By Critical Bill
Without being all Celtic Da, there have been worse seasons than this one –  Far worse – seasons were never even ended up qualifying for Europe.  In 1994/95 we finished fourth, a grand total of three points ahead of Falkirk and only 10 points ahead of Aberdeen in 9th – in a ten team league.  But in terms of the feeling of total letdown, the scratching your head at how on earth did we threw such an opportunity to make history away, as someone not old enough to remember the Feyenoord European Cup Final, I’m really struggling to think of anything worse at the moment.

We’ll begin where it started to unravel.  Ferencvaros.  The manager makes an enormous tactical blunder with his team selection.  However he had plenty of chances during the game to change it – at half time or after we equalised or after the Hungarians had quelled our dominance for the ten minute spell after we scored.   But no, Neil Lennon chose to do nothing – not even the obvious one of subbing the tiring Elhamed who was on a booking.  Unfortunately for us, Sergei Rebrov was not as passive and his changes would result in one of our worst defeats in Europe in the past decade – and oh my, aren’t there a few to chose from.    What we saw from the Neil Lennon was a performance right up there with Liam Brady at Neuchatel in terms of rank incompetence.   I wrote on this website in the aftermath that he should go .  I also said that I would take nothing for granted league wise after that performance and any Rangers supporter would be thinking that they’d never have a better chance to stop us.

That is not actually something I’m proud of having wrote.  It actually makes me pretty animated.  Because at the end of the day, I’m just a punter who watches Celtic and who loves football.  Whilst I enjoy reading the excellent Juco James on this site, I do not pretend to possess his knowledge of tactics and set ups.  I’m not some football equivalent of Michael Burry or Nouriel Roubini who dug deep beneath the numbers to predict the 2008 financial crash.    I just watched year on year, as teams with fewer resources, but whose players were at least competent and well organised, regularly duffed us up in Europe.  I therefore concluded that if a team in Scotland was able to do the same then we were in trouble.  In other words, I was only saying something that was staring us right in the face.  And I wasn’t alone – there were plenty of other Celtic supporters who could see the bleedin’ obvious.  Regretfully our board – including those with the EPL salaries – were utterly oblivious to it.

Now I’ve made my feelings about the board know in the past.  For me, they are a bunch of overpaid mediocrities – no ambition, no vision (and when it comes to football I include Dermot Desmond) who as long as we’ve finished in front of Rangers then everything is Hunky Dory.   But I wouldn’t have had them down as feckless.  I assumed that when the car crash was looking unavoidable that they would at least attempt some kind of evasive action.  After Ferencvaros I didn’t expect them to do anything.  But after the Rangers game at home – when we didn’t manage a shot on target and we were thoroughly outplayed – I thought they might begin to wonder if all was well.  I believed losing 4-1 at home to a Covid ravaged (and I’ll come back to the Pandemic shortly) Sparta would surely set the alarm bells off.  A fortnight later when it happened again in the Czech Republic, I expected them to be providing the finishing touches to a Plan B.  After Ross County, I took it for granted that the Plan would then be implemented. Well, I sure got that one spectacularly wrong.  I now think that if the board captained the Titanic, they would still be trying to eat their dinners when the water was lapping up at their shoulders.

And that’s because those who inhabit the boardroom, I suspect, are now totally divorced from reality.  Lets look at the Dubai trip.  You didn’t have to have a career in Public Relations to see our jaunt to the Middle East had disaster written all over it.  There’s the team jetting off to a 5 Star Set Up in the sun when the league has just been all but surrendered on the 2nd of January and whilst the supporters are being told you cannot visit your elderly relatives or anybody else outside your house in bleak midwinter.  So the image itself is rather awful before you add Covid-19. I got a text from a Celtic supporting friend to say that if any players come back and test positive for Coronavirus we’d be in big trouble.  Now the person in question is a business man and I’m not.  But I ain’t being disrespectful to him when I say that he’s not Steve Jobs.  And you didn’t have to be to realise the risks that going to Dubai posed.  So why are we paying a seven figure sum for a CEO who can’t see something that is utterly predictable.  His apology was another FFS moment.  “No other club has been as badly effected by the pandemic as Celtic”.  I wondered what Partick Thistle fans thought of that comment.  I’m sure hose running Sparta Prague would have a good chuckle if they read it given how Covid effected their team.

The very fact that Peter Lawwell doesn’t seem to have the self-awareness about how crass that comment was just beggars belief.  I know that since then his departure from the club has been announced.  And he has been given platitudes such as “Titan” and others have said that in years to come will be remembered like “Fergus McCann”.  I am not going to cover his whole career here.  But I’m really failing to understand how anybody can describe his performance this season as nothing less than amateurish.
Sacking Neil Lennon and appointing someone else was no guarantee that the Rangers lead would be overhauled.  But just sitting their like a rabbit in headlights and doing nothing made losing the “10” inevitable.  If the previous two season have proved anything. its that Gerrard is not great at dealing with pressure.  And therefore by trying to put him under it, we might have given ourself an opportunity if Rangers were to drop points.  Instead the board crossed its fingers and hoped that what we were witnessing on the pitch was actually just bad luck and could be turned around.  Unfortunately everyone else knew we were watching a manager who was out of his depth and had lost the plot.   Even changing it in December and bringing another manager in, might not have been too late.
One of my biggest worries when we appointed Neil Lennon in 2019, was that after we “reached for the stars” with attempts to lure Benitez and Mourinho to CP, he was the only choice because those running Celtic didn’t have a clue who else to go for.  The past 6 months has seen that opinion vindicated – as we seem stuck with a manager who is now a total embarrassment to the club.  I – and very fan I know – now dread his press conferences and post match interviews – which alternate universe is he going to be living in this time, which players will he blame and throw under the bus, who will he hit out at and accuse without the humility to look at his own excruciating performance ?
None the less even if this season is a write off, we should at least have to start looking to 2021/22.  In September, I said that in fairness the board had backed the manager and Lennon could have no complaints about not being given the resources.  Whilst I accept that the Jan 2021 transfer window was too late to change the outcome for this season, by God did the Celtic board revert to type and make a dogs dinner of it.   Put into context, N’tcham, Frimpong and Elhamed are away.  We all expect Christie, Edouard and Ajer to go in the summer.  Elyanoussi, Laxalt and Duffy will return to their parent clubs.  Brown will almost certainly retire.  Thats 10 players who will need replaced – almost an entire team.
So it would be prudent to at least start some rebuilding now?  Yeah right !!  I was aware that we were trying to sign three players on Bosman deals during this month.  Doughty and two Preston players – Pearson and Davies.   Harry Brady can confirm that i predicted we wouldn’t sign any of them as I thought Peter Lawwell wouldn’t provide them with attractive enough deals.  So for the sake of £400K, Doughty – a player we offered £600K for in the summer when Charlton wanted £1M, went to Stoke City – a team with fewer resources.  And Pearson found Bournemouth – currently 6th in the Championship – a better proposition.
And then there is the Peter Lawwell “special” – Ben Davies.   What a way for our extortionately remunerated CEO to go out.  In the autumn of 2008, I first head of Lawwell’s antics over the transfer of Marko Baša.  He took two months to knock £450K off a transfer fee for the Le Mans centre half.  Unfortunately having finally squeezed all the juice he could get out of the French club, Lokomotiv Moscow – who were in mid season – suddenly needed a centre half and guess where he ended up?  We then spent a lower transfer fee (but higher wages) on Glenn Loovens who would prove to be very poor value for money.  Unfortunately the lessons from that transfer would never be learned..
There have been plenty of examples since of Lawwell’s “penny wise, pound foolish” strategy biting us in the bahookie.  But the Davies transfer is something else.  Currently Julien is out for the season.  Duffy’s form has been nothing short of dreadful and he won’t be staying beyond May.  So if we had gone for Davies now it almost certain that he would have had plenty of game time – he almost certainly would have walked straight into the team.  But no, Peter Lawwell, despite £7M in for Frimpong, money in for Elhamed and N’tcham off the wage bill, (whose salary for the next 6 months would have paid Davies’s initial fee) decided to hold fire and get him without an any spend.
We therefore wanted a clause put in saying that the transfer is void if Davies got injured between now and the end of the summer.  Then on the 30th of January an injury crisis forces Liverpool to act and he ends up there for a fee of £500K rising up to £1.6M depending on appearances – and we all know that the 2nd half of that transfer fee is unlikely to materialise.  Does anybody seriously expect the alternative left sided centre half to Davies to cost us less than what Liverpool have paid for him.  We could have tied up this deal long before Liverpool were interested but a pathetic attempt to save a few bob took precedence and it will probably end up costing us a lot more in the future.   Whoever the manager is in June will have a very difficult time having to assemble a brand new team.  The whole lack of planning, poor scouting (had anybody bothered to examine Elhamed’s history of foreign transfers) and loan strategy has left us brutally exposed.,
But the failure to sack the manager, the Dubai fiasco and the risible January transfer window is not actually the worst failure of management this season.  It is the lack of communication with the supporters.  50,000 Celtic fans paid up hundreds of pounds each for a season that they knew would involve having to watch games on the television instead of at Celtic Park.  It turns out that it is almost certainly the full season.  Celtic supporters spent fortunes on the new Adidas kit.   At the very least those running Celtic owe the supporters their gratitude and some insight as to what they are doing – instead they get radio silence as the team implodes on the park, Europe is a humiliation, the manager remains in post and the CEO is getting replaced (although I will certainly not mourn the latter’s departure).  We were told of a review in January but its almost certain that Neil Lennon will limp on until the summer.   A season that we hoped would see us get the the Holy Grail of the “10” has fallen apart spectacularly and we have handed the initiative to Rangers who had recklessly bet the whole house on one casino square.  They now however look like coming up roses.
To not begin a dialogue with the support who stood up to be counted in the summer, when the league is over in January and Europe was a bad as many of us can remember – is not so much a lack fo respect, its bordering on contempt – especially in these unusual and very difficult times.  To retreat to the bunker and hope that it just goes away is like something out the Jack McGinn/Kevin Kelly playbook – unforgivable really.
There are 21st century Gerry McSherrys out there who go on social media and call those of us who want change in the boardroom embarrassing.  I don’t know, maybe they think that the directors are our betters.  But the vast majority of the supporters that I talk to or read online are rightly furious at how this season has spiralled out of control with the board’s utter  inability to react to events. This season has shown the poverty of the Celtic directors.
Dermot Desmond said in his only interview for some time and I quote ““I know when we appointed Lenny there were Rangers fans who thought we were handing them the league. I have quite a few Rangers friends in business, all very nice people who subscribed to the former viewpoint. However, I did have a wager with a few of them, so I owe Lenny a night out.”  I think those running Celtic owe the whole support a long explanation as to what has gone on behind the scenes this season and the seeming powerlessness that took over those who had the ability to at least attempt to change the direction it was going in.