Last week, when Bolingoli was being slated by some of our fans and everyone in the media – and I wonder what the hacks agenda could possibly have been? – it was perfectly obvious that the hacks strategy was to unsettle him and to rock his confidence.
I was relieved, and delighted, when the manager came to his defence.
Which is why tonight’s team selection was so shocking.
Neil Lennon’s decision to drop our only left back was deeply consequential.
It wrecked our team shape tonight and the problems it will cause might just be getting started. Only a fool cannot see that clearly. You want players from new clubs to settle as quickly as possible. Bolingoli’s settling in period is over with. The pressure on him has just been intensified massively.
The media – and a lot of moaning amongst our own support – got him dropped. The dysfunction that seized our defence tonight was the result of it. I know the media is happy with that outcome; I wonder how those in our support who didn’t want him in the team feel?
The initial result of this is that we’re out of the Champions League.
The consequences of that can be easily surmised. The Tierney money will cover the loss of income, and so that’s the manager’s chances of getting the players he wants gone completely. Greg Taylor at left back anyone? That’s what we have to look forward to now.
We don’t have to concern ourselves with Prague, that one’s gone by the boards, but our next league opponents will be rubbing their hands together at that defensive display and the wholly un-necessary wreckage we’ve inflicted on our own player.
We have Hearts at home and then a trip to Ibrox. No pressure in those games, I suppose? McGregor cannot possibly play at left back in those matches; it is outrageous that we sacrificed our best midfield player tonight, I hope it’s the last time we do.
If it is, the lesson – which was horribly obvious last season – has been learned too late. This was a grotesque act of self-harm tonight. The questions it will ask of the manager are wholly legitimate. There is no excuse for that display.
Defensively we were an absolute shambles.
I already expect all manner of nonsense to be talked about the Bolingoli decision; the manager was “protecting the player” is an early favourite.
Protecting him from what? Himself?
I’m certain the player would have been itching to get out on the park tonight, and would have preferred not to have his confidence undermined in this fashion.
Let’s face it, the alternative is even more horrible; that Bolingoli is mentally weak and can be intimidated out of the team.
I don’t believe that for one minute.
This one is on Lennon, at least as far as these 90 minutes go.
There are deeper issues than the man in the dugout of course. His team selection was dire.
It was summed up with the like-for-like substitution of Mikey Johnston for Lewis Morgan.
He brought this one down on us.
But it would be a gross distortion of reality to blame him alone.
The blame stretches in many directions here.
I don’t blame the sale of Kieran Tierney for this; anyone who discusses his sale in the context of that performance should be ignored. He was not fit and the best he could have done for us tonight would have been to watch from the stand.
But I do blame a board that brought in three first team players and a youth prospect and then stopped trying.
We made no signings for this round.
We showed no ambition to reach the groups, and as a result we are vying for a place in the second rate competition.
The thing is, if people on the board are put in the spot over this I know exactly what they will say; £10 million worth of defenders benched. Marian Shved, £2 million. Not even in the squad. The manager’s decision making gives them that alibi, and he ought to be under severe pressure as a result of it.
But the board do not deserve the benefit of any doubt.
For the second year in a row we’ve ended up where our lack of ambition deserves.
There’s not really much more to say than that. Their complacency, and Lennon’s stupidity and weakness in making a completely embarrassing and indefensible decision, have led us to a disastrous and humiliating reversal that sets us back a long way.
The consequences of tonight will reverberate through the rest of the campaign. Do not expect the manager to get very much money now, we’ve lost Tierney to no gain and the team is weaker and the squad is weaker and the club is weaker as a result.
Earlier today, I wrote that in the context of developing players we’re doing something right at Celtic Park and we are.
We produce good footballers and “saleable assets” but that’s not the primary function of the club and people inside Parkhead have either forgotten that or never knew it to begin with.
We are a club with lower case ambition in Europe and we are shoddy and complacent in the way we develop this squad here at home.
The trouble with producing good footballers worth a lot of money is that we sell them and never replace them.
I have no faith whatsoever now that they will even try. Why would they? They didn’t push hard enough for us to get through this tie, and they know the Europa League will not earn us anywhere near the kind of money a Champions League run would have.
They tried, as ever, to do it on the cheap.
The most highly paid person at Celtic Park remains the CEO and defacto Director of Football.
The longer we allow that to continue the longer we’ll be stuck in this revolving door.
The managerial appointment process was the first disgrace.
This transfer window is looking increasingly like it will be another.
Tonight his first and only pick – the only manager he even looked at – left the bulk of the summer spending on the bench, bowing to media pressure over the left back and played our best midfielder out of position where he was caught time and again and his absence was felt in the area he belonged.
If this season turns into a disaster – and tonight is very, very, very bad for the club – Neil Lennon deserves to fall.
But mark my words, he will not fall alone.
We may still get to the Europa League groups. Big deal. If you are asked to part with your money to go and watch that farce then you have a decision to make, because this board gets away with this stuff because of the unwavering loyalty of our support.
Challenge that assumption, and a lot of others will fall with it.