When listening to a podcast recently, I was reminded of a documentary I once watched about pilot training and safety within the aircraft industry.
Of the 40 million flights around the world every year (pre-COVID) there’s usually no more than 10 crashes. The industry is incredibly safe because every time there’s a mistake, they review and they rectify and this particular documentary was about a pilot’s requirement to multitask and to avoid the problem of tunnel vision. The tragedy that prompted the review of a pilot’s ability to multitask was a plane that crashed into a mountainside.
Alarms were going off within the cockpit and the pilots were debating whether these were false alarms or real. The black box recording recovered after the crash, illustrated that the pilots had become fixated on these false alarms debating amongst themselves what the cause was, and how they could be rectified without affecting the safety of the flight. Unfortunately, the plane was heading straight for a mountainside. The pilots were so focused on the faulty alarms that they did not notice the main alarm, which was telling them to pull up because of the approaching mountain.
Hard to believe that well-trained, well-educated individuals could miss an impending disaster, however, they did.
The tunnel vision that made them focus on the minor issue of the faulty alarms, blinded them to the impending disaster. Fatally it was only 20 seconds before the crash that the pilot and the co-pilot noticed the huge mountain in front of them. They tried desperately to pull up the plane to no avail, and it crashed slap-bang into the hillside, killing all on board.
Celtic failed last season because of tunnel vision. Their obsession with The Ten. The noise that distracted them was all the noise around achieving 10iar. The warning signals that they ignored were the regular failures in Europe to lesser sides. On the 14 occasions that Celtic have been knocked out by one side since Seville (ie excluding failing to get out of a Euro group) on only 5 occasions have the opponents had a higher co-efficient and on only 3 occasions did they have a higher revenue.
Clubs that Celtic should have been beating in Europe were better than us. We ignored the indicators that something was changing in football. A review of these clubs would have illustrated their improvements in sports science, their improvements in analytics, their improvements in scouting etc because, as the figures show, they were not better than us in revenue. Our forthcoming UCL opponents, Midtjylland, have 3 scouts in Columbia alone – just an example of how lesser clubs on lesser budgets are developing their businesses and as a consequence getting better performances and if it is happening abroad it can happen at home.
The warning signs were not just “out there.” I attended a fan forum where Ronnie Deila stated that, whilst we might not be able to afford the premium players, we could bridge some of the differential with elite clubs by having the best equipment, the best dieticians, the best medical staff etc. Brendan Rodgers continued on this theme demanding the best facilities and analytics. He also decried the clubs lack of ambition in Europe that just getting to group stages was our target.
In a recent twitter exchange, someone told me that the club wanted to lose the 10. Their problem was not that they didn’t want to achieve 10iar. The problem was they cared too much about the ten and ignored the warning signs. The problem was tunnel vision.
From around title no6 the 10 became all consuming. Our decision to appoint Neil Lennon was because he “knew the city” – it was a tunnel vision on achieving 10. The budget they gave Neil Lennon was beyond anything a manager had been given in years. They threw our player trading strategy out of the window to retain the squad to achieve the 10. The club didn’t throw away the ten – they lost the ten because of their tunnel vision around achieving it meant they didn’t see the mountain ahead of them – they didn’t see that the football world had changed.
In the silly games of 12 months ago when people would ask “a run in Europe or achieving 10iar” I would always say a run in Europe. Set your goals high and if you just underachieve, you’ll be fine. Set your goals at a mediocre level of “just” achieving and failure becomes a disaster.
The board and our executives did not intentionally blow the 10, quite the contrary. It was a tunnel vision on achieving The Ten that blinded them to the bigger issues out there. The board members are not stupid people but just like the pilots, their tunnel vision and focus on one problem blinded them to the larger looming problem. Football changed and a smaller club on a lesser budget, through the benefits of incremental improvements overtook us. The task of Dom McKay key, like the aviation industry, is to learn and build a bigger, better system to ensure that never happens again.