The most obvious explanation is the performance on the field and the quality of the players. Neil Lennon inherited many under-performing and untalented players from his predecessor Tony Mowbray. With little funds and fewer options, Celtic changed its strategy. Simply going out and buying ‘big names’ was no longer a viable option. Identifying and signing youngsters with potential became the Celtic way. Whether in Scunthorpe, Israel, Antwerp or Tegucigalpa, the Celtic scouting system got into gear. By the same token, the Celtic youth development programme has been stepped up and along with James Forrest, Tony Watt has made a massive contribution in no time.
Then there is Mister Neil Lennon himself. No doubt there are still some poor deranged souls within the Celtic support who harbour doubts about Neil’s abilities, but the truth is he has already achieved more in relative terms than his mentor and hero Martin O’Neill did, and with far fewer resources.
On the night that saw the likes of Manchester City and reigning holders Chelsea knocked out from the competition, Celtic march forward imperiously. The prevailing ethic in London and Manchester seems to be the greed for money. Spend, spend, spend and then spend some more. A fat lot of good it has done them.
As spoiled millionaires went through the motions against Dortmund, young Celtic players busted a gut for the jersey. Lennon has instilled pride and passion in the players.
But what about the poor domestic form of Celtic?, I hear the Scottish media ask. “So what?” comes my answer. Just like their scouting and signing policy, Celtic has been quite deliberate in what they are doing. Everything has been put on the backburner, so as to concentrate on the Champions League and the riches that go with it. Now that the main objective has been achieved, I fully expect Celtic to kick on and show consistency throughout. Celtic’s next venture in Europe is not until mid-February, by then I believe Celtic will have put some distance between themselves and other clubs.
Nevertheless, I still find it quite comical that there are those outwith the club who criticize Celtic’s domestic form. Currently, Celtic IS Scottish football, an island of excellence in a sea of turbulence and danger. Scottish football at all levels whether at club or national level is a disgrace, a sport run by amateurs and played by amateurs. Much of the current malaise can be traced back to previous incumbents of the SPL who made crazy strategical decisions. Clubs who are now in deep financial peril were never subjected to any real regulation by the powers that be. The hands off, laissez-faire attitude meant that the ship was allowed to be steered towards the rocks without any intervention.
Celtic realized very quickly that the game was up in Scotland and acted well in advance of the debacle which engulfed everyone, except our heroes. If the nemesis of the club that was once called Rangers is David Murray, then the much maligned Peter Lawwell must step forward as an unlikely hero for Celtic.
At the present moment, the legacy of Fergus McCann is being reviewed especially in the light of the death of Rangers. Belatedly many Celtic supporters have woken up to the fact that McCann not only saved Celtic, but established an ethos which has made Celtic what it is. Unique. Peter Lawwell is merely a continuation of the McCann philosophy. A hardheaded pragmatist who sees things for what they are. Quite apart from that he is also a Celtic supporter.
Lawwell has done several important things which often are ignored. First of all he appointed Neil Lennon and secondly he stood by him through thick and thin. Lennon’s triumph is also that of Peter Lawwell. The same man took control of negotiations with television companies on behalf of Scotland during last summer’s vacuum. In the absence of any real leadership from those who apparently ‘run’ Scottish football, Lawwell acted.
Much has been unearthed about the true nature of Scottish football in the last eighteen months, not least its hypocritical workings. Celtic for so long marginalized as being the outsider and the rebel, has been the one club that has followed the rules and shown corporate governance.
My conclusion is a simple one, everything that has been achieved on the field is as a direct result of Celtic being a well-run club with clear objectives and a certain financial acumen. Whereas the O’Neill era might be regarded as the beginning of a new epoch, the real beginning is with Lennon.
Under Gordon Strachan the so-called ‘downsizing’ began and under Neil Lennon it grew apace. Downsizing simply means the club living within its means despite the negative connotations, the crazy economics of Murray’s Rangers have been discredited. Lennon and Celtic’s achievement have been to adapt to a rapidly changing world. The basics have prevailed, Borussia Dortmund which not to long ago followed the Rangers’ path have now also ‘downsized’. English football for all its wealth is in the wane, the German ethos is the way forward. Football goes in trends, Celtic for once are in the vanguard of change. Scotland simply needs to follow the Celtic model.
And oh yes, Utrecht are now battling relegation in the Dutch eredivisie and Celtic beat Barcelona.I rest my case.