It is a glorious September afternoon in Glasgow and bright sunlight pours through the windows of his office, but Celtic manager Iain Macintosh visibly shivers as we discuss the forthcoming Old Firm derby with Rangers.
“Nerves?” he laughs shrilly. “No, I don’t suffer from nerves thankfully. The way I see it, this isn’t a game that we should worry about losing, it’s a game that we should be excited about winning. Yes. Yes, absolutely. Drink?”
He strides across the office to an ornate wooden drinks globe. “Are you sure I can’t get you anything? Got loads of stuff in here.” It opens with a creak and he plucks a small green bottle from within. “This one is banned in the EU because it made some people in Genk blind. But I know a man. Are you sure? Fair enough.”
“I try to get out and about in Glasgow as much as I can,” he says as he pours a generous measure. “It’s an amazing city and the people are mostly wonderful. I’ll be sitting in a restaurant and they’ll come over, they’ll pat me on the back and they’ll tell me to keep at it, to keep doing what I’m doing. But then they’re Rangers fans, aren’t they? The Celtic fans haven’t quite warmed to me yet.”
— Deep Lying Podcast (@TheDeepLyingPod) December 19, 2016
Eyebrows were raised when Macintosh was hired in the summer, not least because of his complete lack of experience. He tersely brushes off questions on that subject, muttering about winning the UEFA Cup with Southend United on CM97/98, but refusing to elaborate. Glasgow can be unforgiving to rookie managers, but fortunately for Macintosh, newly promoted Rangers also hired a new face; Alex Stewart. “That numbers guy!” Macintosh laughs. “I never saw Jock Stein with a scientific calculator. Did you?”
This is neither the first nor the last time that Macintosh mentions Stein. While Stewart looks to the future with analytics and spreadsheets, the new Celtic manager prefers to look to the past. He had money to spend in the summer, but refused to open his chequebook, save for a £250,000 outlay on a 16-year-old midfielder by the name of Jack Paterson. He wants to lay down a philosophy of smart, attacking football and cultivate his own team of local-bred stars, rather than importing mercenaries from abroad. Success thus far has been mixed.
“We’re still trying to find the perfect blend,” he says. “But we qualified for the Champions League group stage. Nothing else at this time is important. That was one of our objectives and we achieved it. Not only that, but we achieved it without any senior defenders.”
When it is put to him that Celtic were without any senior defenders because he sold Mikael Lustig and Efe Ambrose without replacing them, Macintosh’s mood darkens. “Mistakes were made,” he mumbles and takes a deep swig from his glass.
And what of St Johnstone? What of that extraordinary opening to the season when Tommy Wright’s side came to Parkhead and blew Celtic away?
“We learned an important lesson that day,” he says. “You can’t take anything for granted in this division. You can’t just show up with two child centre-backs, play a high line and wait for nature to take its course. Bad things can happen in this division. Very bad things.”
— #FM17Project (@FM17Project) December 19, 2016
Macintosh’s attention turns to the rest of the season. Celtic find themselves 9th in the table having won just one of their five games so far. For all that they have excelled in Europe, they look incoherent and confused in Scotland.
“We’re five games into the season,” he scoffs, and downs his drink. “If a perfectly good goal hadn’t been disallowed against Inverness Caledonian Thistle, we’d be second right now and there’d be no crisis.
“Not that this is a crisis. Please don’t say that I said crisis. Don’t even write it down. What are you doing? What are you writing down? It’s all just squiggles. Don’t you fuck with me or I will fuck you right back. Don’t write that down either. Erm…drink?”
He walks, a little unsteadily this time, back to the drinks globe.
“We’re going to be fine. If Scott Brown can keep himself on the pitch for longer than half an hour, if Moussa Dembele can hit the target when we need him to, if Tom Rogic can remember that he’s supposed to be one of the most talented players at the club, we’ll be fine. I mean, granted, none of those things seem likely right now, but there’s still time. There’s still time.”
But time is a diminishing resource. For all the heroics in Europe, if Celtic don’t put some points on the board soon, starting with this weekend’s game at Ibrox, it won’t be Stein that Macintosh will be emulating. It will be John Barnes.
Will Iain Macintosh lead Celtic to victory or will he come unstuck against ‘evil numbers wizard’ Alex Stewart? Join us on Facebook next week for a live stream of the first Old Firm derby of the season.