Things have moved incredibly quickly since Scottish Cup Final weekend.
Celtic’s Treble celebrations on Saturday were joyous, but the background noise surrounding Ange Postecoglou was unavoidable – within 24 hours, he was all but gone.
In sobering fashion, a day of cherishing the club’s eighth Treble in its 135-year history has been followed by the departure of an indescribably important figure, and the sudden worries of who will be trusted with the daunting task of replacing him.
So alive comes the rumour mill, as “exclusives” emerge from every corner of the media and mates’ mates’ murmurings grow arms and legs through WhatsApp and message boards – to think that we were anticipating a fairly untroubled summer!
Reports suggest that the Hoops board are in no rush to make a rapid appointment too, so we may well be strapped in for weeks of nervously checking the bookies’ odds and morning papers for every little update, in a period which could have been spent looking ahead to Angeball returning bigger and better again for a third campaign.
As hard as it is to accept, though, someone other than Ange Postecoglou will soon take charge of the Aussie’s excellently crafted squad.
Some names have already become prominent among an already considerable list of individuals being mentioned, so now is probably a good time to assess where we are at: what we know about the supposed candidates, their likelihood of taking charge at Celtic Park and, most importantly, how suitable an Ange successor they would be.
The bookies’ favourite at time of writing, Brendan Rodgers is a name which needs no introduction to the Celtic support.
In a uniquely successful spell which lasted for almost three seasons between 2016 and 2019, Rodgers’ revolutionary rate of securing silverware at Celtic Park was nothing short of special – with many Hoops fans owing some of the most dearly cherished moments of their Celtic-supporting lives to the 50 year-old.
Such a glistening period would be expected to mean a Rodgers return being universally clamoured for in the east end of Glasgow – but as we all know, there is another side to the coin.
The Irishman’s decision to depart a Treble-Treble bound Celtic to take charge of a Leicester City side placed 12th in the Premier League shocked the Parkhead faithful to the core, and left a bitter taste which some still feel to this day.
Whilst his trophy record in Scottish Football is simply unquestionable, Rodgers would still face having to win over sections of the support as though his leading of the club to its only ever unbeaten domestic season in 2016-17 never happened, following four years at Leicester during which he polished his CV with more historic achievements – albeit before being sacked ten games prior to their catastrophic relegation.
‘There’s one club I wanted to manage and that was Celtic’ 🍀
Listen on @BBCSounds 🎧
— BBC 5 Live Sport (@5liveSport) August 14, 2022
Indications of the likelihood of Brendan succeeding Ange have been conflicting, but what appears definite is that the Parkhead board are considering it.
Rodgers’ brand of football is well-known to the Hoops support – big on possession and pressing, not a far-cry from Angeball – so a case can absolutely be made for this being a sensible progression plan, as well as an opportunity for the man from Carnlough to complete any repair work needed for his Celtic reputation by resuming his domination of Scottish football – as well as tackling ambitions previously left unfulfilled in Europe.
Much like Rodgers, Enzo Maresca appears to be a highly prominent candidate in the early stages of Celtic’s managerial search – on the face of it, though, the current Manchester City assistant coach represents a wildly different option to the Irishman.
Interviewed by the Hoops board before attentions were turned towards Eddie Howe in 2021, Maresca – a European-level midfielder before moving into coaching – would still leave his role as City’s under-23 manager that summer to take on his first senior management role, with newly relegated Serie B side Parma.
His return to Italy was a major disappointment, however. Four wins from his first 14 matches saw Maresca sacked a month before Christmas and he returned to Manchester six months later, being promoted to work alongside Pep Guardiola for City’s first team. Such a poor performance in his first managerial role deals undoubted harm to Enzo’s reputation, but the evidence from Celtic and elsewhere is that the 43 year-old remains one to watch, with Unai Emery and Roberto De Zerbi joining Guardiola on Enzo’s impressive list of close influences.
Should Celtic be unsuccessful in persuading Brendan Rodgers to re-join the club, then their second-favourite would be #ManCity’s Enzo Maresca – who has backing within the Parkhead hierarchy and is amongst the managerial options they are looking at.
— City Xtra (@City_Xtra) June 5, 2023
Celtic’s hierarchy turning to their City Football Group connections for a left-field managerial appointment is a familiar storyline, with the route leading to Ange Postecoglou’s arrival in 2021.
Of course, this was a major success, but Maresca’s five months of managerial experience is simply incomparable to the decades Ange had under his belt upon arrival in Glasgow. The Italian is by all accounts rated extremely highly in the coaching world though, and his City group DNA would represent a perfect tactical transition for the Hoops’ squad.
The good news about Kjetil Knutsen is that his four seasons in charge at Bodø/Glimt have been one of the most amazing recent fairytale stories in European football, with the Norwegian minnows being propelled to unthinkable heights both domestically and in Europe.
The bad news, then, is that this has led to Knutsen’s name circling around vacancies at just about every club in Europe over the last few years. Media reports have slowly but surely begun to recognise him as a concrete candidate as this week has progressed though, despite Ajax’s admiration being heavily publicised.
The 54 year-old has of course been seen before at Celtic Park, leading his side to a 3-1 defeat of Ange Postecoglou’s Celts in a Europa Conference League tie last year, before sealing a 5-1 aggregate hammering the following week. Bodø’s football impressed on the night, picking Celtic off with impressive pieces of link-up play, and the result was no one-off – AZ Alkmaar were also stunned as well as, most famously, José Mourinho’s Roma who were demolished by a sensational 6-1 scoreline in Nordland.
Kjetil Knutsen continues to impress in Europe as his Bodø/#Glimt beat Ange Postecoglou’s Celtic 5-1 on aggregate in the Europa Conference League, three months after beating José Mourinho’s Roma 6-1.
— The Coaches’ Voice (@CoachesVoice) February 24, 2022
Kjetil’s favoured 4-3-3 shape bears plenty of similarity to what Celtic have looked like over the past two years, making the Norwegian another candidate who passes as a logical tactical successor to Postecoglou.
The big question mark remains over whether the Parkhead hierarchy can actually pull this off – Ajax will likely push for his signature in the near future with Bournemouth, Brighton and Leeds all recently being credited with interest in the impressively loyal Knutsen.
The arrival of one of Europe’s hottest coaches at Celtic Park would be a show of ambition from the club however, and would surely cause excitement amongst the Hoops supporters.
The three favourites come from starkly different backgrounds, age brackets and levels of experience, but what unites them is a clear compatibility with Celtic’s desired style of football.
Ange’s departure may have been a shock from nowhere, but the right appointment can easily ensure that it does not knock the club from their current position – which remains one of immense strength.
It could be Brendan back and begging for forgiveness, it could also be Enzo embarking on emulating City – it could also of course be none of the three current favourites.
For Michael Nicholson, Peter Lawwell and Dermot Desmond though, the task is simple: don’t let the post-Postecoglou period be a case of an exceptional squad being held back from reaching its full potential.
Tune in to the latest episode of The Celtic Exchange Weekly as we analyse Ange’s Celtic Departure, Assess the Early Front Runners To Replace Him, And Discuss How It May Impact The First Team Squad.
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