Tony Mowbray has had a difficult first season at Celtic, with the squad struggling to keep tabs on their Old Firm rivals. How much blame can Mowbray take however when he inherits a seemingly weak squad with little money initially to rebuild.
The January transfer window may well emerge as a turning point in Mowbray’s stewardship of the Parkhead club. Finally allowed to make wholesale changes to his squad, Celtic were extremely busy in the transfer window signing 8 new players. A manager can only truly be judged on his own decisions and in signings such as Robbie Keane and Morten Rasmussen, Mowbray has struck a cord with the Celtic faithful.
As with any manager that comes into a new club, they inherit a squad that is not their own. Players that were highly rated by the previous incumbent may not fit into the new managers plans. This was certainly the case for fan favourite Scott McDonald, who was a regular starter and goal-scorer under Gordon Strachan yet was often on the bench under Mowbray. McDonald has now left and rejoined Strachan at Middlesbrough. In contrast Mowbray immediately signed Marc-Antoine Fortune who had played for him at West Bromwich Albion. Mowbray rated the Frenchman, so added him to the Celtic squad. His performances thus far have however resembled a carthorse more than a prolific striker, hence the delight at the new striking options Mowbray now has.
Gordon Strachan’s tenure at Celtic was a successful one, yet with ever dwindling returns from television revenue his hands were inevitably tied in the transfer market. As a result many players were purchased from clubs such as Cardiff and Coventry so the squad lacked the star quality that Martin O’Neill possessed in the early noughties.
Strachan was successful with limited funds, but had lost the hunger and energy for the challenge and a new face was required to inject some more life into the club. Although Mowbray offers little emotion, the new perspective and input he has already provided will ultimately prove successful.
Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger are the only prominent managers who have been able to regularly reinvigorate their own squad. Other managers run out of steam or seek a new challenge, so the prospect of inheriting a squad on the wane is a constant in the football world. There is a continuous cycle of new managers at football clubs and little blame can really be attributed to previous managers. Roberto Di Matteo had to inherit Mowbray’s West Brom squad, with all its defensive frailties and lack of a ruthlessness streak essential for success at the top level. Strachan who left Celtic has also had to inherit Gareth Southgate’s Middlesbrough side, lacking in any experience of the Championship. As a result it would take a brave man to openly blame a previous manager for the squad they inherit.
In an ideal world new managers would receive at least 18 months to stamp their own identity on their new club. In Mowbray’s first 6 months the squad were unable to adapt to his style of play and have underperformed. By bringing in his own players however, Mowbray will gradually mould a squad around his impressive football philosophy. The Celtic board chose Mowbray for good reason and by backing him to rebuild the squad they have rightly invested in the manager.
The January transfer activity does now bring greater expectation. The success of the signings will be intertwined with Mowbray’s own future. If the squad continues to trail Rangers then Mowbray can no longer point to underperforming players, with a sense of detachment. There is a considerable element of the 1st team that are now his own and he will inevitably take greater responsibility for their performances. In the reminder of the season the side will need to compete with Rangers, or else Mowbray may not get so much support in the summer.
Mowbray inherited a squad that was not his own. To say they were on the wane is perhaps harsh to good players such as McDonald and Gary Caldwell. But throughout a managers tenure there are inevitably poor signings which may take a change of management to be spotted. It is imperative therefore that a new manager is allowed to review and adapt his squad. Mowbray has now been given this opportunity and excitement has returned to Parkhead. Mowbray is lucky to have such a supportive board and the issue of a declining squad is one that no Celtic fan can now point to justify poor performances in the season run-in.