EX-CELTIC man John Park was on Friday appointed as Falkirk’s new Director of Football. Park is part of a million pound take over by English businessman Mark Campbell. For John Park this comes on the back of being an adviser to Maccabi Tel Aviv (the next possible Champions League opposition to Celtic if they can overcome a 1-0 away defeat to FC Cluj) and a summer long flirtation with Sunderland.
Given Campbell’s previously rumoured attempts at a Sunderland buy out it would appear the Englishman knows the value of John Park. You’d have assumed had Mark Campbell chosen not to avoid the alleged financial basket case that is AFC Sunderland then John Park would have assumed a similar role at the Stadium of light.
John Park has always fascinated me.
Virgil Van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster were the obvious players he identified and brought to Celtic. Successful players and extremely profitable to boot when it came to sell on value.
When Neil Lennon originally left Celtic it was difficult to argue that the success he left behind wasn’t a balance between recruitment and coaching. Thompson, Mjallby and Lennon appeared to cope admirably with taking Tony Mowbray’s squad remnants and on the back of selling Aiden McGeady and off-loading Tony’s errors of judgement, built a team that eventually defeated the best club side in World football when Tony Watt and the aforementioned Victor Wanyama sank Barcelona in the Champions League.
When Peter Lawwell offered Neil Lennon the permanent job second time around he commented on his ‘eye for a player’. He declined to mention the influence of John Park on Lennon’s previous talent spotting ability.
Now I get Lennon would have always had the final say on player recruitment but did he really have the ‘eye’ or was the choice of two or three put on his laptop actually identified by John Park and his team of scouts?
There were rumours abound and I admit myself to trying to fuel them, that John Park may have returned to Celtic Park this time as a Director of Football when it appeared clear Lee Congerton’s ill-fated role was coming to an end and he was following Brendan Rodgers to Leicester City. To me it seemed the logical step.
Jock Stein built THE Celtic team. You could easily argue sidekick Sean Fallon had the eye for the talent that helped facilitate the conveyer belt for not only the first team but also the youth that fuelled the later years. No man is an island and maybe John Park was Neil Lennon’s Sean Fallon last time around?
Park‘s original role was as Football Development Manager in 2007. Prior to this he was Head of Youth Development at Hibs and found many youth standouts like Steven Fletcher, Derek Riordan and Gary O’Connor.
Originally at Celtic he worked with Chris McCart in attracting and developing youth players much as he had done in 9 years developing the Hibees youth structure. A structure that benefitted Hibs as much as it later benefitted Celtic with player attraction breeding on field success before paying off well as Hibs cleared their debt and rebuilt their Easter Road stadium as they flogged off Park’s best recruitment to fund it.
Rumour has it Park also turned down job offers as Chief Scout at Ibrox, Head of Football at West Brom and said no thank you to Jose Mourinho and Frank Arnesen when he was sought for a youth coaching role at Chelsea.
It was however the prospect of expanding his scouting skills into Europe and further Celtic’s prospects in the Champions League that attracted him to Glasgow’s East End. Hibs chairman, Rob Petrie tried hard to retain his man offering him a director role at Easter Road.
Prior to joining Hibs John Park had worked as a scout and match analyst for Motherwell and coach at youth level for Hamilton. Tommy McLean when boss at Motherwell took him to Fir Park from his part-time role at Hamilton and when his successor at Motherwell, Alex McLeish moved on to manage Hibs in the late 90’s, John Park went with him. He outlasted three managers at the Edinburgh club.
From his 2007 appointment John Park worked initially under Strachan, followed by Tony Mowbray, Neil Lennon, Ronny Deila and briefly Brendan Rodgers.
When taking on the Celtic role he was quoted as saying, as reported on Celtic Wiki: “I looked at all the fits for all the jobs that were offered and that was a good situation to be in but I just felt this one was a good fit that after talking to Gordon Strachan and Peter Lawwell, they both wanted me to come here and make things work.
“If the Celtic job hadn’t been here I would have gone to West Brom. But you could go to West Brom and still be hankering for the Champions League, while I can miss all that out, and go direct to the Champions League without passing other stations to get there. No-one in their right mind would pass up on that.”
But it was under Lennon where John Park spread his wings, where the shackles of pure youth development were set aside and the eye for a player was shown not only to be exclusive to ash pitches and Hutchison Vale.
Park remained at Celtic until he was manouvered out by Brendan Rodgers’ ego and the ill-fated role of Lee Congerton. Rumour has it the split was amicable, hence my own belief that John Park and Neil Lennon could have been reunited when Rodgers took the English pieces of silver and Congerton followed suit eventually.
It appears not but why?
Celtic have long struggled with a joined up structure from youth to first team, it is a clear Achilles heal. To join all that as a cohesive structure would involve a genuine Director of Football. The role John Park has taken up at Falkirk and the same role he’d have slipped into had the Sunderland deal gone through.
Not the Head of Recruitment, nor the chief scout, or whatever you want to call something that doesn’t involve the continuation of Peter Lawwell getting his day to day mitts on the final say of footballing matters.
It is pretty clear to me despite Lawwell’s press conference with Neil Lennon when the gaffer was announced as permanent manager, that Lawwell was saying the right things. Lenny would get the help to identify the players. Lawwell can say he delivered. He hasn’t.
When Celtic’s Chief Executive saw the back of Rodgers and Congerton he wasn’t going to volunteer himself for a marginalised position again. It is that and only that role John Park would have wanted? Director of Football. Nothing less would suffice.
If Peter Lawwell did deliver on this why do we have Nicky Hammond on a summer job like some Glasgow Uni graduate taking a gap year post before he got down to the nitty gritty of career development? Tie dying t-shirts or managing the next big ‘band’ before the inheritance kicked in on a pre ordained birthday. Playing at it. No defined role. Just an expensive temp until the transfer window closed. A patsy. A man employed to sell our wares to an English market he knows well. Not in post to buy in a market we can’t actually afford.
Lawwell simply can’t let go. The financial management and profitability is not enough to massage the ego. It doesn’t come with enough of a public and media profile and recognition. It also needs to be reined in. It won’t be however as no one bar Desmot Desmond could and he’s an absentee landlord who only gets involved when Celtic Park looks half full. That doesn’t reflect well with friends on the first tee at Carnoustie.
To employ John Park or any other bona fide director of football would aid Neil Lennon. It would allow Lenny to focus on the day to day coaching of a team in transition. It would also be a long term strategy.
To employ such a professional with a portfolio to develop the playing staff from top to bottom would mean our self appointed Director of Football would have to go back to his day job as a full time Chief Executive exclusively. A job it must be said he’s actually lauded for amongst most of the support but a job that doesn’t come with the public kudos he craves and clearly doesn’t seem enough to give our Peter job satisfaction, either that or he’s just an old fashioned micro manager. I’d put a substantial wager on it being the former.
So how about that ego just gets parked for the benefit of the club? If it’s not John Park fair enough, that ship has sailed sadly for me at least. It is not however a summer job.Even if it’s not John Park, It is all about a structure with defined roles and an actual title holding real responsibility. Football and finance in consort but with the respective skills apart and not blurred. A structure and strategy leading to a planned execution.
At present we have a gaping operational hole between Chief Executive and Manager. It’s that chasm that slows down recruitment and preparation for each and every season. A conduit between the roles is long overdue.
Then again Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas do they Peter?
Also on The Celtic Star today…