Neil Lennon is now three games into his second spell as Celtic manager. Having drawn blank with Aberdeen at the weekend, the euphoria that engulfed his first week back at the club, has now received a small dose of reality.
The season is far from concluded, but there are just nine games left to play in the league. Barring any major many slip ups, Neil and the players should deliver an eighth straight title for the club.
That journey began with the former club captain in his full second season as Celtic’s permanent manager back in 2012. He has a chance to add to that tally in 2019 as the club’s caretaker manager.
Neil’s other goal is the road to Hampden. A quarter-final win at Easter Road placed Celtic in the semi final with the winners of tonight’s replay between Aberdeen and Rangers.
Whichever team progresses from that match, stands between Celtic and a third Scottish Cup Final in a row. Neil Lennon doesn’t have the momentum that his predecessor had in his back pocket though.
So the challenge is to somehow keep things going without allowing the recent disruption getting to the players or himself. Because in the back of his mind he’ll also be thinking, as he did around this time nine years ago, “is this job going to be mine beyond the summer?”
There’s no doubt that he was our go to man the other week. We’re also extremely fortunate that he was out of work.
Had he not been, there’s every possibility Celtic could have dropped more points or out even gone out of the Scottish Cup. It’s fair to say that John Kennedy has been a constant in the dugout for the last five years and would’ve been the making of him had he been handed the interim role.
I don’t think I would have wished that upon him though. One day, that might be his challenge, but right now he can offer his assistance to a man who has been there and done it already.
Whatever Neil thinks of himself now as a manager, he must focus purely on winning. Not for himself, but for the players and the fans.
There’s part of me that can’t see past Neil as manager again. Primarily because of his connection with the club.
More over, he stated that he saw himself back at the club one day, just that he didn’t expect it to be this soon. And due to that early comeback, does that mean it’s now or never?
There’s also a concern that Celtic could see Neil as an easy choice. Someone familiar with the club and could possibly hit the ground running without too much of a financial burden.
That could sit well with many on the board. Unless they have other candidates in the pipeline.
However, in Neil’s absence the club have moved on. Yes, he knows a fair amount of this team and the non-playing personnel at the club, but the club has been trying to evolve.
Ronny Deila was unpopular for trying to make radical changes behind the scenes. After two seasons he was gone, but Brendan Rodgers maintained and built upon those standards without the same resistance.
Those were not standards introduced by Neil. He’s a different kind of coach.
My worry is that if he isn’t a believer in the 24 hour athlete would he change course? We don’t want to be moving backwards.
I’m not saying this Celtic squad is the finished article, far from it. The one thing that Celtic had to do was change the culture in diet, fitness and lifestyle.
Why? Because of the standards in clubs across Europe.
If Celtic truly want to make in-roads on the continent we have to aspire to those standards. From the training ground to the canteen.
The question is, would Neil embrace that? He decided to call it a day at the point Ronny Deila was coming on board in one capacity or another.
It was only Neil’s departure that allowed Ronny to step into his role for himself. You get a sense that Neil wasn’t overly welcoming of Ronny’s impending arrival five years ago.
He had endured the worst that a football manager ever could have received and survived it all. In the end he left, but the dust had settled on a dramatic and often chaotic managerial spell.
Since then he has held two managerial roles. Bolton Wanderers was a forgettable experience whilst at Hibs he did a great job, particularly against Celtic and Rangers.
What might hinder Neil’s chances of getting the job permanently this time around is that Celtic are a better prospect to potential suitors now than they were nine years ago when he took over. Brendan Rodgers has added some kudos to the club and to Scottish football so there is greater attraction now.
Neil’s hat is in the ring for sure, but Celtic may have other interested candidates and targets. The club have to ensure they are still moving forward and whilst Neil is the right man now, he may not be in come the summer.
There is more at stake here than the club’s relationship with a man we all respect a great deal. Progression for the club is top of that list.
Right now all focus must be on the league and the cup. Ultimately, who is in charge come the summer will be decided by the board.
Unless they have made that decision already. We’ll find out in the weeks and months to come.