x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Mowbray back at home with his 'Celtic family'

There is a joke that circulates Glasgow on days such as yesterday, breezy, managerial anointing days in the city's East End.

Tony Mowbray was unveiled as Celtic manager yesterday, he said he was drawn to the club by the
Tony Mowbray was unveiled as Celtic manager yesterday, he said he was drawn to the club by the "Celtic family".

There is a joke that circulates Glasgow on days such as yesterday, breezy, managerial anointing days in the city's East End. It suggests that whenever Celtic, a club founded by an Irish Catholic priest in 1888, declare a manager, a cloud of white smoke floats over Celtic Park in a style similar to the manner in which the Vatican elect a new Pope. Celtic are hardly running a white flag up a pole by canonising Tony Mowbray, a figure who has mustered heroic elements in his previous incarnation representing the club as a player.

There is something dramatically sentimental, even spiritual, about Mowbray's return to Celtic as manager. There is something about this ballyhoo that has meaning, that is in keeping with the element of romance which has always infiltrated Celtic, whether in salubrious days, or times of strife. Mowbray played in a wretched period for the club when Rangers were rich and unstoppable in the 1990s. Their city rivals equalled Celtic's record of nine successive domestic titles achieved under the late Jock Stein.

Celtic cut a depressed lot when Mowbray was a player, a club at a financial loss. It was Stein, the manager of the club's European Cup winners of 1967, who said that the Celtic jersey does not shrink to fit inferior players. A similar mantra can be applied to its managers. Martin O'Neill and Gordon Strachan have managed Celtic for the past nine years, a lifetime of stability when one considers the club went through Billy McNeill, Liam Brady, Lou Macari, Tommy Burns, Wim Jansen, Josef Venglos, John Barnes and Kenny Dalglish in the previous decade.

When O'Neill arrived in 2000, he relayed the story of how his father, Leo, had told him that he should be willing to walk to Glasgow if the opportunity to manage the club presented itself. Mowbray seems to have been running towards the post since he departed Celtic Park after four years in 1995. Mowbray left West Bromwich Albion after their relegation last month from the English Premier League. If there is an ideal Celtic manager, Mowbray would seem to be an idealistic candidate.

Mowbray signing a 12-month rolling contract may well be the best that Celtic could do in these times of financial hardship. West Brom received £2million (Dh11.97m) in compensation. He played for the club for four years, is deemed to have created their pre-match huddle routine, embraces a swish passing style that Celtic fans have always idolised and has a pedigree in management at Hibernian and West Brom, whom he carried to promotion to the Premier League and an FA Cup semi-final last season before they were relegated last month.

He is what those who follow the club would call a Celtic man, but there is more than football that defines Mowbray's association with Glasgow. "Honesty, integrity, humility and respect" were the four words that Mowbray used to describe himself yesterday. These are characteristics that defined him at Middlesbrough, Celtic and Ipswich as a ferocious central defender, but more so as a man. Mowbray lost his wife Bernadette Doyle to breast cancer during his time in Glasgow.

"When this opportunity arose for me, I felt drawn to it, and here I am," Mowbray said. "I played here for four years in the 1990s when the club wasn't at its greatest heights but I was overwhelmed by the great support the Celtic family gave me. "I was engulfed by thousands of messages of goodwill when I left and it leaves you with a warmth, so when this opportunity arose for me I felt drawn." After three straight titles under the departed Strachan, Celtic last month gave up their championship to Rangers. There is a need for fresh values.

The city of Glasgow is the home of St Mungo, the city's patron saint, but Celtic supporters knew O'Neill as Saint Martin. They may well have a brother Mowbray in their midst as he approaches this unique ecumenical gathering. @Email:dkane@thenational.ae