Listeners to the podcast will know that the decision to appoint Neil Lennon full-time was not my opinion of the ideal candidate. In fact it did not go down well with the wider array of Celtic-supporting friends and family. After publication of the last podcast that consensus seemed to extend across our listeners with numerous follow up tweets and comments on YouTube about people’s disappointment with Lennon’s appointment. What was striking was the perception of many that it was a sign of downsizing from the club, and this is certainly the challenge that both Neil and the board face. As many know, I like the phrase perception becomes reality, and the perception of many that the appointment of Neil Lennon was the cheap option has, for them, become the reality. Interesting that some of the comments are around the club’s lack of desire to achieve 10 in a row however I certainly don’t see that as the reasoning behind the appointment of Neil Lennon, in fact quite the contrary.
Firstly, whether you agree or disagree with the business decisions of the board, the reality is that they are all avid Celtic supporters and I have never understood the concept that they want to achieve anything but the best outcome for the club. Whether that best outcome involves maintaining the healthy financial position of the club and that their way of achieving this is different to an individual supporter’s opinion as to how this can be achieved is one thing, but to believe that they would deliberately not want to achieve a certain level of success is beyond me. Moreover, I actually believe that the appointment of Neil Lennon is down largely to the proximity of achieving 10 in a row. My perception is that the board see Neil Lennon as a safer option, a low risk option.
Neil Lennon has been Celtic manager before. Neil Lennon has won the league with Celtic before. Any other appointment has a greater level of risk because you cannot be certain that they will achieve what Neil Lennon has previously achieved at Celtic. Obviously the level of risk with that alternative appointment is reduced with the quality of the manager, however there was unique circumstances in being able to bring Brendan Rodgers to the club and those circumstances, [his affiliation with the team and being out of work], were not replicated in some of the other names fans were hoping for, and certainly their wage expectations were beyond our own [Benitez for example, is on the reported £6 million a year at Newcastle and is wanting a pay rise]. Indeed I actually believe that were we going for titles number 11, 12 or 13, it is more likely that the board would have gone for a more “exotic” choice. My gut feel is that the attempt at the slightly more exotic and unusual in Ronny Deila, and the fact that it was not a great success, made the board much more conservative in their choices. Additionally, the challenges in terms of timetable etc., further impacted on their decision-making.
As stated, Neil Lennon would not have been my ideal candidate. The board let him leave the club five years ago and from my perspective there is little on his CV in the intervening period which suggests that they should have looked at him afresh, however they have and he is now in place, consequently I now want Neil Lennon to be one of the most successful Celtic managers in history.
Now that Neil Lennon is there and in place, the key to his success will be recruitment. My perception that Neil Lennon was a parochial appointment based on the desire to achieve 10 in a row, and my irritation that the club did not use the opportunity to transform our managerial setup was confirmed to me in the statements by Peter Lawwell; that Neil knows Glasgow and has an eye for a player. Listeners to the podcast will know that I believe [especially with Peter Lawwell just passing 60 and is obviously closer to the point of retiring from his chief executive role] that we should be setting up a structure that’s more in tune with our peer European clubs and more suited to the 21st century football environment with a technical director – a head of recruitment and a scouting network throughout the key areas of Europe. In this modern, highly competitive, inter connected wold, we should not be relying upon the manager to have “an eye for a player”.
Obviously the manager should have an eye for a player and should be able to give great input into player recruitment but ironically it is the recruitment strategy under Brendan Rodgers and the limbo land that we have been in whilst waiting on the confirmed permanent appointment of Neil Lennon that has confirmed my thoughts on the structural strategy we should be placing around recruitment and the philosophy of the club. Brendan Rodgers appears to have had total say over the transfer strategy at the club. The consequence of that was that we turned down £4 million for an ageing goalkeeper who cost us nothing, we turned down £10 million for a centre-half who’s now walked out the door for nothing, we turned down £8 million for a centre-half who went on to become third to fifth choice centre-half under the manager [Jozo] and held off on accepting a £20 million for Dembele until it was too late and no alternative signing replacement was in situ. Added to this was the manager’s bizarre choice of Marvin Compper, Jack Hendry, Johnny Hayes and many others in the transfer market, which illustrated that putting all your faith in one person who has an [eye for a player] is, in my opinion, not the best football strategy.
As mentioned however, Lennon is now in situ and recruitment is the key. He obviously has a different style of football to Brendan Rodgers and it is therefore important that he is given the fullest opportunity to recruit players who will play in the style that he wants. We have to be able to move those players on who are no longer part of his setup to clear the way for our academy players to develop in the best way that they can, and that is through game time.
Among the wider support, Neil Lennon’s appointment seems to have gone down like a French kiss at a family wedding however he is now in situ and I have now had time to reflect. I’m actually slightly frustrated at myself that I let my expectation of a higher quality candidate minimise my enjoyment of the unique achievement of a treble treble. I’ve also let the fact that I was hoping for a superior candidate blind me to the fact that, although I believe we could have done better than Neil Lennon, he is not the worst, and achieved some excellent results and won trophies as Celtic manager. He has a domestic win % at Celtic of 75%. He has a Champions League win rate of 29%. He has already won trophies at Celtic and has managed at Champions League level. In short he is by some considerable margin the best manager in the Scottish League.
Neil Lennon is the Celtic manager and Neil Lennon is the guy that I now want to achieve nine, 10, 11, and however many in a row. Neil Lennon is also the guy that I now want and need to be in charge when the club realise that what we can do in Europe is better than they currently believe. I have to have faith in Neil Lennon and the board have to have faith in him too, and the only way to do that is to transform our recruitment strategy, starting right now.