Tony Mowbray has arrived at Celtic Park. It took a while, some would argue too long, but the Celtic fans have got what they want, a manager with a Celtic history and the promise of attractive attacking football. However you can still hear the distant grumbles from some supporters, the hard facts will tell you that while West Brom played some of the best football in the Premiership last season they still finished bottom, not exactly the epitome of success. So has Mowbray got it in him to win the SPL and qualify for the Champions League?
Firstly it’s important to realise that Mowbray is everything that Celtic fans seem to be looking for, he had a successful spell as a player at the club and has promised to play the type of football that earned him plaudits at Hibernian and West Brom. Some Celtic fans would say that he is the perfect remedy to Gordon Strachan, who for reasons only known to them will never be remembered in the same light as Martin O’Neill despite bettering the Irishman’s achievements on lesser resources, while O’Neill himself was known to be equally as spiky with the media when the mood took him.
It is clear the Celtic board understood the significance of having a manager with a link to the club; in that sense it made Mowbray a prime candidate along with Mark McGhee. Aberdeen fans seem to have acquired a manger that went looking for gold at Celtic Park but didn’t get it so has settled for bronze at his second favourite former club. Mowbray himself was aware of the significance of his link to Celtic and to sweeten the deal both Peter Grant and Neil Lennon have been brought in to make up his backroom staff along with assistant Mark Venus. You don’t get a management team with deeper green and white hoops than that.
Celtic finally agreed to pay more than £2m compensation to get their man and it’s interesting to note that while £80m is being splashed on a man with a penchant for writing off £200,000 super cars, clubs are now haggling over transfer fees for managers. For that £2m they will get a man who has built a reputation as of one of the best young managers in the UK.
At Hibernian he took over from Bobby Williamson a man who much like Strachan never won the hearts of the clubs supporters through his aloof demeanour and perceived boring tactics. In his first season at the club Hibs finished fourth in the SPL and Mowbray himself won the Scottish Football Writers Manager of the Year Award. The fans almost instantly took to the Englishman and his team’s style of play saw season ticket sales at the club almost doubling for the following season. He was responsible for the development of players such as Steven Fletcher, Kevin Thomson, Steven Whittaker and Scott Brown. Celtic midfielder Brown, Players Player of the Year for the season just past, has publically stated that he believes under Mowbray’s guidance he can push on again to become an even better player.
As West Brom manager he was charged with the task of getting the team back into the Premiership after another season of relegation under Bryan Robson. He managed to reach the play offs in his first season in charge with a largely unchanged squad only to lose to Derby County, but the following season a team built in his mould was gaining plaudits for the way they played while winning the Championship and reaching an FA Cup semi-final with Mowbray himself receiving the LMA Manager of the Year Award. The following season though West Brom struggled despite their good football and once again were relegated.
It’s at this point the doubters start to surface. Few people would argue that Mowbray’s football philosophy is pleasing to the eye but there is an argument that he may reject compromising this philosophy to earn success. For a man regarded as a talented defender his teams have been known to let in as many as they score and at times last season West Brom were perceived as too lightweight, something that could never have been contributed to Mowbray during his playing days. In some ways it’s amicable that Mowbray has such faith in his methods but at the same time does it show a weakness in his tactical acumen.
There are also those that will say Mowbray has never found himself in a real pressure situation. At Hibernian as long as he stayed in the top six and entertained the fans with good football and a cup run then his job would never come under any great scrutiny. While at West Brom he took over a team on the way down and with a sizeable chequebook took them back up again to a league where they were never really expected to survive. But maybe that’s the skill in Mowbray’s style, in that no matter where he’s gone he has been well liked by chairman, fans and players a like, but is there room for nice in the clichéd goldfish bowl of the Old Firm? It would be nice to think there is.
Interestingly Mowbray has signed a 12 month rolling contract, which could be seen as good as having a Get out of Jail Free Card. At Hibernian he signed the same type of contract a month before he left for West Brom. It would be foolish to suggest that Mowbray will walk away in a month’s time but you would think that the Celtic board would want to tie down one of the brightest managerial talents in the country to a longer more permanent deal. If the Premiership pursues him in the future will the carrot that will be dangled in front of Mowbray be too tasty to refuse.
In Tony Mowbray, Celtic fans have acquired a manager as close to perfect as they are going to get. He has a history with the club and is renowned for entertaining football. As Billy McNeil commented he is by no means the finished article but Celtic, Rangers and the rest of Scottish football are a long way off from ever getting that at their club. Just as players in the SPL will always have an eye on a move down south, managers now are also looking for an opportunity to prove themselves.
The question is, can the man who came up with the iconic ‘huddle’, bring together the supporters and get them enthused again about a club many feel have been treading water for the last couple of seasons? He faces a tough task but beneath his calm exterior you feel there is a determination to prove that his way, is the right way to play and win football.