A friend of mine has a conspiracy theory about Neil Lennon’s recent appointment as Celtic’s new manager. It goes along the lines of this. Brendan Rodgers informed the Celtic directors at Christmas that he wanted to leave Celtic. The Celtic directors then contacted Hibs about Lennon. Cue, the fall out between Lennon and Leeanne Dempster with Lennon leaving without having resigned or been sacked (the Floren Kamberi incident being a red herring). All very strange I know, however Celtic are believed to have paid Hibs compensation with the necessary confidentiality agreement in place. Rodgers then departs and, hey presto, Lennon is conveniently available to see Celtic through to the end of the season giving Celtic a seamless transition in appointing a new interim manager.
As with all conspiracy theories there is probably an element of truth in this, although maybe not much. The fact is that Neil Lennon still had a fair bit to do to become manager on a permanent basis. He had to deliver the title and the Scottish Cup and right up until the Scottish Cup final was over, the pressure was on. To have not won that final and failed to reach the target of three consecutive trebles would have been devastating for all concerned at the club.
The one strange thing from last weekend was the timing of Celtic’s announcement that Neil had been offered the post. The lap of honour at Hampden had barely finished when it became public. It was done with indecent haste. The best course of action would have been to wait until midweek and at least give the impression that a balanced, considered judgement had been made. Making it public early on Saturday evening made the board look amateurish and left the supporters feeling bemused.
There are two contrasting opinions on Neil’s appointment. In the pro-camp there is the feeling that he delivered the treble and did well steering the ship when Rodgers left the club in the lurch, when it would have been possible for the club to implode under the pressure. There is also the fact that this was not Neil’s team and he did not know the vast majority of the players. He also did not tinker with Rodgers’ favoured 4-2-3-1 system and should be congratulated on his achievements.
On the other side there are those who, although happy with the level of success achieved, were not pleased with the level of performance. Several late winners in games perhaps made the league race more comfortable than it may have otherwise have been. The quality of football on show was sterile and unexciting (in fairness it had been under Rodgers for some time) and the fans were looking for better. It’s also worth pointing out that Lennon left Celtic in 2014 because he felt it was incompatible working with the Celtic board. You do have to ask, what exactly has changed since then ?
When it came to appointing the new manager it was a case of Neil Lennon versus A.N. Other. It was difficult for the fans to have a genuine opinion as no one knew for definite who the other candidates actually were. The suspicion is that there were none all along with Celtic intending to make Neil permanent without saying as much publicly. Sure, there was talk of Benitez, Vilas Boas and Moyes bit it would appear that talk was all it was. There is little eveidence of other candidates being seriously considered.
It was the board’s choice whether to twist or stick and they’ve chosen to stick. It would appear that the main reason for appointing Neil Lennon is that Celtic are chasing 9-in-a-row then hopefully the magic 10. Whilst Celtic pursue that dream then there will be no bother selling season tickets and filling the stadium as the media crank up the hype. Celtic and Rangers fans will pack grounds all over the country as we attempt to win two more precious titles and they desperately try to stop us. Gerry McNee referred to the last 10-in-a-row hype in the late 1990’s as ‘two bald men fighting over a comb’ and whilst the continent will not show great interest in a Scottish domestic League race it will be huge news on the home front and generate finance for both clubs.
Had Celtic not been chasing 10 consecutive championships then the directors would have been forced to show more ambition in their managerial choice. However, they too are under huge pressure to deliver. There is no point in having a huge financial advantage over your rivals unless it shows on the field of play. Far better to have millions on show on the park, than sitting in the bank making accountants happy and fans upset. The board have to release considerable funds this summer. Not to do so will be a dereliction of duty.
Peter Lawwell would appear to have more lives than a cat. Many of us believed that his future was intertwined with Rodgers. Had Rodgers stayed until the end of the season then declared he had left because of lack of funds or interference from directors then Lawwell’s position would have been untenable. By Rodgers leaving in the circumstances in which he did, he then became the pantomime baddie in all of this furore, allowing Lawwell to live to fight another day.
Peter Lawwell and the Celtic board should be absolutely clear on one thing. If Celtic do not go on to achieve 10-in-a-row then they will never be forgiven. Not because Celtic have a divine right to win over anyone else in Scotland or that we have an arrogant or conceited mindset. It will be because they failed to show the required level of ambition in their managerial choice in the summer of 2019 and blew the opportunity of a lifetime.