I know that there were, and are, people in our support who thought Neil Lennon might “do the right thing” by the club this week, and fall on his sword after recent performances and results, but they were kidding themselves on.
It was never remotely likely to happen.
I know that there were others who thought that the board might have taken the matter out of the manager’s hands already, and relieved him of his duties, but in spite of a gnawing feeling in my gut that that’s what it’s going to take eventually, it was never remotely likely that a 3-3 draw at Aberdeen was going to be the moment the board chose to act.
Don’t get me wrong, I stand by the assertion that we cannot – and so will not – leave it until this title is out of reach, but it’s going to take something irrevocable to get us there, some result or display which is so inept, so disastrous and so consequential that nobody at Parkhead is left with the slightest choice in the matter about what has to be done.
You might believe, and we might well agree, that it’s obvious that there are major problems at Celtic Park and Lennoxtown which require a radical solution. You might believe, and we might well agree, that we’re on the top of the downslope and the longer it takes to act the further down the hill we’re going to go … but it’s premature to be talking about it now.
Today the manager said there would be “no justification whatsoever” for his being sacked “at the moment.”.
I find it curious that he would actually discuss the possibility of that, and I wonder if perhaps he’s feeling a little bit of a separation from the boardroom at the current time, a kind of coldness towards him, the sort that comes before he’s asked to bring his agent to a meeting.
That’s speculation though; more likely, Lennon is just bristling at the question itself being put to him by a journalist and in a sense, you know, I agree with him if what you’re basing the matter on is the results the team is getting on the park.
Because we’re six points behind the Ibrox club with a game in hand. It’s not insurmountable. We’re in the Europa League Groups. It’s not been a complete meltdown.
But there’s flipside to that, of course.
We’ve dropped points in three games out of eleven. We’ve suffered two calamitous losses at home, including to Ferencvaros in the Champions League, a flat out disgrace of a result. Performances have been abject. The fitness of much of the team is questionable.
The attitudes of certain people seem all wrong.
Lennon himself spends most of his time during games sitting in the dugout looking like a guy who would rather be at home.
He has turned on his players by slamming those he says want to leave, and then he kept them all in spite of us having time in the window to get shot of them. He has publicly suggested that they are nervous and scared … that’s not the Celtic team we’ve been watching for the past four or five years.
If unease is coursing through our club where did it start?
There’s a view that he doesn’t know his strongest team or the way he wants them to play. There are too many square pegs being hammered into round holes. Squad management is bad, bad, bad. Why aren’t Turnbull, Soro and Klimala being used better? How can players reach match fitness and sharpness sit on the bench every week?
There is a sense that things are getting away from us here, a dark suspicion that maybe this doesn’t have a happy ending and it’s not just based on results … there is a malaise around Celtic Park at the moment, a deep sense of disquiet that won’t shift.
You can’t sack a manager because people have bad vibes, so I understand in part what Lennon is saying today and I never believed anyway that we were at that point where it becomes inevitable, where there’s no argument left to be made in his favour.
Yet we’re much closer to that point than Neil Lennon appears to think.
But he’s not in denial either, his comments today prove that.
He’s wrong to say there is zero justification; you could make a case for it on the basis of the Champions League result alone, following, as it does, a pattern stretching back into last year. That was a blow that cost the club tens of millions of pounds and Lennon’s selection choices that night and his tactics – no strikers for such a crucial match – were not only suspect, they were appalling.
The main factor against the manager here is time; we don’t know how much of it we might have; we don’t know how long we may get to turn this thing around. Whenever he talks calmly about how we’ll get there, my frustration rises because we’re three months into the season.
We should be “there” already, players shouldn’t still be trying to get fit, the playing style should be set in stone, the tactics should be understood by everyone in the team … why are we still treading water when the global health emergency might cut this season short?
Neil Lennon won’t be sacked on the basis of where we are now, but if we don’t start at least looking capable of turning this around the heat will steadily rise under him.
The end will come quickly, and suddenly, and before this situation is critical and ten in a row has already slipped away.
Does he understand that the countdown clock has started already?
Yes, I think he does.
I had a conversation with Phil yesterday on this; when the manager got the gig Phil was delighted and paid public and personal tribute to the manager.
I disagreed with the appointment; as friends we agreed to disagree and when it seemed that Lennon had justified the appointment last season, with his domestic and European performances, I agreed he had done just fine and took my serving of humble pie in good humour.
No matter who is appointed as Celtic boss he has the full support of all the fans once they are in the job; questions can be asked about the process … but a Celtic boss gets backing.
Phil’s book Minority Reporter – about the experiences of the Irish in Scotland – contains a section on Neil Francis Lennon; this is a guy who’s a big fan to say the very least. But Phil is also a journalist, and he plays that straight. When criticism is due Phil gives it out.
He wrote an article just the other day – which I am certain is excellently sourced and factually accurate – in which he said that Neil has already been shown the yellow card on the orders of Dermot Desmond.
He said to me that “if a manager needs the next result, it usually doesn’t end well. It might be unfair, it shouldn’t be like that, but that’s how it usually is. What Neil has been through as both a Celtic player and as a manager shames Scotland. When he was the Hibs manager, he slammed the prevalence of anti-Irish racism in society and the game … the hacks looked at their brogues in sullen silence. If he had made allegations of racism anywhere else in the world, it would have been a headline story. He knows the business he’s in and how tough it is.”
The key words in Lennon’s statement today were “at the moment.”
He does realise that things have to change, I just wonder if he’s fully cognisant of how rapidly that change has to take place.
Because the moment is much closer than he seems to think it is.