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Interview: Celtic Podcast give us the lowdown on potential new Sunderland Director of Football

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Reports this week claimed that ex-Celtic chief scout John Park was set to become Sunderland’s new Director of Football as part of the potential new takeover of the club. We spoke to John from ‘Grand Auld Team Podcast’ to find out more about Park and what he could potentially offer us.

Daily Record

RR: So, John Park - what can you tell us about him?

GA: John Park is a respected football man in Scotland having spent a long career both at Celtic and Hibs.

In Edinburgh he was instrumental in revamping their youth set-up which eventually produced a ‘golden generation’ of Hibs talent that included players such as our current captain Scott Brown and Steven ‘Do you like my Lamborghini?’ Fletcher.

The development and eventual sale of these youngsters earned Hibs millions of pounds and allowed them to build a training centre and a new stand at Easter Road during a period of modernisation.

Arriving at Celtic with ambitions of making us a Champions League regular, overseeing the scouting department and academy staff, there was some success on that front and some missteps. He is credited with helping us scout and secure successful signings who would go on to play in the Premier League such as Virgil van Dijk, Victor Wanyama and Ki Sung-yueng.

Although less cohesive and lucrative than successful selling models around Europe (Porto, Ajax), it could also be argued that he in part helped usher in a new era at Celtic of being seen as a club that can sign emerging talents and sell them for big profit. Or at least a prototype version of what it can and should be for us.

He joined Celtic in 2007, survived Gordon Strachan’s departure, the Tony Mowbray disaster and helped build the renewed period of success under Neil Lennon and Ronny Deila, staying until Brendan Rodgers arrived at the club in 2016.

Celtic v Aberdeen - Scottish Premiership
Virgil Van Dijk - Park’s biggest signing
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

RR: How is he viewed by the Celtic supporters?

GA: I know the above might sound quite impressive but personally speaking, my view on Park is pretty mixed to be honest, certainly in terms of end product on the pitch.

There’s absolutely no doubt some of the players brought to Celtic Park during his nine years at the club were smash hits, but we were also notoriously scatter gun in our transfer approach, with a running joke amongst fans being that we never sign a first-team ready player, only ‘projects’.

It must be stressed we signed a lot of bad players during his nine years. Players you’ve never heard of and never will again. The ratio of good to bad signings was definitely not as impressive as supporters would have liked.

By the time he left it was generally acknowledged we’d stagnated severely, become too reliant on specific agents and decidedly unambitious in our quest to sign serious talent. I would argue that Rodgers definitely raised standards above what was in place under John Park.

The expectations of supporters of someone in a recruitment role are probably always unrealistic, so while there’s disappointment we could have possibly been so much more during his time here, I definitely recognise he did a decent job at Celtic.

Daily Record

RR: It was rumoured that he was set to return to Celtic - how did that news go down?

GA: Getting the band back together will always be something of a nostalgia draw for supporters. In some ways it’s tempting to consider a Lennon and Park double team that can return and deliver the next two league titles we desperately crave to break a successive league title record.

However, it really would feel like a step backwards for us in many respects. Fans are craving another big name manager and backroom staff that can pick up from where Rodgers left off.

As much as Rodgers has tainted his Celtic legacy, it’s hard to find a fan that thinks he did a bad job here.

When he left Celtic it felt like the right time for him to do so and I don’t think coming back would instill much confidence in supporters who are looking for a new way forward.

Whether that’s just how it looks rather than the reality of what he would offer is hard to say.

We need someone! We’re heading into one of our most important transfer windows in years without a recruitment chief.

Celtic v St Mirren - Ladbrokes Scottish Premiership Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

RR: Would you be confident that Park will be a good fit for a club like ours who are looking to rebuild right across the board?

GA: Perhaps. What I would also say about Park at Celtic is that he had a very defined and limited role in the scouting and development part of the club.

We’ve never really had an all-reaching Director of Football and in his later years at the club it definitely felt like he was looking to extend his influence beyond his remit, which possibly is why continuing under Rodgers was not viable.

He might be looking for somewhere he can take the gloves off a little and have much more say on a club as you say, across the board.

I’m a big fan of Jack Ross, he has ambition but also a commitment to seeing a job/project through, and I reckon if he is comfortable working with John Park then that’s a viable way to go in the long-term.

Accrington Stanley v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Sunderland AFC

RR: Sunderland fans are cautious when it comes to the Director of Football model, having seen a handful of attempts fail rather spectacularly. What’s your own thoughts on it, particularly since you’ve just had Lee Congerton in that role at your own club...

GA: I think it’s something Celtic badly needs right now and I say that in part because of Congerton and Rodgers and the influence our chief exec Peter Lawwell has had on footballing matters here.

As mentioned above, the role Congerton and Park have filled have been pretty strictly focused on scouting, as far as we’ve been led to believe anyway.

Rodgers was a hugely successful manager but we left ourselves a bit exposed when it came to his departure. He took a lot of our backroom staff and had a bit of a ‘cult of personality’ about him.

We need long-term continuity between managers, something that maintains a standard of excellence, rather than our hopes and dreams rising and fading depending on who is in charge.

Fans also need a visible and accountable buffer between the manager, scouts and Lawwell. We also need someone who can imprint our ethos, desired tactics and required standard on youth prospects.

It’s a complicated role, perhaps misunderstood in Britain, certainly below Premier League standard, but I reckon is the only way clubs can begin to bridge the gap to the elite level.