Neil Lennon deserves our support whether you wanted him in or not
You wouldn’t think that Celtic just won n historic treble treble the way some Celtic fans have been behaving since Saturday evening.
From the thousands that forced Police Scotland to cancel the planned victory parade through the organisation’s inability to organise a piss up in a brewery to those taking to social media and phone-ins to de-cry the appointment of Neil Lennon as the permanent manager of Celtic - after he came in and done what needed to be done after Brendan Rodgers pissed all over the club and the fans when he quit for Leicester City.
I have said it previously, Neil Lennon wasn’t my first choice as Celtic manager, but I am not going to condemn such an appointment because he is the ‘cheap option’ or a ‘Lawwell puppet’ or that the team played poorly under him. His tenure was his job interview and winning 10 out of his 14 games in charge - with just one defeat when the league was already won - was the catalyst for Peter Lawwell and the board to appoint him on a permanent basis.
Lennon said himself he didn’t change much when he came in as he didn’t want to shake things up at a crucial time of the season. This is the first sign of a mature and experienced manager - it would have been far too easy for him to come in chop and change the style of play, running the risk of the team dynamic collapsing and with it the chance to win the treble treble.
Even before Lennon appeared on the scene, Celtic were already looking fatigued, a shadow of their former selves and that was in part to the club’s failure to strengthen in the summer - a mistake that Lawwell invariably doesn’t make often and one he won’t make this summer - not to mention Brendan Rodgers’ refusal to change the style of play and shake things up both domestically and in Europe.
Some claim that Lennon’s appointment ‘torpedoed a magnificent moment’ on Saturday. I’m sorry but having grown up through the 1980s, 90s and Rangers’ tax dodging years - nothing overshadowed or took away from my celebrating the treble treble. What did nearly derail my celebrations was the number of Celtic fans firing off abuse and criticism Lennon’s way - after he has done so much for the club and for the fans over his time as a player, manager and interim manager.
Some of it bordering on hunnish behaviour.
Didn’t deserve the job?
There were also comments that Lennon didn’t deserve the job first time round let alone now after failing at Bolton and leaving Hibs under mysterious circumstances.
When Lennon took on the mantle of interim manager he came in to spare Celtic’s blushes at a time when the club was in chaos. Firstly, when Mowbray was sacked after getting skelped 4-0 by St.Mirren and then this season when Rodgers quit for a mid table Premier League club. On both occasions, Lennon answered the club’s call and did what was asked of him.
His two interim managerial periods were successful and he earned the right to be named as Celtic manager.
Did he fail at Bolton? You would have to ask Bolton fans that as I didn’t watch any of their games, but one thing I do know is that the club is a basket case financially. It was when Lennon took over and it is still to this day. The lack of finances did not help Lennon nor did it help his chances of doing a proper job at the club.
And while he left his role at Hibernian under mysterious circumstances, was there any wrongdoing? After all he was cleared by the Easter Road club following an investigation.
You can also add that his time at Easter Road was not a failure. He won a league title, promotion and secured a record points haul with the Edinburgh club. He ran Celtic under Brendan Rodgers ragged and squared up to Rangers and came out the other side an equal - despite Rangers having the bigger budget and better players at their disposal.
Time for Lennon to make this Celtic team his own
After Celtic’s 2-1 win over Rangers in April, Lennon admitted that he would gradually move away from Brendan Rodgers’ style of play. Such a system was successful as Rodgers won seven trophies during his three years in charge - but it became turgid stuff especially this season under both Rodgers and subsequently Lennon, the latter admitting that he couldn’t change it overnight.
At the time Lennon stated: "It’s really difficult. It’s a style of play that they are used to and it’s a different style of play from what I’ve been used to. However, it works and you can’t change it overnight, anyway.
“You can implement little things, but there were aspects of the game (against Rangers) on Sunday in the second half that I wasn’t happy with in terms of managing the game. We should have done that a lot better.
“It’s difficult. I’ve just been softly softly. During the game, I was thinking, 'If this ends up 1-1, I am going to be changing a lot of things. Or doing a lot more things my way'.
“I think from the outside looking in, people look at it and think, 'That’s an easy job, you are just picking up the reins from where Brendan left off. But there are adjustments that you have to make to the staff, the training structure, the players and the mentality of the players.”
Former Celtic striker Chris Sutton, even admitted that Celtic had become a one-trick pony. Under Rodgers and carried on by Lennon, Celtic could only play one way - gone were the days of constant fast attacking and counter attacking football. Replaced by the tippy tappy build up play that was turgid at times and gave teams plenty of time to reorganise at the back.
Sutton added: “When was the last time a Celtic centre-forward scored a header? I can’t remember. When do they score from set-pieces?
“It’s an issue and what teams do against Celtic is they narrow up and say ‘you’re not going to play through us, and we’re happy for you to just cross balls in’.”
Lennon will change all that come the summer and he will use all of his experience during his time at Celtic previously, along with his stints at Bolton and Hibernian to fall back on and drive this team forward.
When he replaced Mowbray, Celtic were needing a major shake-up but when he replaced Rodgers, a major shake-up at that time was not needed and the status quo had to carry on to secure the treble treble.
Now it is time for Lennon to stamp his own authority on the team and he will do just that.
An important two years ahead
The next two years are important for Celtic as they look to secure 10 Premiership titles in a row. A feat that no Scottish or British club has ever achieved. But first they need to equal Jock Stein’s 9 in a row record.
Celtic’s rebuilding job is not a revolution, it is merely an evolution. They don’t need to rip up and start again, the majority of the first team is still there - experienced, hungrier than ever before and determined to win more silverware.
And it was always important for Celtic to get a manager in that knew the club inside out and who knows what is required of him. And that is Neil Lennon. He knows the fans want 10 in a row and already this morning, he has come out and stated that the league is more important than the Champions League.
He said: "First and foremost the priority is the league championship and then you work around that from here on in. We were nine points clear at the end of the season. There is no doubt there is a marked improvement in Rangers but you would expect that and we have to try and endeavour to stay that bit further ahead. I think that's the whole remit."
Lennon will be given the funds to strengthen Celtic in the summer as Lawwell will not want a second successive failure in the summer transfer window.
Celtic will strengthen
Talk of Celtic appointing Lennon as the cheap option so that they don’t need to spend much is far from the case also when you look at his first stint in the job.
When Lennon was appointed permanent Celtic manager in June 2010, he was handed a £10 million transfer kitty and brought in Gary Hooper, Beram Kayal, Anthony Stokes, Fraser Forster, Emilio Izaguirre, Joe Ledley, Cha Du-ri, Daniel Majstorovic and Charlie Mulgrew to name but a few. He also promoted James Forrest from the youth side to the first team. That was the rebuilding job that Celtic needed in the summer after Mowbray’s tenure, with Kris Commons added in the January window for just £315,000 from Derby.
So for those who claim that Lennon is the cheap option - maybe in his own wages as he certainly won’t be getting the wages that Rodgers was on - but he will almost certainly be demanding a sizeable transfer kitty to strengthen a Celtic side that doesn’t need huge wholesale changes.
And Lawwell is correct in his summation that some people are overestimating what Celtic need to do in the summer in terms of strengthening.
Lawwell added: “We still have a core of a lot of good players and we WON’T stand still. We want to make Celtic as best as it possibly can be.
“That’s our desire, it’s our need, and that’s what we’re going to do. I think people are maybe over-estimating what we need to do or over-stating it.
“But we understand we need to be better, we need to be stronger, and that will be our intention in the summer.”
At best Celtic need six or seven players:
A back-up keeper with the departure of Dorus de Vries
A central defender following Boyata’s departure to Hertha Berlin - potentially secured if Filip Benkovic returns on loan from Leicester City
Two right backs - with the impending departure of Mikael Lustig back to Sweden. Although this could just be one if Anthony Ralston is given the nod to become more involved.
A back-up left back to Kieran Tierney. Jonny Hayes has done well when called upon but a defensive minded left back is needed.
A combative central midfielder - with Scott Brown in the twilight of his career and the potential departure of Olivier Ntcham with Porto sniffing around again - we need someone to come in that can hit the ground running but still plenty to learn.
A playmaker. By all accounts Maryan Shved could prove to be an astute signing by Celtic given his performances in Ukraine, but he will need time to develop and with the likes of Tom Rogic failing to hit top form this season in part through injury - we need another playmaker and this could either be Shved himself or former Bhoy Patrick Roberts, who could potentially be signed for a cut price deal from Manchester City with just one year remaining on his contract.
Do we need another striker? January signing Bayo will come back from injury soon, while Griffiths is already back training after battling personal issues during the second half of the season and we have £9 million striker Odsonne Edouard leading the line. And in the Scottish Premiership you don’t need more than three strikers.
And don’t forget the emergence of Mikey Johnstone, Euan Henderson, Armstrong Oko-Flex and Karamoko Dembele. All four will or should get more game time during pre-season and while may not be regulars for the first team next season - will be there to be valuable additions to the squad when they are called on to do a job.
Lennon’s record in Europe is better than Rodgers’
When Rodgers succeeded Ronny Deila he was tasked with not only continuing Celtic’s domestic dominance, but also to make a mark in the Champions League. He was being paid the big bucks - and other than two score draws against Manchester City - his European pedigree was nothing to shout about. In fact, it is easily forgotten about as he refused to change his style of play when facing the likes of Barcelona et al. A decision that saw Celtic hit with their heaviest ever defeat in European football, beaten 7-0 in the Nou Camp in 2016 and 7-1 & 5-0 by PSG in 2017.
Before Rodgers arrived at Celtic, Celtic had lost just three games at home in the Champions League group stages. Rodgers' team went on to lose five out of the last six at home and haven't scored in four of them.
No one can argue with Rodgers’ dominance in Scottish football, but in Europe he was an abject failure. His qualifying record in Europe matches that of Ronny Deila’s - who he replaced - and falls short of Neil Lennon’s qualifying record. A record that Lennon maintained - including some notable European results - all the while his best players were being sold to English clubs for sizeable sums every summer.
It could be argued that under Rodgers Celtic have regressed in Europe.
Stats: Brendan Rodgers v Neil Lennon
Celtic have been utterly dominant under Brendan Rodgers domestically and this continued into Neil Lennon’s interim tenure, and in my opinion will continue into next season albeit I cannot see Celtic securing the quadruple treble - but strangers things have happened. No one ever expected a Celtic side to go through a full domestic season unbeaten!
There is no denying that Rodgers is seen as the better manager given his experiences at Chelsea, Reading, Swansea and Liverpool. But Lennon’s stats at Celtic are just as healthy as Rodgers’ time and remember Lennon’s tenure also included a Rangers side that was still owned and bankrolled by David Murray before they were liquidated.
Most Games managed:
Neil Lennon: 241
Brendan Rodgers: 169
Highest % of wins:
Neil Lennon: 70.12%
Brendan Rodgers: 69.82%
Lowest % of loses:
Neil Lennon: 16.60%
Brendan Rodgers: 15.38%
Average number of goals scored per Game:
Neil Lennon: 2.17
Brendan Rodgers: 2.22
Average number of goals conceded per Game:
Neil Lennon: 0.79
Brendan Rodgers: 0.80
The Players are backing Neil Lennon
Following Celtic securing a historic treble treble, skipper Scott Brown gave his backing to Neil Lennon becoming the new permanent manager.
He said: “He was phenomenal for me first time around and he will be phenomenal for the lads. They will all learn because he’s a winner. He wants to win trophies and he’s in the right place for that.
“He will go away and have a little holiday and let his hair down and then he will come in, there is a lot of recruitment to be done. He will bring in new players, he will bring in quality players.
“He has done that in the past, he brought in Victor (Wanyama), he brought in Virg (Van Dijk). He’s got a great eye for a player and I am sure he will do that again.”
Callum McGregor added: “We all jumped on top of him when we heard he’d been offered the job.
“We just heard the news after the game. We put the Cup down, read it and then put the Cup back up again! We’re delighted for him. What a job he’s done and people probably don’t appreciate how well he’s done in terms of bringing stability.
“Guys like Scott Brown, Jonny Hayes and Mikael Lustig have helped as well and if we didn't have so many good characters it could have fallen away and we wouldn’t be standing with the Treble. We need some numbers and good quality in the summer to help the lads who have soldiered on the last three months.
“When Neil was in charge the first time he took a team of mostly British-based players and got them organised and doing well. He now has a good core of players and they’ll help him and he’ll help us.”
The big names were never coming to Celtic Park
Despite the bookies laying down odds and newspapers speculating on managers looking for their next job, only one of those named would have even considered managing Celtic and that would have been David Moyes - and what a disaster that would have been!
Rafa Benitez was never going to leave Newcastle - even more so now given that it looks like owner Mike Ashley has finally agreed to sell up.
Andre Villas-Boas may have said some nice things about Scotland and Scottish football in the past, but he has agreed a deal with Marseille.
And then there was Jose Mourinho. The man is a walking ego and never actually said anything about the Celtic job - and if Celtic had considered signing him, then his wages would have been higher than Rodgers’, his transfer kitty demands would have been ridiculously high and even now some Celtic fans hate him with a passion over the antics of his Porto side in Seville 2003 - including yours truly.
Celtic, at this time, do not need the egos of the likes of Mourinho, they don’t need managers looking to rebuild their managerial careers so they can move onto bigger and better things like Villas-Boas and Moyes would almost certainly have used Celtic for.
Lennon deserves our support
Lennon is in the job, because he knows the club, he knows the players, he has done his homework on what is needed during the summer to prepare for next season and above all he is there for Celtic as he was during his first stint at the club, as he was during his playing career.
No other person in British football has faced what Lennon has had to endure during his time in Scotland as a player and as a manager, yet his love for Celtic continues to shine through and endures. Lennon - unlike Rodgers - is a true Celt and he should be given the respect he deserves.
Next season will be tough, football is never plain sailing, Celtic will as always be up against it. Opposition teams looking to down Celtic, journalists hoping that Celtic lose so they can finally publish the headlines they’ve been itching to do for years and officials like SFA President Alan McRae hoping Celtic don’t win it all once again as he is bored. The last thing Neil Lennon and Celtic need going into the nine in a row year are the fans oozing hunnish behaviour - treating Lennon like some charlatan or someone undeserving of the job.
Neil Lennon started the run to 10 in a row, it is only fitting that the man has the chance to match Jock Stein’s nine in a row record and then complete the ten in a row and enter into the annals of Celtic football folklore.