The stupidest thing Neil Lennon did before yesterday, when he criticised Scott Brown – more on that later, because it’s a big one – was when he said, in the aftermath of Ferencvaros, that there were players at the club who were working their ticket.
I think most of us knew those were disastrous comments the moment we heard them.
It revealed internal stuff which should have been kept quiet. It got fans playing Hunt The Scapegoat, which I still believe was Lennon’s intention.
It would have angered those footballers by questioning both their commitment whilst here and their professionalism.
As bad as that was, Lennon went on to do something far worse. Having made the allegation, he then failed to act on it. He even backtracked at the next press conference, which was seriously weakening and brought his judgement into serious question.
What he did after Ferencvaros was lay a pretty specific, and heavy, charge on his squad. One would have expected him to follow through on it in some way. There was time in the window to ship out anyone who wasn’t committed.
Yet here they all are. What’s worse is that they are still playing in the team.
Based on his comments in the past week, we can infer that he was referring to Odsonne Edouard. We know that he was referring to Ryan Christie. Yet Lennon continues to play Christie, even as he doubts his commitment to the team. He has, at least, dropped Edouard.
I suspect there are others in the Celtic side who aren’t particularly happy at the moment.
Callum McGregor has now made two public comments which suggest that he’s one of them.
In the aftermath of the Aberdeen game he talked about how the players and the management team had to sort out some internal difficulties and in the aftermath of the Prague disgrace he lamented the total lack of organisation and coherence of the team.
It seems clear to me that he was speaking for a significant group in the dressing room. Callum, aside from being one of our most long-standing players is also our vice-captain. He is precisely the sort of person who, at the nucleus of a group of dissenters, could be a significant problem for any manager who was starting to feel under pressure.
Lennon invited this kind of dissent by turning on the players who have won us three trebles in a row.
His comments about them lacking heart and lacking commitment frankly do not tally with what these men have achieved for our club in the past few years. I listen to these kind of comments and I actually don’t see any correlation between the footballers he’s talking about and the ones who have set such monumental standards and broken every record in the books.
Yet even if you’re still willing to give Lennon the benefit of the doubt, even if you agree that he is being hampered by the actions of players whose heads are elsewhere and who have become a liability both to his management and to the club itself, how do you then account for his playing these guys week in, week out, when we have a squad he barely utilises?
This blog has been vocal and angry on the scandal of our internationals players being exposed to the virus; yesterday, though, I was incredulous to hear Lennon rail against the SFA for incompetence in protecting our young stars and depriving him of the services of David Turnbull.
We would have been as well leaving David Turnbull at Motherwell on loan as to have him sit in the stands every week as has become commonplace under this manager.
Ismail Soro was purchased for £2 million; he’s so far out of the running we let him go and get married this weekend, even as we played players who were dead on their feet during internationals in midweek.
He moaned, at Friday’s press conference, at Steve Clarke for not giving Ryan Christie a break in the Scotland team, and then played him for 90 minutes yesterday … Clarke is too good a guy to say what must surely be obvious;
“You have the biggest squad in the country. If your players are overstretched that’s more your fault than mine.”
Lennon’s words – whether on players who lack commitment, or slating the national coach for exhausting his footballers, or tearing strips off the SFA for denying him the services of players who never get games for him – do not match his actions.
Aside from anything else, his recent decision to drop Barkas and Duffy after bad spells and mounting media criticism, echoes the way he jettisoned Bolingoli and Greg Taylor after they, too, were lambasted in the press and on the forums. This also weakens the cohesion of the squad, and reduces our options for the future.
Lennon’s man management, and his squad management, have been catastrophic so far this season, and yesterday he did perhaps the most dangerous thing he could have done and turned the guns on Scott Brown, as if the problems he faces weren’t serious enough.
Brown is a club icon, and the captain. He has the respect of this playing squad, the one that has won the last 11 domestic competitions on the bounce.
To use another Roman empire analogy, when the mob is outside howling about the lack of bread and demanding that the imperial family show itself, the very worst thing a beleaguered emperor can do is go out there and blame their most decorated general, the one who commands the loyalty of the army … and who, furthermore, has the ear of the Senate.
This is a gigantic mess, and the worst of it is that Lennon has now quite literally made his position nearly impossible.
If he suddenly drops all these guys, the ones he says aren’t delivering, and throws the rookies into the team he risks dropping even more points and making his position untenable even for those who still remain in his corner.
Had he transitioned the fringe players into the squad better, made them part of the first team, expanded the regular starting eleven to a number of around 20, regularly playing Klimala, Soro, Turnbull and others he might find it easier to drop people.
Instead he has done the worst thing any manager in his position can do; he has limited his selection policy to a handful of players on whom he’s just turned the guns.
These are the people who literally hold his job in their hands … and he is busily pissing them off.
The histories of great empires are replete with examples of what happens when those in charge make those kind of mistakes.
This doesn’t have a happy ending.