What colour are you?

The ideal green; lots of energy, receptive to new ideas, hard-working, consummate professional, good attitude, enthusiastic personality, strong and positive influence with your colleagues?

Or are you its opposite, the dreaded grey; lots of energy but used in the wrong manner, undermining and resistant to new ways of working, bitchy and with a level of toxicity that stains those around you? Or maybe somewhere in the middle; yellow for those with a good personality but are low on motivation, low on energy and short of a willingness to really put their back into it. And then there’s white; churlish, low energy, low motivation, can’t be bothered.  

On his first day at Lennoxtown back in 2016 these were the selection choices put to the Celtic squad as they met their new manager for the first time. Brendan Rodgers was introduced to his team in the small broadcasting media suite at the club’s training ground and presented a powerpoint – that he would deliver some months later to an assembly of journalists – that showcased these four boxes. He spoke of grey being the players that he “couldn’t work a day with.” One can draw their own conclusions on that front. 

For a team who had just won their fifth successive title and were halfway along on their journey to the holy grail of the ten, there might have been an assumption that there was no need for a huge overhaul in culture. It was, though, a case of night and day within Rodgers arriving on the back of a Scottish Cup defeat at Hampden to Rangers via a penalty shoot-out. That first day every player left with a manifesto in a booklet about how they should conduct themselves on and off the park, what they could expect from the manager and a detailed approach to how he wanted them to work.   

Rodgers’ tuition brought out the best in players who were there with Callum McGregor, James Forrest and Stuart Armstrong all excelling over the course of that season while Moussa Dembele was linked with big money moves before he had been at the club for six months. Rodgers’ Celtic won an Invincible treble, lodging records all along the way, the most noticeable being an unbeaten run that stretched to 69 games. The philosophy, the culture and the ideology of the club was underpinned within the opening weeks of now Leicester manager’s arrival.  

As Celtic prepare for another new chapter under the guidance of Ange Postecoglou, there is a feeling that such a shift in gears is required again. By all accounts the Greek-born Australian will go for a similarly holistic approach and while the chaotic nature of what he walked into last month suggests he needs time and money – restrictions on both have frustrated those who have gone before - the cry for leadership and a particular kind of authority is pressing. 

Interestingly, though, was that what Rodgers’ illustrated is that it need not require a substantial block of time to implement a new way of working. The first indication of Postecoglou’s methods came via a mic that he wore during the first week as he got out onto the Lennoxtown pitches. It was easily the most well received tweet for the club’s official Twitter channels from the last 12 months.

Celtic Way:

“It is very important to have a manager who is direct in the way he wants to progress,” said former Celtic defender Erik Sviatchenko, who has been linked with a return to the club. “I was, of course, brought to Celtic six months before Brendan arrived. I experienced one kind of management which I liked a lot but the change of detail and the attention to every little thing when Brendan and his backroom team arrived was second to none. It was like a Premier League mindset overnight. 

“The players are the most important in a dressing room. You can’t change a culture if you don’t have the right players. At that moment some players left and some players came in and so much of the recruitment was also about players who had the attitude that complimented that culture.  

“The changes were swift when Brendan arrived. There were things up in the walls around Lennoxtown, there were changes all around the training ground. 

"The first training camp in Austria we were divided into groups to talk about values. It was important to Brendan that we sat down in small groups to discuss this and then we came together to talk about the values that we felt were important to us as a team and as a club. It was respect, unity and excellence that were the three that we agreed upon. 

“At that point it was helpful to have that. We committed to these words and we committed to each other that these were the terms we worked on. It was new for the Scottish players. I had done something similar in Denmark but for a lot of the boys it was quite a new thing. They were a bit surprised at first but they saw where it was taking us.  

“I remember one of the first that Brendan told us he had watched us at Hampden the day we lost to Rangers in the semi-final of the Scottish Cup. He told us we had lost the game before we had kicked a ball. He described how we had entered the pitch before the game and we were all dressed in different clothes, different colours and there was no unity about us. He said we didn’t look like one group of players, like a team. We were all in little groups of our own.  

“From there on we all had the suits and the tailors in for the big games and we all wore the same training kit and the same clothes before games. That sounds a bit banal but it was a big thing because if you are to have success as a team and as a group then you have to identify as one.  

“You can agree and you can disagree. But you cannot disagree about fundamental values. People could see the bigger picture. You have to have players who are receptive to new ideas but when you perform and there are good results then people believe what you are telling them and where you are taking them. 

“He also told us never to look at our opponent when we were in the tunnel. If they look to you and you are only focussed on looking forward and onto the pitch then in some way they are terrified and they are on the backfoot when they are looking up at you and you are tuned out to them. Coming to Celtic Park, with a full stadium, it is a big place to play.” 

If it all felt a bit new, there was a whole other layer when Rodgers’ team tapped into the mental and emotional side of the players; the human side.  

“Before the Invincible final Brendan’s team had contacted all of our loved ones,” said Sviatchenko. They had made a small montage of quotes from our families with some nice music behind it and you could take your time and read it. My wife, Anne, and William, then just a baby, were on mine with a message for me to go and perform in the final and of course, you are just so motivated after watching it to go and make them proud. I still have that on my phone and I still have a video on my phone too that we were all given before a Champions League tie. 

“They had used video footage of the game where we had beaten Rangers 5-1 and they had clips of all of us. It was tackles and goals and the only way you can describe it as a goosebumps video! The emotional touch was there and it is clever because football is an emotional game. It was all about tapping into that and just getting us mentally ready for big games. When you receive trust and respect you want to reciprocate.” 

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Rodgers himself spoke of setting the tone from the off. If there seemed something reminiscent of the now Leicester manager when highlights of Postecoglou’s first week of training were aired, it is perhaps no great surprise given that he visited Rodgers at Melwood when he was in charge of the Australian national team. But the Greek-Australian’s call for a relentlessness – “we stop at half-time and we celebrate at full-time” had echoes of Rodgers. 

“You have to think of that emotional hook for players all the time,” said the former Celtic manager. “It’s about trying to find what drives each individual on. You have to set a standard in training first of all, that is important. From the first day, the environment there dictates what you bring onto the field. You can’t get lazy. It is about the mentality. It is about creating an environment where they know they can’t have a lazy day. We shape them, try to make them better, but they need to be ready to win.” 

Celtic Way:
It is the winning, of course, the underpins any cultural shift. Selling a philosophy when the team isn’t doing it on the pitch is never going to last for long, as Martin O’Neill, the last manager to walk into a Celtic dressing room and face the task of reducing a deficit that stretched beyond 20 points, observed. 

“I was hoping that if I went in and got some early results that the players would feel there was something in the message I was trying to get across. But, like everything, your message comes across a lot clearer when you are winning.” 

If every manager has his own stamp to put on a club, O’Neill was fairly succinct when it came to getting his point across about the standard he would accept.  Dispensing with the charm he used on the steps of Celtic Park when he stated he would “do everything I can to bring some success to this football club,” his words were significantly more brusque as he walked into the dressing room for the first meeting with a group of players who had lost the title by 21 points.  

O’Neill’s introduction to his new charges was to peer over his specs and gaze around an assembly that included a Champions League winner in Paul Lambert and Henrik Larsson who would go on to win the prestigious prize with Barcelona on the back of securing legendary status with Celtic. “21 points? 21 fucking points? It won’t be happening again.” With that he about-turned, leaving the players to gaze sheepishly at the floor. 

Until this season, 21 years later, it never did happen again. Postecoglou is charged now with facilitating an equally swift turnaround. O’Neill oversaw a 36-point swing in his inaugural season as his side won the league with 15 points to spare and claimed a Treble along the way, only the third at that point in Celtic’s history.  

If there were resources available to O’Neill that will seem as real to Postecoglou as unicorns and fairydust – Chris Sutton, John Hartson, Neil Lennon and Alan Thompson would all be well beyond the reach of the modern-day Celtic – while Lubo Moravcik, Henrik Larsson, Stiliyan Petrov and Lambert were significant jewels to inherit.  

O’Neill, though, believes there is no longer the same chasm between the quality of the two squads, despite what last season’s league table looked like.  

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“I don’t think that the Rangers team of today can compare with that Rangers side of the beginning the century,” he said. “I think that the players wanted to listen [when we came in]. I am not saying that they weren’t listening before but I think that if you show that you as the manager, the leader of the pack as it were, if you show that this is a commitment and it something you want to do and you have ferocious enthusiasm for the task ahead and a never-say-die spirit, you will get people to follow you. 

“And then what you want is very good players - and I hate this expression but it’s the one I’ll use – is to buy into what you are talking about. I am hoping that it won’t be a massive obstacle now. Rangers have the upper-hand at the moment and it is the first time in a long, long time but Celtic can wrest that away, there’s no question about that. You don’t want Rangers to get too comfortable, although they will have great confidence from winning that title and from stopping 10-in-a-row. But I just don’t think they are massive obstacles.” 

Still, as much as there is a need for financial backing as Celtic look to get off the canvas this summer so much about the team comes down to the culture within the dressing room.  

Celtic Way:

Former Celtic and Scotland defender Jackie McNamara recalls that for all O’Neill was relatively distant from the players – Steve Walford and John Robertson were the go-betweens on a day-to-day basis – there was no ambiguity about who was in charge from day one. 

“Discipline and wee things that other managers had let people away with, Martin was just like, ‘no, this is what’s happening.’” He recalled. “One of the players before hadn’t been happy with a tackle in training and he would just walk off the pitch. When he done it under Martin, Martin just shouted ‘On you go! Keep walking. But that’s going to cost you.’ And it did – two weeks’ wages. It put down a marker of authority right away but Martin was very fair with it. You knew he was in charge. There were no prima-donnas. We had big characters in the dressing room but discipline was there and everyone was together right away.  

“It was a massive change right away in pre-season. When it came to small things like defending set-pieces, everyone knew immediately what their job was. No-one wanted to be the one to let the team down. Martin could shut you down in a second if you crossed a line or spoke out of turn, not that anyone did too often.” 

Unlike Rodgers and unlike O’Neill who both arrived in the job with no-one to convince – both were universally seen as ambitious and welcome appointments – Postecoglou was the conclusion of a chaotic managerial hunt. If Google had to facilitate a means of introduction to the Celtic support, the early indications have been good. The opening few weeks of competitive football, however, will be where the real first impressions will be made. 

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“It is a change of era,” said Sviatchenko. “Scott Brown is away and it does feel like a changing of the guard. It is new eyes and a new manager and that is football. For nine years Celtic monopolised the league but now they have to go and fight to get the title back. I think what you will see is a motivated team looking to get their title back. I know a lot of the players and I know they are winners. This is a new situation for them but I think they will prove to have the answers.” 

O’Neill, too, has backed his former club to recalibrate.  

“There is a realisation of the task ahead and the realisation, too, of what it means to Celtic fans to get back on top again,” he said. “I think sometimes Celtic in the past might have felt like the under-dogs and they were fighting the establishment, that Rangers were the establishment. Then suddenly you find you are the one doing all the winning. And then that is taken away from you and you are thinking ‘well, wait a minute, are we starting a history lesson here? And then, do you know what, you say to yourself, we settle down here and we take the Championship next year.’” 

Postecoglou will hanker for such simplicity.