Date: 4th January 2021 at 4:54pm
Written by:

Yesterday, I pondered the hold Neil Lennon has on some people at our club.

What is it about this guy that inspires the kind of loyalty no-one else would get?

What is it with him that inspires not only this continued support but a kind of fanaticism?

I’ve lost count of the arguments I’ve had with people over this guy.

I am accused of “hating” Neil Lennon so often that it no longer even inspires me to defend myself.

Tell people I dedicated a book to him and they hand-waive it as if it’s nothing. Tell them to go back and read the hundreds of articles in which I’ve defended him and praised him and they don’t want to know.

So it seems there’s little point in bothering.

I’m done defending myself on Neil Lennon.

As far as I’m concerned, the responsibility for making a coherent case now falls to those who think he should still be in the job. In my personal opinion it’s a job Lennon is lucky to have and ought never to have gotten in the first place.

Twice he was appointed temporary boss and then given the job full-time.

He didn’t merit it the first time and he didn’t merit the second chance at it either.

The question on the first occasion he was given it was “is he the best man for the job?” and the answer was no, and the question on the second occasion was the same one and it had the same answer.

Neil Lennon’s ascension to the top job at Celtic Park was a triumph for mediocrity.

Whatever qualities our directors were looking for in a manager when they hired Lennon were not evident from his CV or his prior experience.

When he first got the job he had no prior experience.

When he was given it the second time he had done nothing of note outside of Celtic Park. Those who brag on his “achievements” at Hibs are bigging up winning Scotland’s second tier, and are very quick to conveniently brush aside the way that little adventure ended.

At the weekend, when I was in a debate over Lennon’s record, I was told that Bolton was such a mess that his time there as a manager shouldn’t count when we assess how he’s done.

Think on that; a football managers on the job performance in one of the only three roles he’s ever held shouldn’t be considered when we look at his career as a whole. Another person told me that Lennon was the most successful “player/captain/manager in the history of the club” which is three pieces of outright nonsense for the price of one.

But it’s an example of what I’m talking about.

Neil Lennon is hailed as a hero and an unqualified success for his time at the club prior to this campaign. I beg to differ. That stretches the truth until you can hear the elastic squeal. Lennon had survived two crises at Celtic Park which would have swallowed another manager whole even before this campaign. I still have no idea how he did.

To me, Lennon’s Celtic managerial career should have been stopped in its tracks when, in his first time as interim manager, we went out of the Scottish Cup. That ought to have been that.

“Thanks, but you’re not ready” should have been the message.

Yet Lennon got the following campaign, and it was in that campaign that the first of the major crises happened. I still have no idea how he kept his job, but he did. It was the last time we failed to qualify for the Group Stages in Europe. We went out of the Champions League and then the Europa League in the same month, with major reversals at Braga and Utrecht.

Lennon had gotten the job in spite of the Ross County result.

League performances were improved from Mowbray’s tenure, but those twin European defeats were calamitous and expensive and were a major warning about Lennon’s abilities in crucial games.

We ignored that warning. We finished the season in second place, with a Scottish Cup to our name. The League Cup, we surrendered to Rangers.

His first performance review should have been damning.

Two catastrophic results in Europe, and a single trophy out of a possible four, if you include the league. How did Lennon keep his job? How did he convince people inside Celtic Park that he was up to it?

By mid-October the following year we were in crisis number two, and it looked like an even bigger one. We had been ruthlessly knocked out of Europe for the second year in a row, this time against Sion, only for them to be kicked out and our club re-instated.

But I remember the Sion game where they turned us over; we were an utter shambles.

Worse followed in the league, as we lost three of the first nine games.

Which took us to Rugby Park and the comeback some say saved Lennon’s job. At half time that night most of us reckoned he was done for. The salvaging of the point should not have changed that.

If I could go back to that time, and if I had the responsibility for making the decision, I would have fired Lennon that night. Even knowing everything I know now, I would have fired him. Rangers entire season was built on sand, and as I think any half decent manager would have taken advantage of it and drove our superiority home.

Fourteen days after Kilmarnock, we drew 0-0 at home to Hibs.

Still, the board refused to budge.

Our record for the first twelve games of that league campaign was won 6, lost four and drew two.

Humiliation had been heaped on humiliation in Europe.

Lennon somehow convinced people he was still the right man.

Has history vindicated that view? It depends how you look at it.

We finished that season as champions, after Rangers slid into administration and then death.

Lennon’s successes after that were won against the Best of The Rest.

The trophy count at the end of his first title winning campaign was two for seven domestically, as we didn’t win either the League Cup or the Scottish Cup.

In the latter we lost to Hearts in the last four.

In the League Cup it was Kilmarnock who had Lennon’s number, in the final itself.

In Europe we finished bottom of the Group with a single win in six, to cap the disgraces of Utrecht, Sion and Braga.

The following year was Lennon’s high point as manager; it was the year we beat Barcelona and won the League and Cup double. We qualified from our Champions League Group and if you viewed it from that perspective all looked well in the world, but I was glad to see the back of that season and hoped it would be Lennon’s last in the dugout because for large stretches of it we were awful.

We drew two and lost one in our first six games of the season, and that set the tone for the whole of that title tilt.

We won the league with a mere 79 points.

We drew seven. We lost seven.

Had anyone else in the country been able to put together a remotely decent run of form, we might have been pushed to the final day of that campaign or worse.

In the League Cup it was St Mirren who provided the annual cup embarrassment.

I remember telling people at the time that we ought to replace Lennon as manager, and them looking at me as if I’d grown two heads.

The next season was to be his last of that tenure; it should have been his last Full Stop.

We won the league with 99 points, which points to a storming league campaign, but which, again, covered a multitude of sins.

We went out of the League and Scottish Cup’s embarrassing, shamefully, early with Morton knocking us out of the first in September and Aberdeen neatly dispatching us from the second in early February, at the third and fifth rounds respectively.

We did qualify for the Champions League, after a storming comeback against Karagandy saw my namesake score with virtually the last kick of the ball on the all-or-nothing night. But even that campaign showed stunning weaknesses in Lennon as he allowed Lawwell to sell key players right from under him, even as we were trying to qualify.

When Lennon announced his departure at the end of that campaign I was thrilled.

I didn’t know the board had fully intended to keep him on.

I didn’t know that they had “offered” him an assistant from Norway called Ronny Deila and that Lennon had turned that down flat.

I didn’t know the same “offer” would be made to Roy Keane and that when it too was rejected that the proposed assistant would be offered the job instead.

This is the decision making process which led us to Lennon: The Sequel.

In the interim, Lennon failed at Bolton and self-detonated at Hibs.

Things at Bolton were so bad that key members of their squad openly slagged him in public.

The melt-down at Hibs shattered the dressing room.

In the meantime, Deila inherited a team which was grotesquely unfit and totally at odds with everything we now take for granted about players being athletes.

He lacked the gravitas to get those ideas across, but without a doubt Brendan Rodgers benefited from the effort the Norwegian put in.

Those players who did buy in – Tierney, McGregor, Forrest and others – were to become the lynchpins of the last four years.

None of that would have been possible had Lennon stayed at Celtic just one more year.

The sight of those pictures of him and Brown having a beer by the pool in Dubai are a look at the culture inside Celtic right now. The standards Deila and Rodgers tried to introduce have been shrunk.

The modern management techniques have been cast aside.

A promising first campaign, with Rodgers team still largely intact and his standards still applying in most areas of the club, has given over to a ghastly, familiar pattern; European results against sides way beneath our ranking, shocking performances in the domestic cups and patchy league form. That it’s all unravelled so fast is the only real surprise.

A handful of wins does not disguise the general malaise, nor the truth that this is Lennon’s third major crisis as Celtic manager. If he survives it as he survived the first two, the fourth crisis is inevitable.

Why do so many continue to regard him as untouchable?

How much has this peculiar loyalty to Lennon already cost this club?

Tens of millions in European reversals in anyway.

A rash of shocking cup defeats including the one in this campaign. Our singular moment of triumph this season, the Scottish Cup which completely the Quadruple Treble, was won on penalties after Hearts turned a two goal deficit.

This club cannot allow Neil Lennon a second full season in charge.

How far backwards are we prepared to go in the name of showing further loyalty to a guy who we’ve given two shots of the job and made a multi-millionaire? Whatever debt some think we owe him, when do we regard it paid? When he has a statue in the carpark? A stand named after him? How about the whole stadium?

Would that make some people happy?

The simple truth is that Mowbray, Barnes and Deila were all relieved of their duties for less than what Lennon has gotten away with this season alone and this is his third time facing down calls for his head.

He has failed in his most important duty, which was to win us this title.

Anyone still clinging to hope, I applaud you but I do not agree with you at all.

Neil Lennon is a third rate manager.

Where would he be if we hadn’t offered him career rehabilitation after Rodgers slunk back south?

If Bolton were a shambles when he took over, what does it tell you that they were still the best offer he had?

In the aftermath of Stubbs leaving, as a Scottish Cup winner, Hibs offered him the gig.

They were in Scotland’s second tier.

Where was the big offer coming from?

Where were the clubs looking for a talented, ambitious manager with a big future in front of him?

None of them were banging down Lennon’s door when he left Celtic as a “winner” and none will be when he departs as a loser.

Every day he’s in the job weakens next season’s title challenge.

Every penny he gets to spend is money the next manager won’t.

Every key decision in which he has an influence is potentially something the next man in the hot-seat has to undo.

If Lennon is still in the job the club will not sell season tickets, and they don’t deserve to.

So his departure is inevitable.

From the point of view of even starting the massive rebuild that is necessary it ought to happen as soon as possible.

Until it does this whole club is stuck in the mud.

There is no compelling football reason – none – for retaining his services one minute more.

Only that odd sense of loyalty, that sense that we owe him more than we’ve already given him. I don’t even pretend to understand it, to see what others see.

Lennon shouldn’t be within miles of Celtic Park and I will breathe a mighty sigh of relief, tinged with regret for the utter waste his tenure has been, when he’s finally gone.

The day he was offered the job for the second time should have been one of the greatest in the recent history of our club; instead many, many Celtic fans felt our hearts sink and a sick dread, the sick dread of days like this, steal into our souls.

This is our nightmare.

The sooner it ends the better.

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