Wednesday night was a wake-up call.
For some reason Celtic fans always lull ourselves into a false sense of security when it comes to European games against teams out with the elite. Not one person I spoke to voiced doubts about Ferencvaros, the Hungarian champions who drew with Espanyol and beat CSKA Moscow away from home last season.
I wouldn’t bet on Celtic to beat either of those sides at home so where does the false confidence come from? How many times have we underestimated teams like this? Unfashionable teams that we seem to believe we’re better than and more often than not end up with egg on our face.
Off the top of my head I can think of Basle, Malmo, Cluj, Copenhagen, Molde, Utrecht and now Ferencvaros.
We are undoubtedly a bigger club than any of them, but it seems as though we equate bigger with better. Peter Lawwell told us we were a Champions League club and we believed him, even though we don’t act like one.
In reality we’re barely even a Europa League club. The board have gambled with qualification every single year and its gone tits up more often than not.
So does the board need to step up and back the manager properly, in the manner of a Champions League club and secure the signings that would get us through, early? Or do we just need to lower our expectations and just accept that every now and again we’ll qualify but just as cannon fodder for the clubs who are comfortable at that level?
Whatever the answer to that question is, we need a manager who can get the best out of the players we have, improve the young talent and make shrewd signings. A manager who’s up to the task of managing a team with the expectations we place on them.
Looking at Neil Lennon the other night I didn’t see that.
At one point Lennon and Rebrov were filmed standing next to each other. Rebrov looked fresh and trim, Lennon looked like he’d just rolled out his bed into his tracksuit. One of the main reasons I didn’t want Lennon as manager was for his own wellbeing.
Neil, by his own brave admission, suffers from pretty severe depression; the last time he was in the hot seat people literally tried to harm him and his family by sending devices to his house. I’m just going to say that again. Neil Lennon, a football coach had an explosive device and bullets sent to his home!
We all know why.
He didn’t “bring it on himself” as some scum in the press made out.
It was a sectarian attack for the crime of being a Roman Catholic.
Welcome to Scotland, the best wee country in the world.
On top of that he was battered unconscious in the street and attacked by a swivel eyed lunatic at his place of work. I have the utmost admiration and respect for how he dealt with that but it can’t have helped his mental health to be the target of such hatred and you have to wonder why he would put himself in the firing line again?
He loves the club and we love him back but I wonder if the pressure of being a Celtic fan charged with the responsibility of achieving this fabled ten in a row is having a detrimental effect on him.
I’m not going to speculate any more on his wellbeing other than to say that he just didn’t look well the other night and his outburst was pretty bizarre.
That aside, from a footballing point of view, is he the man to take us forward?
When Brendan left I wanted us to bring in a modern European style coach with evidence based methods rooted in sports science. Whatever we think of Brendan Rogers he brought a real level of professionalism with him and was meticulous about diet and recreation.
There have always been stories about Lennon being an old school typed coach who’s not so strict on fitness and bawls players out to motivate them. The stories coming out of Celtic Park just now seem to support that with talk of splits and schisms in the squad.
That’s horrifying to hear, especially this season with so much at stake.
As we got going last season I changed my mind and was glad to have been proven wrong as we started blowing teams away in that 3-5-2 formation and had a really decent Europa League Group Stage, with the highlight being the Lazio game.
But we had some ropey moments also.
Getting knocked out of the Champions League after leaving Jullien and Boli on the bench and starting McGregor at left back was dreadful, and we got rag-dolled off Sevco twice and only the brilliance of Fraser Forster saw us retain the League Cup.
But, for the most part, we seemed to be functioning well and would have won the league by double figures had it not been called.
Fast forward to the start of this season and we have Griffiths out of the picture, Bolingoli out of the picture, we’re a centre half down from last season, players seem to be unfit a month into the season and we went into a massively important European tie with no recognised striker on the park when there was 8 million quid’s worth of strikers, both of whom Lennon signed, sitting on the bench.
People keep referring to Klimala as a project but this is no 17-year-old kid with no first team experience. When we signed him we were looking for a striker to come straight into the first team.
At the start of the season Lennon commented on how hard he had worked and how he’d be pushing for a place.
He’s scored a few goals in the minutes he has had so what must he have thought as we go into a one off must win home game against a beatable team with no striker on the park as he warms the bench?
What did we pay £3 million for a striker for other than to play and score in games like that?
The other striker on the bench was the £5 million Ajeti, fresh from scoring the winner at the weekend.
He was brought on with 12 minutes to go. I will never, for the life of me, understand what he was thinking about?
Has he so little trust in his own signings? And if so, do we need to question his judgement on the signings he’s made? Another one of those is Soro, who by all accounts was brought in to compete with Scott Brown and allow us to use the captain more sparsely and more wisely. Has Soro seen a single minute of game-time?
The start to the season hasn’t been ideal and as much as I think Lennon is capable of winning the league for us, he needs to get a grip of the squad and get us functioning properly.
The mob across the city have taken points from games they would have drawn or lost last season so we can’t rely on their annual implosion. We have better players than them but we see when we play them how hungry they are. They will throw everything at stopping us this year so our coach has to be at his best and able to make the right changes as and when required.
We don’t have the luxury of starting slowly and right now we don’t look like a team brimming with the confidence of our success.
The talk of players wanting to leave has filled us with a lot of doubts and what initially felt like a positive transfer window now has that familiar sinking feeling where it looks like instead of being brought into compliment Edouard, It looks like Ajeti might be his replacement.
If Edouard, Ntcham, Ajer and Christie want to leave we either need to ship them out quickly and try to replace them quickly, something Celtic don’t seem to have the ability to do, or Lennon has to find a way to get the best out them with the promise of not standing in their way at the end of the season. That’s what his comments today suggest.
With Edouard’s contract running down I don’t see us waiting and as things stand it looks unlikely that he’ll sign a new one so it’s down to the manager to cope with the situation to get the best outcome for Celtic. That’s why he gets the big bucks.
I hope he’s able to do that and get this league won but if it looks like he isn’t, for whatever reason, then the board need to earn their wages and take the required actions needed to get us over the line. We’re not in crisis, but there are some cracks appearing.
This season of all seasons we need to be like a well-oiled machine. The manager has to be at the very core of that. I love Lennon as one of our own and care about his wellbeing but sentimentality isn’t going to win us the league.
I’ll be watching our game at the weekend to see how we respond.
Hopefully we will get the reaction that restores our swagger and confidence and Lennon leads us on from there with this week just a blip.
Chris Cominato is a Celtic fan, occasional blogger and one of the best admins on Facebook.
The CelticBlog aims to keep getting better and better. If you like what we do, please subscribe and never miss another article. If you’re on Facebook, join us on our Facebook Group or share us on yours, and if you’re on Twitter remember and re-tweet all our work.