Monday 21 August 2017

Mowbray shot down in blaze of own paranoia

Roddy Forsyth

AS a man born on the day of John F Kennedy's assassination, it was perhaps no wonder that Tony Mowbray had an obsessive fear of snipers.

At every Celtic press briefing, he approached questions as though they were street corners during the battle for Stalingrad, craning his imagination to try to discern what ambush might lurk on the blindside.

There is a culture within Celtic which nourishes itself on the belief that the media is a force permanently arrayed against it, but no manager in recent memory bought into the mythology as willingly or completely as the 46-year-old from Saltburn.

He did not, of course, read a newspaper -- another of his mantras -- but he was always well informed about any criticism that appeared in print, via the peculiar Parkhead conduit that channels a corrosive flow of bile into the manager's ear.

The irony is that a reservoir of good will existed towards Mowbray because of the tragedy that afflicted him during his playing days at Celtic, when his first wife, Bernadette, died of cancer.

The book he co-authored about that passage of his life, 'Kissed By An Angel', although written by a journalist, guaranteed him a widespread consideration that was present even until the end of his managerial career at the club arrived yesterday.

Questions about what pressure he might feel as a manager, or how he should respond to setbacks on the field, were couched in the implicit understanding -- and sometimes with the straightforward acknowledgement -- that he had been forced to accommodate a perspective that put mere football results in their proper place. Yet even with this safety zone around him, he was profoundly suspicious of what he liked to call 'the west of Scotland media, with their black and white view of the game'.

Had his players been as comprehensively defensive on the pitch as Mowbray was in press conferences, Celtic would now be at or around the top of the Scottish Premier League table.

This personal trait, needless to say, would not have mattered -- in fact, it would have been greeted with approval by many of the club's supporters -- had there been clear signs of progress in his reconstruction of the team inherited by Gordon Strachan.

In one respect, Mowbray deserves a ration of sympathy. A manager supervising a period of transition needs a degree of luck in order to impose a new order quickly.

Mowbray made his moves in January, dismantling the old defensive guard of Gary Caldwell and Stephen McManus, but their replacements -- Thomas Rogne and Jos Hooiveld -- have hardly been seen because of injury, while Glenn Loovens has also appeared only intermittently over the last couple of months.

Mowbray refused to make a particular issue of the disruption, on the grounds that all managers have to endure injuries and suspensions and that, with greater resources at his disposal than any club in Scotland apart from Rangers, he would be seen as ungracious to complain.

Likewise, he distanced himself from the attack on refereeing standards in this season's Old Firm games fed to the BBC by an anonymous club source.

respect

Such attitudes bespoke a respect for fair play on Mowbray's part and, while there was also a reserve to the man which some construed as arrogance, those closest to him insist that shyness was the dominant factor. However, the bear pit of the Old Firm rivalry affords managers no such allowances.

Mowbray was never able to make a cogent case for his work in progress and, in fact, had no interest in doing so. Every nuance was pureed into a bland set of utterances, to the effect that the team was no better and no worse than it had been at the start of the season -- yet he also insisted that critics could not see the beauty of Celtic's performances because of their fixation with results.

Conspiracy theories filled the void felt by Americans after the death of JFK. Mowbray nourished a raft of his own about the media, but it was not they who supervised the debacle in Paisley on Wednesday night.

In the end, as they say in other circumstances, he turned the gun on himself. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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