Lennon all along…

For weeks and months I was 100% certain that Neil Lennon would be installed as Celtic’s next permanent manager. I could not see past it.

Then in recent weeks, rumours, stories and the like started to emerge that people on the so-called candidate list were more likely. David Moyes, Andre Villas-Boas, Rafa Benitez, heck even Jose Mourinho were up and down the bookies odds like pole dancer. I never thought for a second Mourinho would come to Celtic and AVB or Benitez were on my wish, but Moyes became the name everyone seemed to believe was getting the gig.

At the very least, this convinced most people that Lennon was not even being entertained for the job. His own personal comments also led us to believe he was being overlooked.

Then during the wave of excitement at Hampden Park yesterday, Peter Lawwell floored us all that Neil Lennon had been offered the job. I actually couldn’t believe it.

Lawwell told the media that “Neil would still have been the manager, no matter what happened today.” Take from that what you want but he’s either just seized the moment or they planned on doing this all along.

Did they even sound out other candidates? Some sources suggest that they did, but I honestly don’t know.

Chris Sutton claimed that they had talked to other candidates. He also believed that the board didn’t trust Lennon with the job otherwise they would have offered him the job before yesterday’s announcement.

And he claimed that Neil was totally in the dark or had a good poker face. Either way, Lennon never stopped talking about the future of Celtic as though he was still going to be there.

Many supporters made it clear they did not want Neil to continue in the role on a permanent basis. I’ve made my own arguments as to why I was of the same opinion.

The club have made a bold decision, fully aware that the fans were not totally on board. Making the announcement during the euphoria of yesterday’s historical treble treble was perhaps to deflect any negative feedback.

Suffice to say, we were all taken aback when the news filtered through. No fan has any ill-feeling towards Neil at all.

He is loved thoroughly by the support. The credentials that Lawwell spoke highly of are the same ones that Celtic fans are questioning though.

There is no doubting that it was Neil who got this party started back in 2012 with a team assembled by himself. There is a concern though that he will take the club backwards.

I’ve prattled on about this plenty of times before, but I’ll say it again. The club has evolved in several areas.

The key areas are those which improved the overall condition of the players. Diet, bodyweight, fitness and general lifestyle.

I’m not saying Neil is about the get the vending machines wheeled back in at Lennoxtown or anything. Will he embrace and continue with the culture that began under Ronny and progressed by Brendan though?

That is what concerns me. Different coaches have different methods and Neil has an old school approach.

In the time he has been away, what has he learned? About himself, about management, about tactics and about personnel.

Our football has turned sour, but it did so before Neil arrived. He maintains he hasn’t changed anything, but we will have to wait and see what kind of football he plans to utilise going forward.

It was only four years ago he chose to leave and explore other challenges. Whatever his reasons for leaving Celtic back then, it would be interesting to know what has changed in that period and what he can offer that he hasn’t done already.

My personal feeling was that one day, Neil would indeed come back. I didn’t know when or under what circumstances.

I enjoyed the football during his time, but it was not without its errors. He drafted in some very good players and also some very poor players.

We were shaky at the back, had player discipline issues and some players who just weren’t up to the job. We can’t go down that road again.

In his final year the well was beginning to dry up and some major transfer flops were propping up the squad. He has the makings of a very good squad just now, but it will need an injection of fresh talent.

I think what most fans will be wondering is, will he get the finance to back it? Neil is considered the cheap option and the board may have chosen him because of that.

A safe pair of hands to do the domestic stuff. What does that say about club’s aspirations though?

We all want progress in Europe and our best hope for that would have come in the shape of a foreign coach. I’m not bashing Neil’s desire or passion to play in Europe.

He delivered one of the best nights in European football that I’ll probably ever experience. Can he take it any further though?

I had hoped that Brendan might make in roads in Europe, but he didn’t. In fact we had some horrendous results under Brendan in Europe.

Neil actually has a better win ratio in Europe than Brendan funnily enough. He fairs better at 50% compared to his fellow Northern Irishman at just over 41%.

All I hope for is that Celtic can maintain some progress. I’m confident that Neil can secure the league again and that is obviously a priority.

We must continue to do that as it is our only ticket into the Champions League. Neil’s been there before and it proved difficult for him, but he knows the expectations of our fans.

In the group phase Neil has only ever won four out of the twelve matches played and drawn one. He lost the other seven, including five matches in his second attempt at the group stage.

He also lost both matches in his one time in the last sixteen of the tournament. Both games totally forgettable as we lost 5-0 on aggregate to Juventus.

Obviously, the gap has widened in Europe for clubs like Celtic since then. We are chasing the impossible dream.

It doesn’t just take money. It takes a very good manager.

I have to expect very little in Europe from Celtic now. I can’t see what Neil can improve upon on that front, but I am prepared to be proved wrong.

Perhaps he would have better fortunes in the Europa League. Even then, there are some formidable teams in that competition.

If we are lucky to even get to the group phase of either of those competitions we will have a long road to get there. Something we have become accustomed to as Celtic supporters.

It’s a gruelling journey and so early in the football calendar especially when you’ve just had energy sapping season. Thankfully, there are no international tournaments like last summer, so Neil will have the majority of his players ready and able.

He will also need to plunge into the transfer market quickly. We have a good squad, but there are several positions which require strengthening.

There are a few players that were signed up in January that have still to be make any impact on the team. And in terms of fringe players, a few might get shipped out altogether as there Celtic careers have never really gotten off the ground.

So there is a lot of work to be done and Neil has said several times in the last few weeks that targets have been identified. Let’s hope they can help him get his second spell as permanent manager off and running.

The Celtic support will be scrutinising every move from this point onwards. You can bet on that.

Hail! Hail!

Stevie Mac

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2 thoughts on “Lennon all along…

  1. The Europe statistics are misleading because Brendan had much more qualifying to do. I would suggest finding European Group stage statistics. It paints a very different picture. Furthermore Lennon achieved that with a much smaller budget.

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