This year, although the much trumpeted but officially delayed call to the Lurgan Bhoy to take on the responsibility of leading the Celts filled the headlines for some weeks, all has apparently gone quiet on the fronts that matter.
True there is daily speculation on who will arrive to wear the colours and who will depart from Paradise, but it is no more than this – nothing concrete is happening or at least nothing that has been confirmed from inside the great Stadium itself.
It struck me that we have entered a period not unlike that experienced by our grandfathers and fathers during what was known as the ‘Phony War’.
War has been declared and we must assume that preparations for the campaign to come are in hand, but not a shot has been fired in anger and we are to some degree uncertain as to how strong or weak our challenge will be. Will we use crack troops, veterans of winning campaigns here and elsewhere, or raw recruits in the hope that they will be made of the right stuff.
For weeks we have read columns of what purport to be objective sports writing from all quarters of the media zoo, speculating on how our new management team will face up to the challenge of the mighty Wattie, Walter – the man with no second name. (I know that this is slightly clichéd now, but the truth of it came home to me just before the season’s end when Tom English referred on ‘Paper Talk’ to ‘Smith’ and was actually teasingly called on this slip by Jim Traynor).
Had I been choosing a management team of ex-players who would care less for reputations I would offer the opinion that the three now charged with leading us would have been near the top of many people’s lists.
It remains to be seen whether they have the nous to build an effective team, but on the question of whether or not Wattie’s reputation would matter a fig, I have no doubt that they have the right stuff.
I was among those who called for the appointment of Neil Lennon as manager, or at least that he be part of any new management team. He was not my favourite player although I recognised what he brought to the team, but it was in watching his development squad – as the reserves were known – that I gained the impression that he knew what he was about in terms of setting out a team and in getting them to play. I know that these things are relative, but last season the reserve team showed a structure, a balance and a level of commitment to winning that was noticeably absent from their big brothers.
They were exceedingly well organized and had an appetite for closing down their opponents that was reminiscent of Neil Lennon himself.
When the Blessed Martin arrived in Paradise, I suggested to my sons that he would consider himself fortunate when he surveyed the raw talent at his disposal. True he had to strengthen, and he brought in players who, in time, were talismanic, but he had already in place better footballers than he had worked with at Leicester, and the task facing him was getting them to play at a level of which they were capable.
Lennon is not quite so fortunate, and great is the speculation as to who will come and who will go, and he does not have a Larsson. He is however nothing if not pragmatic and as I have suggested in the past – pragmatists make the best managers.
The Standard of the Scottish game is not such that we should look forward in fear and trepidation. If the bench mark, to quote Martin, is the Huns then it is not Beacher’s Brook. That we lost the last two titles was down to a mixture of incompetence and carelessness, on and off the field, rather than that our chief opponents were anything other than durable.
Europe may be a different matter and we may have to endure a period of re-building before that can be anything remotely resembling a stomping ground, but we can make ourselves hard to beat, and that must be the Manager’s priority.
Last season at this time I was anything but confident. I had, to quote Luke Skywalker – ‘a very bad feeling about this’ when Tony Mowbray was unveiled as Boss, but today I am much more sanguine. Those who are now charged with leading us are well aware of what it takes to win the SPL title, and even more important, they know what it means to beat the Huns.
It is an old saw in footballing chatter to talk about winning your personal battles. With Neil Lennon and his aides de camp we have characters who won more than they ever lost and who, I doubt, will readily change the habits of a lifetime in the game now that they are coaching.
Once the irrelevance that is the World Cup is out of the way, I look forward to the challenge of the new season and to seeing what sort of Celtic team emerges from the ashes of recent years.
Let us hope that when battle does commence that we are the ones dishing out the Blitzkrieg and not those heading for the beaches.