THIS summer will be a momentous one at Parkhead. After nine years where just about everything has gone Celtic’s way (domestically, at least) and adversity has been hard to come by, the serious questions are stacking up rapidly for the Glasgow club. For the first time in a decade, their supremacy in Scotland was not only challenged; it was emphatically rebuked.

The resurgence of their rivals across the city has prompted a changing of the guard at Celtic Park, highlighting the overhaul in approach that’s required to get the nine-in-a-row champions back on top. Manager Neil Lennon has already departed and long-serving chief executive Peter Lawwell will follow suit this summer, with the Scottish Rugby Union’s Dominic McKay replacing him.

Can the club bounce back at the first time of asking and reclaim their Premiership crown after being dethroned by Rangers? How will McKay fare in his new role? What changes will he institute? Will key players be sold this summer? If so, which ones? How will the new director of football get on, should one be appointed as expected? And the most important one of all: who’s going to be in charge next season?

Let’s get the obvious out of the way: no one knows who the new manager is going to be. Truthfully, it’s hard to even hazard a guess, given the sweeping changes that will take place in the boardroom this summer. There also happens to be no obvious candidate, no early frontrunner who clearly possesses all the qualities Celtic need in their next manager. At least not on the list of names that have been linked with the vacancy.

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Let’s look at the task at hand. Celtic need a manager with experience of challenging for titles and competing for silverware. First and foremost, they need to win games – just about all of them in the league. If a prospective candidate has experience of winning championships and lifting trophies, then that’s a big tick next to their name.

The new manager will also need to have shown a degree of tactical versatility during his career. Celtic are rightly expected to dominate domestically, given the disparity in resources between the Old Firm and the rest, but the role is reversed in Europe. Lennon’s side were rarely tactically equipped to see off superior opposition or even those of similar stature. The wins over Lazio are the exception; the rule is that Celtic tended to underperform on the continent during the Northern Irishman’s second spell at the club. Lennon’s predecessor, Brendan Rodgers, even struggled in this sense – a common criticism levied against the then manager was that he was too dogmatic in his approach to such games, thereby jeopardising his team’s chances.

Celtic haven’t hit the heights they would have liked in Europe in recent years and Rangers’ performances since Steven Gerrard pitched up in Govan have laid bare this shortcoming. Someone whose CV suggests they could improve Celtic’s fortunes on the continent – and capitalise on the financial windfall that accompanies such success – would indeed prove very attractive to the club’s hierarchy.

These first two criteria are objectives for the Premiership’s runners-up-in-waiting but the next one will provide the means: the need of a coach. Given the often listless, predictable and tactically rudderless displays that have been a hallmark of the team in this season to forget, finding a new manager who views the training pitch as the most potent weapon in his arsenal is a must.

Make no mistake about it: the difference in standard between the coaching on both sides of the Old Firm was the definitive factor in this year’s title race. Rangers had lesser resources and fewer expensive players and yet, they won the league at a canter. For all the internationalists or multi-million pound acquisitions that littered the Celtic squad, they performed less than the sum of their parts. Gerrard and his staff closed the gap in resources via their work on the training ground and while that progress was incremental at times, it has paid off handsomely.

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Rodgers was a coach first and foremost, and his time at the helm of the club was transformational. The quality of football on offer was raised several levels from what was on offer under Ronny Deila and individuals within the squad improved massively. Supporters may never forgive Rodgers for the manner of his departure but there is no question that the likes of Kieran Tierney, Callum McGregor or James Forrest improved vastly under his tutelage. Quite simply: he made players better.

A similar appointment is required this time around if the current crop on the books at Parkhead are to fulfil their potential. All the fabulous facilities at Lennoxtown, all of the coaching reports and analysis that any Celtic manager has at their fingertips are useless if they’re not being utilised properly, and a good coach will ensure that they are.

These are the fundamental qualities that any prospective candidate for the gig must have, but there are others that come in handy too. Someone with experience of developing young players from across Europe and selling them on at a massive profit certainly wouldn’t hurt. Nor would someone who’s previously sold a host of key players in the space of one transfer window, immediately rebuilt their squad and made the transition relatively seamless.

There is a man who ticks all of these boxes: former Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim. And the good news for Celtic is that he’s not even in a job just now.

The Portuguese has been out of work since December 2019 when a second spell at the principality didn’t really work out and he was sacked, but it’s important to remember just how successful his first stint was. After landing the job in 2014, Monaco were in the midst of a cost-cutting exercise. After billionaire owner Dmitry Rybolovlev decided to stop pumping money into the club, the Ligue 1 side fell into a habit of selling their brightest prospects for enormous sums every summer.

Star players like Rademal Falcao and James Rodriguez were moved on in 2014 and Jardim was tasked with keeping the good times rolling without them. He did just that, guiding Monaco to a third-place finish in Ligue 1 and reaching the last eight of the Champions League in a team that ground out results playing defensive, reactive football.

The next season would be another one of transition after Layvin Kurzawa, Yannick Carrasco, Geoffrey Kondogbia and Aymen Abdennour were sent off to pastures new, raking in over 100 million euros in revenue. Jardim was again left picking up the pieces, and again secured third spot.

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The 2016/17 campaign was the big one. For a change, Monaco didn’t have to sell any key players that summer and this newfound sense of stability was handsomely rewarded as they romped to the Ligue 1 title with swaggering, attacking football that swept away their opponents. They finished the season as champions of France and made it all the way to semis of the Champions League before losing out to Juventus, but Monaco’s gallant style had won admirers all over Europe. As well it might - they were the highest-scoring team in the 'Big Five' leagues that season. 

Chief among those casting approving glances in their direction were the superclubs, who pounced in the summer of 2017 to snap up Monaco’s hottest properties. Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy and Tiemoue Bakayoko were moved on for tremendous sums but still Jardim’s Monaco remained competitive. They relinquished their grip on the French title that season as big-spending PSG flexed their considerable financial muscle and overhauled them. In October 2018, following a poor start to the new campaign, Jardim was sacked.

Results after the Venezuela-born manager’s dismissal would suggest that the Monaco bubble had burst. Things went even worse under his successor, Thierry Henry, before Jardim was reappointed in January 2019. The remainder of the campaign was spent fighting off relegation and by December that same year, with Monaco in seventh, Jardim was again relieved of his duties. They went on to finish ninth.

If Celtic are looking for an ambitious appointment that delivers precisely what is required of the new manager, then Jardim is the standout candidate. He has won a league title (against the odds), he has a mightily impressive track record when it comes to rebuilding a squad and has shown himself to be a canny operator in Europe. He and his coaching staff have also nurtured talented players and helped them maximise their potential, and many of his former players can be found scattered across clubs at the highest level of the game.

Jardim’s time at Monaco demonstrated his tactical flexibility and his willingness to shape his system around the players he has. The defensive style from his initial time at the club was well-structured and rigorous while the free-flowing, swashbuckling side of 2016/17 showed he can get his teams to play a bit, too. He’s adaptive.

The 46-year-old ticks every box for Celtic. He might be seen as an overly-ambitious appointment by some, but that same group would likely have said the same thing about the prospect of Rodgers pitching up in Glasgow back in 2016. The Parkhead board might have to really push the boat out to get him but if Jardim could be tempted back into first-team management, he could well prove to be a very shrewd appointment indeed.