Thursday, 28 May 2009

The Not So Magic Roundabout

With the 2008/09 Scottish Premier League not even cold, the managerial merry go round started in earnest with the exit of 2 of its high profile managers in Jimmy Calderwood and Gordon Strachan. In their posts, their fortunes differed greatly, but there was always the undercurrent of unpopularity amongst the fans.

Calderwood was the first to leave his position, hours after his Aberdeen team had clinched European Football for the first time in 2 seasons. Calderwood had kept Aberdeen in the top half of the SPL for most of his time at Aberdeen. His best results were guiding Aberdeen to the last 32 of the UEFA Cup last season. However what infuriated Aberdeen fans was not the lack of silverware but the continued failure to generate cup runs. They have been knocked out of cups by Partick Thistle and Queens Park, and lost a cup semi final to Queen Of The South, after knocking out Celtic in a replay at Parkhead. Calderwood’s other cup semi in his time at Aberdeen resulted in a thumping 4-1 reverse at the hands of Dundee United. The last straw for many, including some of the Aberdeen board, would have been the loss on penalties in the quarter finals to Dunfermline.

Hours after their 2-1 win against Hibs, Calderwood and his backroom staff of Jimmy Nichol and Sandy Clark were bagged. For Calderwood, this might be his last big job in Scottish football. For Aberdeen, this is a chance to change direction. The most obvious candidate for the job is Motherwell’s Mark McGee. However, there are others who may be after the Motherwell boss.

Strachan left his position just over 24 hours after Celtic lost their first championship since 2005. Strachan won 3 Scottish Championships in a row, 2 League Cups and a Scottish Cup (in 2007). He also took Celtic to the last 16 of the European Cup 2 seasons on the trot (being eliminated by AC Milan and Barcelona respectively). Yet despite the glittering CV, the Celtic fans couldn’t wait to see the back of Strachan. Maybe it was his position as a prominent member of Alex Ferguson’s Old Firm smashing Aberdeen side a quarter of a century ago, or maybe his personality rubbed the fans up the wrong way. Either way (and it can’t possibly be because he wasn’t “Celtic minded” enough) it’s an attitude which mystifies.

For Strachan, a position with one of the Premierships middle teams awaits. Celtic on the other hand are at a crossroads. The handover from Martin O’Neil to Strachan was pretty flawless, despite the appointment being seen as an imaginative and left field decision. In order to pick up the momentum again from their rivals across Glasgow, they must make the right decision. Problem is, apart from the decision making process being in the public domain for the first time since John Barnes was bagged nearly a decade ago, there is not really an obvious candidate.

Mark McGee (him again) is Strachan’s choice as successor, while some of the newspapers have mentioned the West Brom and former Hibs manager Tony Mowbray. The former St Johnstone manager Owen Coyle ruled himself out of the running straight away. Then again if you’ve just taken your team into England’s top flight for the first time since 1976…

For both teams, who is picked to coach them next is the most crucial decision they will have taken for years. For Aberdeen, it could mean a change in direction. For Celtic it is likely to mean the breakup of Strachan’s team. Nakamura might be the first to go (he is likely to return to Japan), while this might be the summer where Boric wins that big move to one of Europe’s aristocracy. Whether this means the end of this period of 6 titles in 9 seasons remains to be seen.

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