apart – and, yes, in football never a caveat that holds any great sway – Kennedy has performed with distinction. Out-performed, indeed, what was entitled to be expected of him.
Measured and not robotic
A decent sort who is patently smart, in his media duties he has parlayed these traits to prove measured without being mealy-mouthed. There is a little edge there, too, at odds with previous notions of him as somewhat robotic. All of this has allowed Kennedy to entirely convince that he is in full command of the duties with which he has been tasked. Teams can drift when gripped by inadequacies of the sort that have clamped Celtic these past six months, but he has knocked his players into some sort of shape. And exhibited a ruthless streak, in how he has given a few knocks to such as Leigh Griffiths and Albian Ajeti for not being in the desired shape.
Of course, he has failed to lead his team to victories in two of his three outings. Short of sucking the ball into the net on his own, though, there wasn’t much he could do about his players contriving to post two draws despite fashioning 43 goal attempts between the goalless encounter with Dundee United and Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Rangers. Much has been made of the tactical supremacy delivered by Ibrox coaching duo Steven Gerrard and Michael Beale in recent derbies, but rookie manager Kennedy enacted a gameplan that largely nullified his club’s bitterest rivals. Celtic under him have notably played from the back more and exhibited a balance and structure missing at crucial junctures in this campaign.
No case for permanent appointment, though
None of this is to present a case for Kennedy to be the next permanent manager of the Parkhead club, though, because no such case can be made. Fundamentally, because he suffers from what beset Lennon: there is no residual goodwill for him from the club’s followers. In the aftermath of the weekend’s exasperating outcome for the Celtic fraternity, he was quite hounded in the vituperative fashion of his predecessor. The micro-analysing of his every call to mangle him for the inability to end Rangers’ bid for an unbeaten league campaign was a Lennon-lite lashing, though, no question.
Celtic are about to embark on a complete reboot. These never tend to feature actors from previous iterations in key roles. The recasting will be undertaken by incoming chief executive Dom McKay, who officially arrives in June. The creation of a director of football position is on-stream – Manchester City loans manager Fergal Harkin widely tipped for the role. And with those changes, the most important protagonist in the fresh take on the club, in the form of a manager, requires to be an entirely new face.
Celtic have been riven by division in the past year. The disconnect between the support and the club can only be resolved with a unifying managerial appointment. As Brendan Rodgers was five years ago. Kennedy cannot be that. Any new manager, with a squad to completely overhaul, will need to be given time and patience. Patience is exhausted when it comes to those perceived to have presided over an unnecessary loss of pre-eminent status to Rangers. The Ibrox club were able to dislodge Celtic because of the cachet they could lean on after attracting a global brand such as Gerrard. That allowed them to retain faith in him even when he became Rangers’ first manager to survive two trophy-less seasons.
So where does he fit in?
The concern for Kennedy is what part he could play at a club for which he clearly has an enormous affinity. An affinity that was behind him declining to join Rodgers when he moved to Leicester City in February 2019, and rejecting the chance to become Hibs manager later that year. Kennedy is a coach respected by both players that work under him and respected figures in the game. The cruelty of football, though, is that the next Celtic manager surely will surely want to bring in his own backroom team.
Yet, and this is where the next two months could be crucial for him, were he to guide Celtic to the Scottish Cup in his interim stint then he could be presented to any incoming manager as a valuable link between two club eras at a juncture when a degree of continuity will be required. It will be mighty rough on Kennedy, a title winner in six of his seven seasons within Celtic’s senior coaching staff, should there be no place for him in the club’s redrawn football operation next season. Even if his courage in rebuilding his footballing world after injury forced him to retire from playing at a hideously young age showed he isn’t the sort to feel sorry for himself, or feel the game owes him a living.