The End Of Days At Celtic For Neil Lennon

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I’m writing this before Celtic travel to face Motherwell tomorrow lunchtime, but irrespective of the result there, pretty much all bar the ‘faithful through and through’ brigade and the cerebrally challenged amongst our support who labour under the impression that Neil Lennon is, was or ever had some sort of connection the Provisional IRA have realised and accepted that his time at Celtic is at an end.

This is going to end sooner rather than later and it’s not going to be pretty.

Thursday nights shambolic display against a Sparta Prague development side – which could have been at least a couple more – really should have been the end.

It wasn’t, but this is going to end, it’s going to end soon and it’s going to end very messily.

I predicted weeks ago that this was coming and we were heading for a ‘Mowbray style ending’ to Lennons tenure. We got the performance and result I’d expected for weeks, but not the departure I and many others anticipated and hoped for yesterday morning.

It’s not solely his fault, of course.

He was offered a job that must have been beyond his wildest dreams, not to mention his competence after leaving Hibs in disgrace and being mutually consented by Bolton.

At Bolton, despite serious financial difficulties at the Reebok Stadium in 2014/15, Lennon and Bolton were expected to be challenging for a play-off place back to the Premiership.

By the time Bolton acted and Lennon left almost 2 years later, the club were staring relegation in the face.

In what has come to be a terribly familiar pattern for Lennon, he started brightly with some excellent results including watching his side punching above their weight to gain a 0-0 draw away at Liverpool in the FA Cup before losing the replay to a last minute winner.

That was to be the high point for Lennon though and things quickly went downhill from there.

Despite the pre-season expectation and decent early season form, Bolton finished 18th and narrowly avoided relegation with what was widely regarded as one of the strongest squads in the league.

Late in that first season, rumours had abounded of players having issues with Lennon, complaints about his training methods and personality clashes with various people at the club.

At the start of his second season, Barry Bannan, Gary Madine and Neil Danns all made public utterances about Lennon, including Madine being disciplined after showering him with abuse during a game v Brentford which was picked up by TV cameras.

Raymond Verheijen, who has since worked at a number of the biggest clubs in the world as well as being brought in specifically as a personal fitness coach to Arjen Robben in his time at Bayern Munich, was particularly scathing of Lennon and the lack of professionalism under him and was ‘astonished’ at his ‘antique approach to training, fitness and man management’.

By the time the bullet finally arrived, it was too late for Bolton and they were relegated.

It was a similar story at Hibs where he arrived at the then Scottish Cup holders in the summer of 2016, succeeding fellow ex-Celt and Bolton man, Alan Stubbs.

Early success and promotion from the second tier, followed by a respectable 4th place finish had altered the image of Lennon somewhat and suggested he had learned and improved as a manager.

It wasn’t long though, before familiar criticisms followed with players questioning his man management and training methods.

Hibs results and performances started to slide and in January 2019, he was suspended and bundled out the door following allegations of gross misconduct – much to the joy of some players in the Hibs dressing room who celebrated his departure with an impromptu party.

The charge of gross misconduct was dropped due to a procedural failing by Hibs Chief, Leann Dempster but there was no way back for Lennon and a parting of the ways was agreed.

What we are seeing at Celtic right now is a true-to-form Neil Lennon, initial success followed by rumours of personality clashes and serious doubts cast about his man management abilities, professionalism and training standards.

Lennon brought some of these questions upon himself not long after he arrived when he was asked about the differences he’d noticed from his first time around at the club.

Lennon’s response that the training facilities and gym equipment had changed to such an extent that – despite being in the door a couple of months at this point – he had no idea what half of the equipment was for and wasn’t being used should have set early alarm bells ringing.

Stories later emerged that players had undertaken separate fitness training programmes and work with specialist coaches and this was played down by the club.

Fans let it slide too as performances were good and results were good.

When Ronny Deila arrived at Celtic his first reaction was to state that he was in disbelief at the poor levels of fitness and professionalism from players at a club of our stature and would be the first issue for him to address. Who did he take over from? Who had presided over these standards?

Unfortunately for Ronny, too many players never bought into his idea that modern players should be complete athletes.

It took Rodgers to arrive before that gained wide acceptance, and it’s was no surprise that players like Commons and Mulgrew never lasted too long and were quickly jettisoned.

Rodgers had an air of authority that Ronny never had and the standards he set bore immediate results.

Rodgers may not be as big a Celtic man as Lennon, but he’s in a different stratosphere as a manager.

Players were in no doubt about was expected of them under his reign – on and off the park – and we had probably the fittest squad of players ever assembled in Scotland.

Standards were set as he established a sense of professionalism around the club that had not been seen or felt in some time.

Rodgers was a serious operator.

The fact we were absolutely peerless in his first season, dropping only 8 points en route to an invincible domestic treble is testimony to that.

Rodgers second season brought another treble with a high level of energy and performance across the season – bar a brief spell before our 63 game unbeaten game run came to a shuddering halt at Tynecastle.

We kicked on from there and suspicions that maintaining the unbeaten record had become something of a millstone seemed to be vindicated.

Issues at the start of the third season bring us on to another huge issue within our club, Peter Lawwell.

Rumours had been gathering pace that Lawwell had wanted to ‘reign the manager in’ as he felt he held too much power.

The CEO undoubtedly hampered the manager at the start of that season, but unbeknown to fans, Rodgers had had enough of Lawwell and had been working his ticket.

His departure as we were chasing a third successive treble was unforgivable as far as fans were concerned and Rodgers seriously misjudged the reaction of the fans by assuming their ire would be turned on the board.

At that point, Lennon was absolutely the right man to come in and steer the club to the end of the season.

He had a track record of coming in and getting results, he knew the club, he knew the players and was a steady hand to take over a club which already established a healthy lead in the league.

He came in, got the league over the line and steered the club to a 3rd successive Scottish Cup Final.

That was the moment for him to bow out.

As a winner with his legendary status intact by a forever grateful support.

Instead, the club – yet again – misjudged the mood of the support and managed to put something of a dampener on fans celebrations by announcing Lennon had been given the job in the showers following the cup final.

The timing was wrong, the way he was offered the job was wrong and the appointment itself was wrong.

Despite the fans deflation, we got on with the job and won our 9th successive championship and the league cup – in spite of being outplayed for most of the final and thanks to an outstanding performance from Fraser Forster against Rangers.

Fast forward to this season and the same old issues that dog Lennon wherever he goes appear again.

Rumours of disharmony abounded and were effectively confirmed by Lennon himself who stated that he had players who never wanted to be here.

Fitness levels are visibly significantly down as is the level of performance.

On Thursday night, I’d said that we looked like we were a team playing to get their manager the sack.

Apart from Griffiths and Laxalt, nobody in that second half changed my mind.

It was as pathetic and abject a performance from a Celtic side that I can ever remember and comments from Callum McGregor only heightened this opinion.

This isn’t a blip in form, we are in November now. Thursday wasn’t a freak, it had been coming.

After the game Lennon said that there needs to be a change in culture around the club.

There already has been and Lennon has presided over it.

We have gone from being a club who were utterly professional in everything we did under Rodgers to one who is positively amateur.

That is entirely on the manager.

The fact Celtic have stuck by Lennon is as staggering as it is unsurprising from a board who regularly take the support for granted with no regard for their views.

What that means is that we will see another result and performance in the coming weeks like Thursday nights. It might be tomorrow at Fir Park, it might be at Easter Road in a couple of weeks but sooner or later, it’s coming – and with it, will come Lennons day of reckoning as he leaves yet another club in state of disarray.

Tony Begley is a long-time friend of The CelticBlog and has contributed to the site several times.

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