Everyone and their dog has voiced their opinion on Neil Lennon and our current position so here’s my take on where we are.
Firstly, I want to make it clear that I was massively underwhelmed by Lennon’s appointment.
I was astounded at Peter Lawwell’s statement that the board never interviewed a single candidate.
Yes, Lennon was a sensible choice to steady the ship in the aftermath of Rodgers’ departure, and he did well to get us over the line, but during that time the board should have been scouring the world trying to find someone substantial to take us forward.
Once the dust had settled I, like everyone else, got behind Neil and during that ten game unbeaten run which ultimately won us the league last year, it looked like we were watching a team that was improving.
So what’s happened this year?
What I’ve noticed is that almost every argument defending Lennon is an emotional argument. If we were playing as erratically as we are just now under Ronny Deila, the Sparta Prague game would have been his ‘St Mirren’ moment.
That was embarrassing and I’m going to say something that will probably be controversial but will also show the extent to which ‘emotion’ is in play.
The Europa league matters! Europe matters. I know James has published a post tonight that suggests we forego it and focus on the domestic game, but it’s not how I see things and I don’t think it is how others see things either.
His argument that Lennon should – or could – avoid hard questions if we lost the next two games in Europe by big margins is not on either.
This notion that it’s all about the ten and Europe is just a sideshow is a fallacy in real life terms. Yes of course I want to win the league this year but if you’re offering me a record over a team that no longer exists to give us bragging points over our colleagues and neighbors or a European trophy or even a big push for one, then I’m taking the European trophy all day long.
You know where the opposing argument falls flat?
If we had worked towards that goal instead of concentrating on a numbing local “rivalry” which shouldn’t even have been close, the ten would have taken care of itself. With a top coach and the right recruitment, who would be challenging us?
Remember when the apologists used to say “Oh the Europa League is over level anyway, the Champions League is too much a rich man’s competition?” Now some of those same people are telling us that being a Europa League side is out of reach as well and that we should be content just to be the big fish in this small pond.
Talk about lowering expectations. It’s pathetic.
Europe is where the prestige and recognition is. That’s what potential signings look at. Do you think players out-with Scotland care about ten in a row? What happens after we get ten? We’re happy for a while because Billy Bigotry is raging but all our best players have left because ten in a row doesn’t matter to them.
They want to play for a successful team in the latter stages of European competitions.
Sure, Scott Brown and McGregor get it, but Edouard, Ntcham, Jullien etc will be more concerned about European exposure.
When or if we achieve ten in a row what then?
We’ve been humiliated in the Champions League two years in a row and now we’ve been absolutely skelped by the Sparta Prague B team.
It baffles me that people don’t think it’s important.
Yes, it will be good to get ten in a row but who will we be gloating at? The team we say doesn’t exist anymore? Is that not a bit of cognitive dissonance on our part?
And this goes to the heart of the argument about Neil Lennon.
Where are we under him? Are we improving? Are there any players in the team he has made better? James frequently asks that question of Gerrard; he should be asking it about our own manager right now, who seems to be taking players backwards.
A bigger question is this; is Lennon able to get back to the drawing board and find a way to stop Gerrard owning him almost every time we play his team?
Is there any evidence to support those who answer yes to these questions? We find ourselves trailing the Ibrox club and unable to string a run of wins together. Our defence is alarmingly bad. Even the win against Motherwell the other day wasn’t as straightforward as some have suggested. We looked rocky whenever they attacked us.
Our strength in recent years has been our midfield but does anyone know our strongest eleven? We’ve had to rely on Tom Rogic to provide a spark of creativity lately, but we all know he’s averse to big performances in Europe.
I suppose on the positive side we’re still within touching distance of the NewCo, but only just and if Lennon isn’t able to find a way to beat them at Ibrox then it’s over because we can’t rely on their annual collapse this year.
Gerrard has found a system that works and his players know what their role is. They’re not great but they’re good enough to see out the season if we don’t improve.
To be clear, I would love Lennon to be successful and I’m over the moon that he might be remembered as a treble winning manager. Why though? It’s because Lennon is one of us and I love him as one of us.
This is a guy who’s been targeted by paramilitaries, had devices sent to his family home, been told that he brought vicious assaults ‘on himself’ and just generally been subjected to a barrage of covert and overt sectarian abuse.
I want him to give all those vile trolls a massive ‘@@@@ you’ and he does that by being successful and that’s the crux of the emotional argument for Neil to stay in the job.
We want him to be able to do it. We want him to be up to the job, because we can’t think of anything more satisfying than to see him vindicated by this victory.
Are we able to separate that from the football argument?
Why do teams find it so easy to play against us?
Why do we need to play a 35 year old three times in a week?
Are we now moving into the kind of situation with Edouard that the other lot had with Morelos last year where he’s not playing well or being left out and seeing his value depreciate week on week?
Why are Lennon’s public statements so contradictory?
Every week there seems to be a new question and we’re stumbling around looking seriously vulnerable while the other lot are in title winning form.
The main reason I didn’t want Lennon as manager initially was for his own wellbeing. Yes, the press treats him appallingly, yes he’s the target of bigots and we should rally round him as one of our tribe, yes some of the bile posted by Celtic fans on social media sites is unfair and out of line. These things are all true but none of them are reasons to keep him in the job.
None of them are football arguments.
Is his CV worthy of the Celtic job?
Is he tactically astute enough to get the better of a rookie manager at Ibrox?
Can he keep the squad motivated and disciplined enough to play to a system where they all know their responsibilities?
Can he adapt to modern techniques and sports science to give us those tiny advantages that are the margins of success in Europe?
I don’t know the answer to those questions and we’re two seasons into Lennon’s tenure so that would suggest that when we take all the emotion out of the argument we’re left with a handful of facts that would cast serious doubt over any other manager.
We’re all fevered up by the prospect of ten in a row but even if we do get it, those defeats against Cluj, Copenhagen, Ferencvaros and Sparta Prague reserves are not going away amd they would haunt in next season’s qualifiers.
There’s life after ten and I want a manager in the place who is tactically astute enough to see us through these games.
Lennon will always be a legend around Celtic but that’s not a reason to keep him in the most important job at the most important time if he doesn’t have the skills to take the undoubtedly talented squad we have and 1) make them better and 2) find a system that best utilizes them.
For the first time in a decade we’re now outsiders to win the league.
How long do we leave it before it becomes too late to do anything?
Chris Cominato is a regular CelticBlog contributor and one of our Facebook group admin team.