Apologies for the headline, but I couldn’t resist that one!
Neil Lennon’s comments at the end of Tuesday’s game were bang on, and what I want to do here is contrast his position and his priorities with those of the previous manager if I might.
I loved Brendan Rodgers time at the club, everything but the stinking way that it ended.
But I had one major, mammoth, grievance with him and it was this; he had a fixation with forward going players and left us in one Hell of a mess in defence because of that.
I wouldn’t say he totally neglected our defence; we signed enough defensive players under him.
But at no point did he prioritise the signing of a top centre back and the right back position was woefully under-resourced, although I do know some efforts were made there.
On top of that, Brendan’s idea that a defender should be able to play football was, in the rough and tumble of the SPL, always going to slow a game down and put certain of our players – Dedryck Boyata was the most obvious – under undue pressure. I always thought he was an excellent player when asked to play a no-nonsense game. When he tried to play football that was where the trouble came in. That’s a football idea that has had its day.
And I’m not just talking about Celtic here; that idea is in retreat across the game, and not before time.
It was an experiment that good teams were destined to punish over and over again, and it didn’t matter who the defenders were either.
A high pressing team makes it a suicidal concept.
Even those footballers who can play a bit – Virgil Van Dijk being an excellent example – don’t do it so much anymore. Klopp’s decision to make him a big no-nonsense centre off does not negate his football intelligence; it simply uses the best of his abilities to the best of the team’s ability, with the obvious results.
Lennon has no such intentions. He wants defenders who get in the way of the ball, clear their lines and keep it simple. It is not sophisticated, but English football’s triumph in last year’s Champions League was not entirely sophisticated either.
But it was damned effective.
As one Guardian journalist put it after the Anfield club had knocked out Barcelona, “the tyranny of the pass … is over and football has returned to a more hybrid form.”
Whilst I don’t subscribe entirely to the theory espoused in the piece – that the age of technique is giving way to one that puts raw power first – I can understand the author’s argument, and when it comes to the back line is it as true as it ever was.
We’re going back to basics here.
The midfield is clearly an important area for the club and Lennon talks about wanting another striker, but this revolution is being built from the back and we’re not doing it on the cheap. The £10 million we have already spent on that area is more money than we’ve spent on the defensive side of the team for a long, long time and it is past due.
There is one thing that the club’s rivals apparently have not taken into account about our efforts to build a more solid defence; the one we had worked just fine in domestic football. We’ve had the best defensive record in the league for as many years as I can remember; the average number of goals we concede per season in 25 … over a 38 game campaign.
That is an incredible statistic, and it should terrify our rivals that we’re not satisfied with that. In what many record as a disappointing campaign, we conceded only 20 league goals last time around, which is almost as good as the 17 we conceded in Martin’s first year.
If we get the number anywhere near that in the coming season, we’ll win this league at a canter.