Five things Celtic fans should know about Lee Congerton

Celtic have ended their search for a new head of recruitment after it was announced Lee Congerton had joined the Parkhead club.

Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was pleased with the hiring. Picture: SNS
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was pleased with the hiring. Picture: SNS
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers was pleased with the hiring. Picture: SNS

Here’s everything you should know about the scout...

He learned his trade under Frank Arnesen

The former Danish international was sporting director at Chelsea for five years between 2005 and 2010. Impressed with what he saw in Congerton, he promoted the burgeoning coach from being in charge of the youth side and to the role of chief scout at Stamford Bridge.

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Arnesen thought so highly of the Welshman that, when it came time for him to leave Chelsea, he made sure to come back for him when he landed at his next post, German side Hamburg.

Joined by Stewart Houston, the trio planned to revolutionise the way the Bundesliga club would sign players, but it didn’t work out. In part due to transfer budget cuts, the side struggled in the first season before finishing seventh next time around. Arnesen left in the summer, with Congerton joining Sunderland the following March.

He was put on gardening leave by Sunderland

It’s safe to say it didn’t work out for Congerton at Sunderland, but then he wasn’t given all that much time in the job. The sporting director or director of football, or whatever title the role has, ideally should be in the job for a sustained period of time. It’s a model used widely in Europe and in American sports. The idea is that the director of football oversees a club strategy, meaning that when managers come and go, as they tend to do, you don’t have to completely start again in terms of club strategy. Sunderland took a different approach.

Congerton took over from Roberto De Fanti, who was sacked after just six months, in the spring of 2014. The club already had a manager in place, Gus Poyet, who didn’t take to his new boss and the two reportedly clashed. Poyet left Sunderland the following year. Congerton recruited Dick Advocaat, who helped save Sunderland from relegation, but made a poor start to the following campaign and also exited. When the Sunderland board decided to go after Sam Allardyce, the soon-to-be-future England boss demanded he had final say over recruitment and signings. Congerton was then put out on gardening leave before being released from his deal. All in all, he was at Sunderland for 20 months.

He swapped Jozy Altidore for Jermain Defoe

Admittedly, and in fairness to Sunderland and their supporters, who never took to Congerton, the signings he did make weren’t much to write home about. However, he did manage to facilitate one of the best deals the club has made in the last ten years.

At AZ, Altidore banged in goals for fun, but at Sunderland he was a disaster, scoring only once in 41 league games.

It’s been written elsewhere that Congerton was responsible for the initial deal to bring Altidore to the club, though this is untrue. The American signed a year before Congerton’s arrival.

Congerton managed to get shot of the dud signing, while simultaneously bringing in Defoe. A player who, more than any other, has been responsible for Sunderland staying in the top flight to this point.

Celtic nearly lost their target in December

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Congerton was among a five-man shortlist to become the new general manager of San Jose Earthquakes when the MLS side went searching for a new man to fill the role late last year. In the end they went for ex-Roma executive Jesse Fioranelli. Celtic have been on the hunt for a man to replace John Park since October, when the former head of recruitment decided to depart the club after nine years at Parkhead.

He prefers a data-driven approach to scouting

The use of data and statistics in scouting is the source of increasing debate in football circles, as the sport is swinging towards the American model of using advanced metrics to judge the ability of players.

Old school observers, which includes the majority of football fans, tend to be a little mistrusting of the approach. They believe good footballers are spotted with the naked eye, and some of the key intangibles, such as bravery, determination, confidence and creativity, cannot be judged with pure statistics.

That being said, there is no doubt that advanced stats can be useful in determining the strengths and weaknesses of players and opponents.

What’s key in all of this is that Congerton will be working with Brendan Rodgers. Ultimately under him rather than above him. From the statement released on the Celtic website, it would seem the ex-Liverpool boss had a significant say in who the new head of recruitment will be.

Sunderland may not have been a productive time for the Welshman, but at Celtic he’ll be going back to his roots somewhat by undertaking similar work to the scouting he did for Chelsea. The type of work that gave him such a strong reputation in the first place.