As ever in Scottish football, it has been Glasgow’s big two who have been dominating the headlines this season. Rangers’ well publicised downfall off the pitch has been matched by that on it as they sat fifteen points clear of Celtic in October, a deficit which Celtic managed to claw back. For this reason, Neil Lennon has been touted as the nation’s manager of the year. However, I do think there is one manager who has definitely given him some stiff competition for the gong.
Stuart McCall’s Motherwell side had such a terrific start to the season that in October, they were in between the two sides in second place. At the time of writing in March, McCall’s men are now only three points off Rangers in second, showing a level of consistency many thought they wouldn’t maintain after a fine start.
After a very poor start to the season, Lennon has undeniably done a terrific job to get Celtic in a position where they could win the league as early as this month, albeit helped by Rangers being deducted ten points. What I think could go against Lennon’s attempts to win the award is the fact that the deficit existed in the first place. Yes, managing seventeen straight victories was a tremendous feat, but given Celtic’s position in October, it was going to take a substantial run paired with a meteoric demise of Rangers to get them in pole position. Lennon’s fine season can be owed as much to Rangers’ demise as it can to his rise.
Stuart McCall on the other hand, has set the ground running from day one. A 3-0 victory on the opening day of the season against Inverness was a statement of intent. Motherwell managed to stay in and around the top two until November, but given the major difference in resources, it was bound to happen that they would find themselves behind the Old Firm sooner or later. Since dropping to third, Motherwell have managed to stay there for all but one weekend and have now established an eleven point gap between themselves and fourth place.
I’m sure both managers will be able to sit down at the end of May and look back at the season in a satisfied manner, but if things continue the way they have done, Lennon will have achieved what was expected of him whereas McCall will have surpassed what was expected of him. Many Celtic fans wanted Lennon out back in October and at that point it was clear that winning the League would be the only acceptable outcome for their season. On the other hand, McCall said at the start of the season that he was looking to achieve a top half finish with a good cup run.
The difference in resources also has to be considered. Lennon has used thirty one players this season and when things weren’t going well he was able to tinker with personnel. By contrast, McCall has only used twenty four, with only eighteen starting league games. Both have had positive dealings in the transfer market this season, with each manager’s star signing defying the gossip columns as Victor Wanyama and Henrik Ojamaa arrived at Celtic and Motherwell respectively from relative obscurity. Elsewhere in the transfer market, McCall has used his resources superbly in that every one of his signings has made an impact. Celtic have by and large been successful in their dealings, although spending £2 million of Mohammed Bangura at this point in time doesn’t seem a sound investment.
All things considered, achievements of both managers deserve to be lauded, but for me McCall is more deserving of the award. With expectations set for McCall at the start of the season, there can’t have been a week where he looked at the League table and was unhappy with where his club were in relation to expectations. Neil Lennon’s achievements may be more noticeable by the spectacular way in which they have been achieved, but having to win seventeen straight matches to simply meet, and not surpass expectations, doesn’t show the mark of manager of the year to me. Elsewhere in the league, managers have been doing fine jobs at their respective clubs, Derek McInnes had St. Johnstone flying before departing for Bristol City and Danny Lennon has noticed a remarkable change in league position and style of play for his St. Mirren side. But I will be very surprised if the Scottish Manager of the Year award for the 2011/12 season does not go to a redhead.