You may wonder what this has to do with anything in Timworld – although our present team’s lack of readiness for anything remotely resembling a challenge is fairly obvious – but it was in context of thinking about a Tim in exile that I was moved to reflect on these qualities and how one acquires readiness.
Last summer – in fact even before – when it became obvious that the Ginger Ninja’s period in control at Paradise was coming to and end, I ventured the opinion that none of the obvious candidates to replace him – I discount Guus Hiddink, Louis Van Gaal, Martin O’Neill, and Uncle Tom Cobbley as potential candidates given the financial curbs we now face – were in any way more qualified to manage Celtic Football Club than Willie McStay.
The favourites at the time were Owen Coyle, Roberto Martinez and the present incumbent Tony Mowbray.
None of these candidates were remotely as experienced as our own – at the time – Reserve team coach.
McStay was brought back to Celtic Park in 1994 following the appointment of Tommy Burns as manager, to oversee youth development, having spent the previous two years managing Sligo Rovers in the League of Ireland.
The appointment of Tommy Burns it might be argued was an inevitable step in the McCann revolution. That he was the people’s choice is not in doubt and the promise he had shown at Kilmarnock gave hope that he would spearhead our recovery on the field. McStay’s recall to the colours was a barely noticed footnote to the main event.
A detached reflection however might raise the question as to which of these former team-mates had shown the greater promise in their previous posts. Burns won promotion to the Premier Division in 1992 and kept Killie up with a last day draw the following season before being poached, tapped, recruited by the wee Canadian. McStay in the same period had taken over at Sligo and in 1993-94 won the treble of First Division, First Division Shield and the FAI cup.
When Tommy called on his old team mate and friend, McStay’s long standing love for the Hoops meant that his transformation from successful Manager to youth coach was a formality.
From that day McStay worked quietly with the Celtic youth team until Kenny McDowall sold his soul to the Dark Side and Willie was asked to take charge of the Reserve team by Gordon Strachan three seasons ago.
He saw the coming and going of Tommy Burns, Wim Jansen, Dr. Jo Venglos, Barnes/Dal, Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan. While these Manager/Coaches had varying degrees of success, McStay won trophies consistently with his youth squads. In the seasons he was in charge he inevitably won the League or the Cup and often both, this despite the rapid turnover in squad personnel. When he was asked to oversee the Reserves he won two Championships on the trot building on the five years of domination established by McDowell and others before him. His youth team, who had won the previous six titles in a row, lost the league and the cup right at the season’s end under their new coaches.
I once asked the people at Celtic T.V. for the exact statistics – I had a feeling that he won something every year but was prepared to be proved wrong – but they were unable to answer my query. Whatever the precise details, it is my contention that Willie McStay was the most successful coach in the Scottish game in the last sixteen years.
During those years we have seen dozens of coaches being promoted to club management in Scotland whose record in terms of player development and trophies won prior to their appointment pales into insignificance when measured alongside the unassuming former Celt.
That he was never asked to accept a higher profile role in the affairs at Celtic Park remains – to me – a mystery. Perhaps he was and we don’t know about it, but he laboured quietly in the vineyard for the cause, and I have never heard anyone say a bad word about him.
When the task of finding a successor for WGS was thrust on us, I was astonished that no one offered his name as a potential first team coach. We pursued and eventually attracted a coach whose reputation amongst the Celtic family was established not really as a result of his success as a player, but rather for his qualities as a human being. As for his record as a coach, while he was well known for producing teams that were easy on the eye, they were also pushovers for any team organized and determined enough to ignore the flair and expose their soft underbelly.
Like most I am fond of Tony Mowbray, but I never felt he was a good choice, however a consequence of his arrival was the departure of Willie McStay.
I accept that this may have been a coincidence. Peter Lawwell had obviously put together a link with Ujpest Dosza to establish some sort of Nursery relationship with the Hungarian side. I read in the summer that initially we were going to pay McStay’s wages while he worked abroad for a spell, but apparently UEFA put a stop to this since one club cannot pay the wages of an employee of another club who play in the same competitions and Ujpest were in the Europa League qualifiers.
McStay’s effect on the once mighty Magyars was immediate and they presently lie second in the league after years in the doldrums. From reports that I have read he has impressed his new employers and is finding his feet in a new and strange environment. This does not surprise me. Whereas his brilliant brother found his niche outside the game, he, the lesser light has proved that as a coach he is a natural.
I discussed my view that he should be the next Celtic manager if the Mowbray project turns complete turtle with some friends, and they responded as many posters did when Murphio advanced this possibility on Kerrydale Street some weeks ago.
He has no experience, he is not ready to take charge of the first team, we have tried a fledgling coach before and it backfired on us.
My answer to such folk is that Willie McStay is not a fledgling coach. He has been coaching for over 16 years and his record of success, as I have delineated above, stands comparison with anyone.
What more can a coach do than work with the material placed in front of him and win things. That he has never been given charge of a first team outwith his Sligo success and his present situation cannot be because he lacks ability, know how or coaching experience.
When Jock Stein was in charge of the reserves all the players knew who was the best coach at Celtic Park, but he was forced to prove it at other clubs before he received the trust of those in power – we were the losers in this. Our recovery was delayed by four or so years.
When Martin was trying to get a job in management he was forced to trot round non league clubs before breaking through a Norwich and then Leicester City. He had no more ability but was perhaps a wiser man as a result, but my point is that someone had to have faith in him to accept that he was ‘ready’.
This is true of all top coaches. Wattie Noname, the legend in his own time had never managed a top club until Souness walked out on the Huns – or was sacked – you choose – but the Cardigan found himself in the manager’s seat despite never having held a similar post before.
When I talked about this with a friend recently he answered me by saying that Wattie had previous experience of working under top managers. Apart from his time with the Huns this could only have been with Jim McLean at Dundee Utd from whom he was poached unceremoniously – but with dignity.
While I have every respect for McLean and his achievements I would suggest that the pantheon of coaches/managers with whom Willie McStay has worked far exceeds Wattie’s record.
It might never happen that Willie McStay will manage Celtic F.C.
If it does not I will always consider it an opportunity lost. In terms of ‘readiness’ none of the names which flash across the message boards have more to offer than this quiet family man who originates from Larkhall. In terms of commitment to the Hoops and loyalty he ranks with great Celts such as Burns and Danny McGrain. As a player he may not have been in the first rank, but as a Celt he surely is.
I read an article once – unfortunately I cannot recall the player’s name – by a young Celt who said that the best team talk he ever heard was by McStay before a youth Cup final against the wee Huns.
The sense of his speech was not to simply gee them up, but to point out their responsibility as Celtic players. This duty as he saw it was to implant in the minds of young Rangers players the notion – indeed the fear – that, whenever they faced the Hoops of White and Green, they would lose. Defeat as he saw it was unacceptable. Performance was important, but victory was all.
That is the sort of sentiment that I want to hear from a Celtic coach.
Needless to say the cup came home to Paradise.