Earlier in the week, Andrew Smith of The Scotsman wrote yet another article in defence of Neil Lennon. In the past few months, they have become more frequent and more unspooled from the reality of the situation at the club.
Smith and others in the media have painted the Celtic fans as being obsessed with ten in a row.
I have to admit that for me it was the only thing that mattered when this season kicked off.
But as the season has continued, its importance has receded next to that of wanting radical change for the club itself, in every area which matters; fan engagement, the way we’re run, the structure of the football operation and the roles of the directors.
If you believe, as I do, that ten in a row was lost in a Hampden shower on 25 May 2019 then you’ll also know that you can’t hold Neil Lennon solely responsible for this.
We hired a limited manager when we should have gone out and hired the best. We got £9 million for Rodgers and his backroom team; I’d suggest we invested less than a tenth of that in finding their replacements.
What else were we going to get but a sub-par option?
Lennon’s hiring was a symptom of what’s wrong with our club; it wasn’t the problem in and of itself. I have never held him solely accountable for this mess. I blame the people who gave him the job and have allowed him to cling onto it this long.
The irony of Lennon’s failure is that, at first, I believed the gamble would work.
You have to understand that I’ve been genuinely torn over this. Let me explain what I mean by that, because regular readers know that I never believed him to be the right choice at any point and was never going to forgive certain people at Celtic for aiming low when we should have aimed high. In spite of that, I still thought Lennon would do it.
I was wholeheartedly opposed to his appointment.
I said at the time it would be a failure, but over the weeks and months of last season those doubts were significantly eased.
In hindsight it’s easy to see that there were signs last season that this wasn’t going to end particularly well … but he had a domestic win record which was, and is, outstanding.
After beating Lazio home and away, he seemed to have gotten something right in Europe.
I was content for Lennon to lead us into this campaign. I would have preferred someone else, that much I made clear, but it wasn’t worth debating or arguing about.
But the concerns which inspired me to such anger when his appointment was announced were always there in the background, gnawing away at me, and it didn’t take long for them to re-assert themselves.
The Ferencvaros game was just disastrous, there’s no other way to describe it.
His tactics that night were absolutely shocking.
No strikers? In the Champions League? At home, in a one off game?
And the press conference afterwards, where he excoriated the players and offered us all an unwanted insight into his thinking when he blamed them for his own mistakes … it was even more disturbing than the result.
I knew that night part of the dressing room was likely lost to him forever.
The following match, against Motherwell, he played the same starting line-up; it was as if he was putting two fingers up to his critics and saying “I’ll do this whatever way I want.”
He then backtracked during the game, put the strikers on and only then did we win.
But there was no hint that he’d learned anything from that, no hint that he realised he’d made the mistakes. Lennon is a very arrogant individual, and that was to make itself clearer and clearer and clearer as the season went on, to our detriment.
For a lot of people, people who’d looked beneath the hood last season and saw worrying things going on, their breaking point with Lennon came that night against the Hungarians. Indeed, it was difficult not to be scared that night as his tactical cluelessness and egotism conspired to deprive us of a shot at the Champions League Groups.
For others the break came at Celtic Park against Gerrard’s mob when we didn’t register a single shot on goal in a disgraceful 90 minutes where, to be frank, his opposite number absolutely owned him.
It was the point where I really started to be concerned.
Yet it wasn’t the moment that broke my confidence completely and changed my mind on him 100%. After that league reversal, yes, I was worried. Everyone was.
Before Ferencvaros there were already signs that the campaign was on shaky ground; we’d drawn our second league game against Kilmarnock and needed a late, late goal to beat Dundee Utd. Losing at home on 17 October was bad … but then we dropped points against Aberdeen and it was immediately clear that we were starting to unravel.
Aberdeen was the point I heard alarm bells ringing.
The real crash came 11 days later, at home to Sparta Prague, who arrived after a being struck hard by the bug and with most of their first team left behind. On the day of the Europa League draw they had pegged us as one of the best teams to get; they were about to show us why they rated us so poorly.
They ripped us to shreds that night.
Lennon was utterly clueless.
This was not even ownage; Gerrard had owned him.
The Prague manager dismantled Lennon’s managerial standing in a single evening.
Every weakness in our team was made abundantly clear. Every failing the manager had was ruthlessly exposed. We were done that night, good and proper, and that was the moment I decided he had to go.
I thought the 4-1 win over Motherwell was papering over the cracks.
I lamented the equaliser against Hibs in the last minute because we should have lost that day and gave the board its decision to make before things really went to Hell.
In the aftermath of the Parkhead game, Lennon had indicated that he believed it was a one-off shocker and said it wouldn’t be repeated. On 26 November, they did the same thing to us all over again in Prague, with the same score-line.
It was, arguably, the last chance the board had to change course … and they let Lennon stay in the job and just three days later we were out of the League Cup. Milan beat us right after that and then we had the draw with St Johnstone at Celtic Park which left us miles behind in the race for the title. By then, the board had made its decision to leave Lennon in place – which was to cost us any remaining chance of winning the league – and the fans had made up their minds too.
Here’s the point; Andrew Smith and others are determined to paint this as an over-reaction to Lennon’s loss of the ten in a row. But most of us had made up our minds on Lennon before that particular fight was over.
I made mine up over the European performances and his general attitude towards tactics, substitutions, team selections and the way he dealt with criticism; not constructively, but with a pettiness and arrogance which made it impossible to imagine him changing his approach, and he never really has. Even last night he still attempted the lunacy of playing Christie up front at one point, and of course he started him there at the weekend.
Andrew Smith’s narrative is fundamentally dishonest.
This isn’t an over-reaction, and for many fans it has very little to do with not winning ten in a row.
Lennon has failed on every level.
The players look unfit, and this is February. Many have clearly regressed under him, with Christie in particular miles from the player he’s capable of being. Tactically, he is clueless. The game he clings to by his fingernails was the Scottish Cup Final against Heart; we blew a two goal lead that day to win on penalties and I thought Robbie Neilson had his number all day long.
Lennon is not a good manager. He has had the benefit of working with an excellent squad of top class players who had won everything in their path; in the space of a little over two years he has regressed them to the point we’re at now.
He has questioned their commitment, their professionalism, their mentality and their will to win. He has never acknowledged for one second that he might be the problem or even been asked by a reputable journalist why these issues involving the players only surfaced on his watch … these guys had proved themselves as winners who never gave up as much as a point without a battle before he took the reins, and indeed they proved it again last season.
I am heartily sick of people making excuses for Lennon, and for the increasingly deranged excuses he makes for himself. These phantom “reasons I can’t go into” are the latest desperate attempt to re-write the history of this dire campaign.
If those unknown reasons explain why he didn’t play a striker against Ferencvaros, why the Prague manager read our game perfectly and dismantled us twice, if they explain why we didn’t get a shot on target at home against our rivals in October, if they explain the disgraceful capitulation against Ross County in the League Cup and the collapse at Hampden that almost cost us the Scottish Cup, when Robbie Neilson tactically outclassed him then I’m all ears … I rather suspect not though.
Those reversals and the others are entirely down to him.
We’ve won five games in a row, but I’m no longer buying it.
We have superior footballers and we should be beating teams like Aberdeen every day of the week with the squad at our disposal. We rely on moments of individual brilliance rather than anything he does from the touchline.
The evidence that he has no clue about tactics and doesn’t even particularly care – with an ex Hibs player making that very point just this week – is extensive, and damning.
I believe Lennon will be the manager next season. Smith doesn’t.
He thinks Lennon will already know he can’t survive the wreckage of ten in a row, but I think Lennon does believe he can survive it and I think he does believe that he’s been let down by players, betrayed by the government, hindered by the governing bodies and screwed by old fashioned bad luck.
And I think there are people inside Celtic Park who believe all that and would give him the benefit o the doubt; indeed, the very fact he’s already working on the rebuilding should convince anyone that they’ve already made that call and let him know it.
But the bulk of the fans are horrified by that prospect for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, and know that another campaign with Lennon at the helm promises to be a disaster. As I’ve said before, this is his third major crisis as a Celtic manager and he survived the first two of them and looks good to get through this one as well.
That’s where Smith is hopelessly wrong, or simply allowing himself to be swayed by emotion and his personal friendship with Lennon.
Because we’re not worried about the crisis we’re in right now; we’ve already paid the price for that, and if that’s all we were focussed on then there might be an argument that this was just bloodlust and wanting his head for the sake of it; I disagree with that as I think his dismissal is more than merited.
No, Lennon needs to be replaced so that we can avert the next disaster.
This campaign is over with in all but the dates. The handful of fixtures that are left are of no consequence.
What’s done is done.
Lennon’s continued place in the dugout is a clear and present danger to the future prospects of this club.
No run of wins will convince most of us otherwise; our confidence in him has been obliterated.
We’re always going to be on the brink of a crisis with this guy, and that’s reason enough to want him out the door and as soon as possible, to give us the best chance to clean up the mess he’s made, and so that this kind of calamitous season doesn’t happen again.