Celtic’s search for a new manager has now dominated the back pages for over nine weeks now.
It’s been a slog for everyone associated with the Bhoys but when is anything ever easy behind-the-scenes at Parkhead?
At the moment, their stadium is anything but Paradise as Dermot Desmond faces relentless questions over where the club is headed.
Eddie Howe has long been tipped to become the new head coach. He’s been in advanced discussions all month but issues relating to his backroom staff are holding things up.
Howe is an attractive choice; he plays nice football and there is a certain romance that surrounds his story. After all, not many managers have taken their club from the fourth tier to the English Premier League.
Though he’s strong domestically, the Hoops hierarchy should be wary of what his record might be in Europe. He’s never managed a continental game of football yet, an area where Celtic will be keen to improve.
Two other managers with European experience, Ralf Rangnick and Jesse Marsch, have been linked with the role in the last few months but with both attracting interest from elsewhere, it might be difficult to bring them to Parkhead.
If the board are looking for like-minded alternatives they needn’t look much further than Oostende manager Alexander Blessin.
The 47-year-old has led a football revolution at Oostende, completely changing the makeup of the club from their style of play to their recruitment strategy.
Having learnt his coaching methods at Leipzig, he is very much born out of the Rangnick School of how to approach the game. Therefore, that can only mean one thing; the gegenpress.
The German is known as the pioneer of the modern-day press; the idea of hassling your opponent and winning the ball back within a matter of seconds.
After coming through the ranks at Leipzig, it’s hardly a surprise to see Blessin has taken on this ideology. Oostende might only be fifth in the Belgium Pro League but they’ve caught the eye due to the manager’s adaptability and flexibility this term.
Linked with a move to Sheffield United, he’s got no shortage of potential suitors either. Thus, if Celtic want him, they’ll have to move fast.
He could bring a frantic swashbuckling brand of football to Parkhead, one that could help them go further in Europe. After all, his Oostende side are one of the cleverest and most aggressive pressing teams on the continent.
If we weigh up the number of defensive passes teams allow the opposition to have before engaging, Blessin’s team are the second-best in their division with 8.8.
In Europe, that puts them above the likes PSV, Braga, FC Twente and Vitesse to name a few. It also puts them just behind Ajax on 8.1 passes per defensive action and Celtic, who engage after eight passes per defensive action.
Evidently, this style of play would suit the Bhoys and could allow them to win the ball higher and further up the field. Blessin’s ideology here is very similar to how former Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers operates.
His Leicester team have the sixth-best pressing percentage (31.1%) in the entire English Premier League for example.
The German works his teams so hard that they even train on the day of matches. Oostende’s Jelle Bataille once said: “Honestly, a lot of jaws dropped after the very first session… We literally just ran for the first week!”
That said, the coach isn’t just about pressing; he could also bring an attack-minded style of play to the club. That’s something that would undoubtedly help when it comes to dominating the league.
This is similar to Rodgers again, a man who has combined a pressing philosophy with a fluid attacking system.
One of Blessin’s stand out qualities, however, is the ability to adapt and improve young talent. For Celtic, this has the potential to be completely game-changing.
A number of their up and coming players have failed to earn many minutes this term. Cameron Harper headed back to his homeland after not getting a chance while Armstrong Oko-Flex nearly signed for Huddersfield in January.
There is also the possibility that their jewel in the crown, Karamoko Dembele, departs on a free transfer when his contract expires.
Blessin is highly capable of extracting the most from young players. Celtic’s very own Jack Hendry has spent the season on loan with Oostende, where he’s recently been named the best player in the league for his efforts.
In Belgium, only three of the player he’s used this season are over the age of 30. Ten individuals in the squad are below the age of 24 while none of the team are in their prime years; 27-30.
With Celtic at a crucial point where they need to shift their focus towards youth players from the academy, few managers would more qualified to give them exposure and opportunities at senior level than Blessin.
He’s exactly the type of manager that Dermot Desmond needs to hire at this point in the club’s history.