Wednesday, 23 January 2013

John Park and the Golden Generation
If I were to ask you which signing has been the most important addition to the Celtic squad in the last decade you might say Brown, Hooper, Forster, Ledley or even wee Emilio. However, in my opinion the best signing Celtic made in the last decade was a man few of you would recognise if you crossed paths in the street.

Let me take you back a decade or so to the small Fife town of Hill O’ Beith. The town is famous as the birthplace of Slim Jim Baxter, a midfielder of grace and skill who was part of a golden generation of Scottish players who graced the game in the 1960s. Across from the statue of Jim Baxter which now stands as a permanent memorial to a great player was the home of a young footballer who in 2003 at just 17 had just led Hibernian to a solid victory against Aberdeen. He was part of a ‘Golden generation’ of talent coming through at Easter Road in those days. Lads like Caldwell, Roirdan, O’Connor, Fletcher, Thompson and Whittaker were all developing into players who, in some cases would change hands for millions of pounds. 17 year old Scott Brown was part of that group and said in 2003 just after his Hibs debut…

"The statue to Jim Baxter is right across from my house, I was there when it was unveiled and I see it every day. If I can achieve half of what he did in football then I’ll have had a pretty successful career."

Brown, like many of the young stars of Hibs’ ‘Golden generation’ was spotted by the Hibs Chief Scout, John Park. Park had snapped Brown up as a 13 year old having watched him play and realized his potential was immense. Celtic parted with £4.4 million to secure Scott Brown in 2007 and John Park would have smiled to see the cocky 13 year old he spotted develop into an international player and mix it with the best in Europe. However, much as Scott Brown was a great signing for Celtic, it is not the midfielder whom I consider Celtic’s best signing this decade, rather it is John Park himself. Celtic’s Chief scout joined the Hoops in January 2007 after Peter Lawell and Gordon Strachan persuaded him that this was the job for him. Park, a modest but supremely professional man said upon his appointment…

“I’m delighted to be here. It’s a fantastic opportunity and I’m looking forward to getting started. The Football Development Manager role has developed because Celtic is such a massive club. They’re looking to co-ordinate all the scouting, all the recruitment throughout the club, and they have seen me as the person deemed fit enough to take up the position.''

As Football Development Manager and immediately set about restructuring Celtic’s youth system and scouting team. Celtic’s policy was to be akin to club’s such as Ajax or Porto; Develop young players and, if required sell some on to finance further investment in up and coming Scottish and world-wide talent. In these challenging financial times in the low revenue environment of Scottish Football, it is the only course open to an ambitious club like Celtic. Access to the wealth of the English League is denied to them and the Champions League is at best an intermittent pot of gold. This year’s adventures being the first good run there in 4 or 5 years. The resurgence of Celtic in Scotland and in Europe is linked to the influx of talented young players who quickly adapted to Scottish Football and blended into Lennon’s team shape.

McGeady may have gone but his transfer fee went a long way to securing players such as Wanyama. Izziguirre, Kayal, Hooper, Matthews and Ledley. John Park and his team identified these young potential stars early and Celtic were able acquire them for very reasonable prices. Hooper at £2.2m was the most expensive purchase but is currently worth three times that amount. Wanyama cost £900,000 and would now sell for more than 10 times that amount. This pattern of identifying young talent, snapping it up and improving the players involved by exposing them to excellent coaching methods is now firmly established at Celtic.  Scouting is no longer about standing by rain sodden ash football pitches in the west of Scotland watching young lads battle it out. It is an international business involving agents, DVDs of potential targets being watched and scouts travelling all over the world. That being said, Tony Watt was identified by Park playing for Airdrie United and Lennon was duly alerted. There seems little doubt that the £100,000 spent on Watt is money well spent. Just ask Javier Mascherano of Barcelona who probably earns that in a week.  

John Park is the hub of a very successful Celtic Scouting team which has helped Neil Lennon assemble a squad full of youth and potential. Peter Lawell too will be impressed by Park’s record too as he has delivered some excellent assets to the club with sell on values far in excess to their cost. The sale of midfielder Ki Sung Yeung to Swansea for £6m would have caused some backlash in years gone by but such is the depth of the Celtic midfield talent, his passing has hardly been noticed. Indeed, if anything Celtic are stronger in that area as well as healthier at the bank. The youth system which has produced talent like Forest and McGeoch, continues to lead the way in Scotland. The native talent being nurtured by Park, Chris McCart and the coaching team at Lennoxtown is augmented by talent from around the world identified by Park and his team. It is fair to say that Celtic is currently the undisputed number one club in Scotland. They have financial stability, a talented and valuable young squad and a professional and effective scouting and coaching system which regularly unearths some diamonds for the club. Much of this success is built on the excellent teamwork from Lawell, Lennon and Park.  The man responsible for the golden generation at Hibs may now be helping develop a golden generation at Celtic.

These are good times to be a Celtic fan. Our club is in excellent shape and the future looks bright. We owe many people for that, the fans, the Board and the manager. But just for today, I want to single John Park and hope that at least some of you agree that he has been a splendid acquisition for Celtic. His fine work is serving Celtic well and long may this continue.


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