PERCEPTION matters. But perceptions can change.

That has always been the case but something made it become clear to me again in the past few days – and it didn’t come from the place you might presume.

It wasn’t the scenes in the Parkhead boardroom that made me consider the concept of changing perceptions, it was the ending to The Sopranos.

For my money, it’s the best TV show ever made. Violent, understated, somber, comedic and everything else in between. It was trailblazing. A masterpiece. But the way the showrunner chose to end it has divided opinion since it aired all the way back in June 2007.

Why mention this? I recently finished what must be a sixth or seventh rewatch of the entire series and, well, my perception has changed.

The ending – a now-infamous cut-to-black just as main character Tony Soprano looks up from his bowl of onion rings while eating in a diner with his family – has always been the subject of debate as to whether he was killed or if the viewer was simply taken out of the equation with the story pretty much wrapped up.

I always favoured the latter explanation. It just never made sense to me plot-wise for it to be anything else. I’ve argued this point for years. I mean to the extent I’ve fallen out with mates over it during a good old-fashioned pub debate.

This time, though, I watched the finale and it just felt… different. There are a heap of reasons why this might be the case, from within the show to my own life. I’m older, I’m married now, I’m about to become a dad; all things that could easily lead to a change in one’s perception.

But this is an episode of TV I’ve watched several times before. I knew what was about to happen and yet different elements of the plot had stuck out on this run through that hadn’t on previous occasions. Not that I wasn’t paying attention before – I promise you I was, and I’ve read all the fancy camerawork theories too – some of the subtext just seemed more important to me this time. Background stuff that made me think maybe the other side of the argument had a point all along.

That cut-to-black had taken on a new meaning. My perception had changed.

Which all then made me think: Celtic have a problem with perception. Massively so.

That was brought back into the spotlight upon chief executive Dominic McKay’s departure last Friday after just 72 days in the job.  

His appointment as Peter Lawwell’s successor – announced long in advance of his actual start date – was heralded as the beginning of a fresh period of modernisation for a club that, despite its trophy-laden dominance of the domestic game, seemed in dire need of it.

When he was unveiled, McKay earmarked three facets of the club he felt he needed to modernise, saying: “I will look across the whole organisation – at the football, at the business side, at the engagement side and we'll make sure we've got the right structure for the next decade.”

 Celtic Way: Dominic McKay, left, and Ange PostecoglouDominic McKay, left, and Ange Postecoglou

Football, business, engagement. A structure fit for the next decade. Those do not sound like the words of a man intending to make a flying visit to Glasgow’s east end, they sound like someone who is in it for the long haul.

The club’s official press release cited ‘personal reasons’ for McKay’s exit. Is there more going on than that catch-all term can really tell you? Of course there is. He’s just left after his first transfer window, but that doesn’t mean it’s conspiracy theory time either. Regardless of the intricacies of it, his departure is expected to prompt more changes at boardroom level with Michael Nicholson given the title of acting CEO in his stead.

McKay’s predecessor was a noted micro-manager but he consistently ensured the club was on a sound financial footing, that much cannot be denied. It still is doing well financially and that is in no small part down to Lawwell.

But with a micro-manager comes pitfalls as well. A modern football club should ideally aspire to have a varied leadership structure with a sporting side committed to embracing the rise of data and analytics, a business side equipped to commercialise without plundering and a healthy engagement side that is habitually as open with the supporters as it can be.

McKay made inroads into the first of his ambitions by enjoying a productive, if slow-moving, transfer window. With millions in season-ticket money – even before a manager was appointed – and more still generated with the sales of some big-name players he also made some progress into the second. His involvement with fan media outlets suggested a decent first step in the third facet too.

Yet with his departure several questions emerge. It has once again thrown into focus a club perceived to be in serious need of modernisation.

READ MORE: Impression of Celtic chaos not the full picture amid boardroom drama of Dom McKay departure - Alison McConnell

Where is the mooted director of football role so often mentioned when a programme of modernisation surfaces? Such a position allows the manager to focus more on the players under him and, likewise, the CEO can concentrate on the business side and building the brand, as they say.

A director of football also provides a clear point of contact for football issues – which, as reported by The Athletic, was a source of confusion this summer with as many as five people in addition to McKay cited as possible points of contact over transfers.

Nick Hammond occupied the role of head of football operations from July 2019 until March this year while Gary Penrice also left the club after a stint as head of recruitment.

It is undeniable that the January transfer window is now a crucial second step in Postecoglou’s rebuild. It cannot be allowed to go underutilised. So even with the caveat that both men operated under and left during Lawwell’s era the question still arises: who fronts these duties now and going forward?

In addition, RB Leipzig – a club cited by McKay as having a structure worth aspiring to – poached Celtic’s head of sports science Jack Nayler this summer. With load management surely a concern for a club with such a hectic fixture list and a clear squad depth issue, not to mention a manager renowned for his high-intensity playing style, who now takes ultimate responsibility for those tasks?

Celtic do, at least, have a clearly-defined head of scouting operations in former Arsenal man Jay Lefevre. That’s a decidedly different responsibility to recruitment, however, and it’s not like they seem to have had a problem identifying players this summer anyway.  

And indeed, it’s quite hard to over-criticise a club that has just signed 12 new players in one window as being in a malaise. Yet the fresh faces at Lennoxtown also provide a dozen reasons the perception of a club chasing its tail may have substance; it’s a massive turnover in playing staff in any one season never mind in one window.

But what other choice did the club leave itself? Both first-team right-backs were sold for decent money at the start of the year yet a replacement was not signed until late August. Then there are the contract situations that were allowed to develop for existing players; Ryan Christie’s unfathomable January expiry date loomed for months while Odsonne Edouard probably hung around a year longer than expected given the maximum-value window for him was long gone by the time he did depart.

That said, Kristoffer Ajer was sold for a larger fee than many anticipated and the departure of a club legend in Scott Brown was always likely to have an impact in ways those outside the club will probably never fully realise.

Celtic Way: Celtic fans protest at the club's decision to charge £19 for the FK Jablonec matchCeltic fans protest at the club's decision to charge £19 for the FK Jablonec match

All of these factors, and that the club put itself in the position where the team had to rely on a first-choice defence made up of three loanees for the final months of last season, meant Celtic had left themselves with a gargantuan task when trying to be prepared for what lay ahead with qualifiers looming and a new manager arriving in June.

Speaking of, what about Postecoglou? What does he make of all this? Well, he’s already told us his thoughts on the football structure in one of his many frank press conferences.

“It’s a priority, but it’s a priority post-window,” Postecoglou said when asked about the prospect of changes to club structure, including a director of football. “I’ve got some ideas and I know Dom’s got some ideas on how we restructure things in the football department, so we’ll crack on with that once the window closes.”

Quite. But there is a clear feeling that this shouldn’t even be Postecoglou’s problem to ponder. That the club should have taken steps to modernise and protect itself from the challenges and troughs that tend to follow a peak such as the one they have just enjoyed years in advance of failing and not just when it became inevitable.

The fans protested at a perceived lack of effective governance and communication last season while already this term there has been notable discontent over how slowly Postecoglou was being backed on the football side.

Then there was the ‘business decision’ to charge fans £19 per head for the FK Jablonec game after well over a year away from the ground when clubs with mere fractions of Celtic's resources were offering their own season-ticket holders freebies for one of the biggest games in their history. McKay’s three facets of effective modernisation writ large.

If the club is simply being extremely slow to modernise it is irksome, yes, but forgivable. It is even somewhat understandable given how long-tenured some of those in executive positions are and have been, as well as the success the past decade has brought on the pitch domestically. It must be difficult to actively move away from a system that appears to be working in such a tangible way.

However, if the club hierarchy is openly reluctant to move with the times it becomes more than just irksome, it becomes inexcusable.

Perception absolutely matters. But perceptions can change.

It is important Celtic start to change the growing perception that the club has become insular and inward-looking to the point of self-harm. 

There is the potential for a vibrant, modern, trusted football club to emerge from this in the years to come. The financial footing is secure enough. Those at the top need only take the steps required. 

How to do that? For starters, it would surely help to focus on the third of those three facets McKay spoke about. Engage with the fans. Don’t keep cutting to black.