His remit was twofold; to move on the under achieving players at the club and to win back the league trophy from a mediocre Rangers side as soon as possible. The biggest departure was Aiden McGeady for £9.5M and with hindsight you have to say that was a fine piece of business. Artur Boruc, Stephen McManus and Marc Antoine Fortune also moved on for reasonable fees and Neil now had what the MSM love to refer to as a ‘war chest’ to spend.
And spend it wisely he did. There can be no doubt that Charlie Mulgrew, Joe Ledley, Gary Hooper, Emilio Izaguirre, Beram Kayal, Anthony Stokes, Fraser Forster and Kris Commons were excellent signings and went on to become the back bone of his team. Cha Du Ri and Daniel Majstorovic did okay although it has to be said that Daryl Murphy and Efrain Juarez were disappointments. The less said about Freddie Ljungberg the better.
The cup was won and the league lost by a whisker mainly due to the goals of Nikica Jelavic and it is galling to know now that he was not paid for and that Rapid Vienna are now never likely to be fully repaid for their star striker.
Last season the excellent Adam Matthews and Victor Wanyama were added to the squad and Neil and the team did well to haul back a 15 deficit to Rangers and deservedly win the title by a handsome margin. However for me the most disappointing aspect of the season was the two Hampden defeats to Kilmarnock and Hearts. The treble was there for the taking and we blew it, no excuses
On the transfer front at this moment in time we now need quality rather than quantity. Every Celtic fan can see we require a dominant centre back and a proven striker up front. As we take stock of where we are we can now look forward optimistically to next season. Neil now has a strong squad which will hopefully improve even more with experience.
Rangers are imploding in front of our very eyes and amusing as it is to us all we should be able to go through every team in the SPL like a dose of salts with the squad and resources that we now have available to us. And that includes Rangers. What can’t be allowed to happen again is the two periods of bad form we have had to endure in the previous two seasons. In November/December of 2010 we gained only six points from fifteen and in September/October 2011 we gained only eight points from eighteen.
That brings us to Europe. During the O’Neill/Strachan years we were spoiled and had some wonderful encounters with Barcelona, Man Utd, AC Milan, Benfica, Liverpool and Ajax. For the first time since Jock Stein Celtic were now punching their weight in European competition.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment of Neil’s tenure are the poor results at the hands of Braga, Utrecht and Sion in European qualifiers. We are now faced with two Champions League qualifiers and these games will be the most important of the season. They will be difficult hurdles to get over but it’s hoped that the experience picked up in the Europa group stages last season will stand us in good stead.
As Neil Lennon and Peter Lawwell reflect on the season gone by they are quite entitled to feel a great deal of satisfaction. However there is a lot of work ahead before Celtic are in the place that we all want them to be, dominant in Scotland and competing at a high level on the continent.
We wish them well.