His subject is Celtic football club and its supporters. The goal of playing the mythical “Celtic way”, can be seen by his attempt to make a clear break from his most recent predecessors. Under Gordon Strachan, Celtic played to a minimalist, over managed plan where any element of individualism was crushed before the players took to the field. If anything symbolizes the sheer banality of the Strachan years it was the clipboard. Football reduced to a pseudo-science, where free expression was outlawed and adherence to the leader’s command was central.
I happened to catch some of the Middlesborough-Sheffield game yesterday and as I watched the game unfold, a shiver went down my spine. I am reliably informed that yesterday’s game was the lowest ever attendance at the Riverside stadium. The game had a ghostly, soulless atmosphere played in front of the banks of empty red-and-white seats. The memories of the anti-football Strachan years at Celtic came rolling back. The refusal to play with pace and adventure, the safety first approach of the side pass, and the slow turgid build up, allowing the opposition to regroup. The zonal marking and of course, the ubiquitous clip board were the mainstay of his Stalinist regime. I really don’t envy ‘Boro fans.
With Tony Mowbray of course it was much simpler, he just didn’t have a clue. With the exception of Fortuné, (who may even move at this late stage) all the Mowbray signings have been quickly shunted out of Celtic Park. If Strachan started the process of decay, then Mowbray rapidly brought it to tragic levels. Sub-standard players were signed and played in the wrong position, if played at all.
Lennon’s signings tell us a lot about how he wants his Celtic team to play football. It’s heartening to see that he wants the ball played out from defence at speed, and down the wings. He wants to move away from the ultra conservative approach of Strachan and the chaos of Mowbray, to producing a type of football that makes people want to spend a couple of hours at Celtic Park on match day.
The signings say it all really. They are characters with character. Celtic supporters have always had an affinity with players who express themselves on the field. Juarez really does already look like an inspired signing. He looks to get forward at every opportunity and has provided a dynamic that was sorely missing for several years in the midfield. His effect on Scott Brown has been remarkable, the Celtic captain looks like a new player with the Mexican by his side. He is finally beginning to show just why Celtic paid such a relatively large sum to Hibs. We then have the Israeli Baram Kayal who, like Juarez has quickly enamoured himself to the Celtic faithful. He is a different type of player than Juarez, but seems to complement him totally. Lennon has identified the midfield as an area of weakness which did so much to undermine the team in recent years. There seems to be much more balance about the team. Players are now being played in positions which show off their strengths rather than their weaknesses.
The defence was the area singled out for the most criticism last year and here too Lennon has been busy. The signing of Daniel Majstorovic is a statement of intent by the Celtic manager. For far too long now, Celtic have been weak and fragile at the centre of defence. McManus, Caldwell, Loovens were all guilty of being too easily bullied by quite mediocre Scottish players. Our Swedish Slav really does not look like the sort of man who would take any prisoners. He may not have great pace or possess the finest touch, yet his mere physical presence at the heart of the defence sends out a stern message to those who want to mess with Celtic players. A new keeper is imminent and the pieces are beginning to fall into place. Who knows?
Maybe one final blue chip signing up front before the transfer deadline might make all the difference next year.
Lennon has allowed Celtic players to express them, and the years of fear and rigidity have gone. Paddy McCourt and James Forrest are entertainers, very much part of the Celtic tradition of dropping the shoulder and running at defenders. Celtic players are now playing with a swagger and a smile. The Celtic supporters recognize this radical change and there is a genuine attempt to support Lennon and the players. Players are given a standing ovation when substituted, the players reciprocate by applauding the fans.
There is a genuine understanding that they owe the support big time. No more sullen faces like Scott MacDonald, I swear I even saw Scott Brown smiling against St Mirren!
Clearly, we must not get carried away but there is some real evidence to suggest that Lennon has grasped the nettle by attempting to play in a way that is entertaining yet is also winning. Many were sceptical about his tactical ability, not to mention his ability to spot a player. The evidence so far is good. A player like Scott Brown will function better if he is surrounded by players who are perhaps technically superior, yet give him the opportunity to show off his other more Scottish talents. This is down to the manager who has persevered with Brown, when pressure was mounting on the team’s captain.
My favourite teacher achived the difficult task of combining affection with respect. Celtic supporters have affection in abundance for Neil Lennon, respect is something you only gradually obtain through a long, gradual process. Neil Lennon has won ten league games-in-a-row and even within the limited confines of the SPL, that says something about him and even more about the men he replaced. Lennon is helping Celtic regain its self respect after several years of mismanagement, he deserves our total support.