Neil Lennon should never have been appointed Celtic manager in 2019.
Neil Lennon should never have got to put “Celtic manager” on his CV in 2010.
His entire managerial career is because of two men; Peter Lawwell and Dermot Desmond. He is their creation, their experiment.
That experiment would eventually cost Hibs a year. It got Bolton relegated.
But it has largely been at the expense of Celtic.
As such, the name “Neil Lennon” ought to be the first line of their obituaries.
Neil Lennon never merited a job the size of Celtic on either occasion he got it, and this is why I’ve never been his number one fan as a boss. It’s why I lamented his appointment the first time, it’s why I celebrated his departure and why I never expected to see him in the dugout at Celtic Park again. I thought, wrongly, that we’d got off lightly.
When Celtic gave him the post on an interim basis in 2010 I was partly content because it looked to all the world like a temporary thing, the kind that would throw people as one of those quiz questions years down the line.
The decision to give him the job for the following campaign was one of those times when Celtic has genuinely shocked me, and we paid for it with the loss of a title.
In the aftermath of the Mowbray appointment, they owed us big time. Lennon is what we got; a manager with zero experience, completely unschooled, a babe in the woods. It was a ridiculous decision.
He survived the crisis of his first full campaign, where we lost the league, because he managed to squeak out a trophy. He had drifted into another crisis within months, and he should have been fired then and never allowed back near the place.
And then something happened that transformed Lennon’s fortunes.
Rangers started to collapse as internal and external pressures began to come to bear, crushing the club like a used beer can.
Lennon was lucky. We’ll never know if he’d have won the 2011-12 title without that little push from destiny.
What we do know is that with virtually no real competition he contrived to grossly underachieve in the years that followed.
For much of it, we were awful to watch.
We wasted a lot of time on Lennon the first time around.
When he departed I celebrated because I thought modern football was leaving us behind because of him and I was glad to see him go.
I thought I understood the Deila appointment and was pleased with the direction it seemed to be taking us in. He had ideas. He was a revolutionary choice, and if he’d had a little more gravitas and a little more experience he would never have accepted some of the restrictions that were placed on him. He might have been able to win over the doubters in the dressing room.
Ronny Deila, nevertheless, will go down as one of the luckiest appointments in the history of Celtic.
Without him, there would have been no quadruple treble.
He dragged us out of the mire the twin appointments of Mowbray and Lennon had sunk us into. He modernised the internal structure of the club. He put the onus on player fitness and clean living.
All of this was transformative.
Not everyone got fully onboard with Deila, but enough did that Rodgers didn’t have to gut the whole club. We owe him more than we’ll ever be able to repay. He had a major task in front of him when he took that job, and there are people inside Celtic, and who were instrumental in bringing Lennon back here, who know that full well and a lot more besides.
Lennon left one almighty mess behind him.
Few to this day appreciate how big that mess actually was, or the scale of the problems Ronny Deila had to fix.
Delia inherited a grossly unfit team with abysmal professional standards.
Had Deila not set about radically changing that, Rodgers would have taken over a very different first team squad, one which was still stinking of bad habits and a devil-may-care mentality. There is no way in the world that we’d have had an Invincible season had Brendan Rodgers inherited a club still reeking from fast food, fags and long sessions in the boozer.
It appals me, it absolutely appals me, that Celtic’s board gave Lennon another shot at the job knowing what he left behind him.
They can say all they want, try out all the phony justifications that they like, about him having “grown” and “improved”; I’m sorry, the historical facts and the record both give lie to those statements, revealing them for utter falsehoods.
Lennon didn’t just fail at Bolton; he was like a wrecking ball hitting that club.
By the time he left he’d lost the dressing room, argued with the directors, slagged off everyone via the media and they were facing relegation.
That was his record there.
Those who say Bolton were not in great shape before he arrived are correct; they were a damn sight worse when he left though.
I’ve never understood, anyway, those who defend Lennon on the basis that Bolton were a shambles.
Bolton were the best offer Lennon had. They were the only offer Lennon had, and so those who hailed his re-appointment are kidding themselves on that he was some kind of coup.
He finished fourth in his first season in the SPL at Hibs, after getting them out of the Championship, but that too covered a multitude of sins and I’m going to offer up a story right now which sums up his tenure there for me.
The second last game of his full SPL season was against Hearts at Tynecastle.
That night was a serious warning to Hibs fans about their manager, and it was a serious warning to the Hibs board as well. Because Lennon was a flat-out disgrace that night.
From almost the first moment he took his seat in the dugout he was arguing with the fans behind him, noising them up, gesturing at them … this is a guy who was attacked by a fan in that same ground when manager of Celtic, and so he knew that it was a volatile place and one where acting professionally was well advised. Yet he was so bad that evening that a security staffer had to have a word with him and tell him to wind it in.
His tactics that night were astoundingly poor.
For starters, he played Steven Whittaker in midfield in front of vastly better available options, another example of Lennon’s tendency to shove square pegs into round holes.
It was a rainy night and not great underfoot conditions; he didn’t even do the simple thing and make sure the players had the right footwear on.
After the game he blamed them for going out with the wrong studs, in a sterling example of his finding excuses for his own mistakes by directing the blame at his footballers instead.
During the match, he subbed off his captain Paul Hanlon and in front of the Hearts support, his coaches, their coaches and a dozen others subjected him to a furious public haranguing which must have been utterly humiliating for the footballer.
His side lost the game. Hearts two goals were because of defensive errors.
In the after-match interview on BT Sport he lamented the second because it was from a set-piece.
If you watch that interview and the one I posted on here from Bolton, where he moaned about the prevalence of those mistakes in their team, capping it with the brilliant observation that when he first took over those mistakes hadn’t been present at the club, try not to laugh. Or cry. Half of the goals we’ve conceded this season came from set plays.
In the much deeper interview, the one he did with the print media, he lambasted his own board and demanded that he be given money to spend in the next campaign.
Although he’d defended his players in the TV interview he slated them to the papers, invoking the studs excuse among other more general criticisms. He accused them of having a weak mentality.
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That was Neil Lennon perhaps six months before we gave him the “temporary” post when Rodgers left.
A little over a year later, we appointed him manager for the second time, partly on the basis that he had “learned” and “grown” and “improved.”
Yet in between that night and that day at Hampden he detonated the Hibs dressing room as he had the one at Bolton, and then had a public screaming match with the Hibs CEO Leeann Dempster.
We’ll never know how bad his behaviour was that day; we do know Hibs suspended him immediately pending an investigation and then, in the interests of putting it to bed, agreed on a “mutual consent” statement to avoid anyone further embarrassment.
From that flaming wreckage I couldn’t see any way of him salvaging even the most modest, meagre career in the game, not as a manager. It was only weeks later that we re-appointed him, initially on an interim basis, in the aftermath of Rodgers’ midnight flit.
Yet from that, somehow, has been born one of the most egregious myths in the history of our club; Lennon, the white knight riding to the rescue, as though we were in freefall instead of sitting at the top of the league and on the brink of another cup final, as though nobody else out there would have even wanted the job.
But not one of the dozens of other out of work bosses available at that time, nor the ones who had jobs but would have been easy to convince to make the leap, were even approached about the gig.
We appointed Lennon just hours after Rodgers left. We didn’t even attempt to find someone else; Lawwell picked up the phone and he only ever had one call in mind.
So who did who a favour here?
We snatched Lennon from a dole queue.
He didn’t ride to the rescue. He didn’t swoop in on his shining steed to save the day. That guy couldn’t believe his luck. We offered him career salvation and at a time when it had tanked.
Our directors were well aware that appointing Lennon brought with it problems.
They were aware that it brought with it a drop in standards.
They showed it in the early decisions they made, when they told him who his assistant was going to be, when they denied him any of his pals as part of the backroom staff. They knew what went on at Parkhead last time, and at Bolton and at Hibs, that’s why they stopped him from bringing back Garry Parker.
But what does it tell you that they hired a guy whose judgement was so distrusted on even that issue that they made his compliance with it conditional on his taking the job?
What does it tell you that the directors knew they couldn’t leave so simple a matter in his hands and hired him anyway?
If his first appointment shocked me, I was horrified by the second one.
There was no valid argument in favour of, and no logic to, Neil Lennon’s second appointment.
There was nothing whatsoever to credit it in football terms. It was a decision without the slightest merit. Indeed, it seemed to many of us at the time to be a supreme act of folly.
There was much evidence to suggest that it would be a disaster, which is exactly what some of us predicted.
So why was it done?
Why did our directors go from Brendan Rodgers to hiring a failed manager from Bolton and Hibs who’s only career success in the dugout had come from their own decision to give him the Celtic job once before?
It seems clear to me that Desmond and Lawwell, and the CEO in particular, forgot somewhere along the line that Celtic was a PLC and that they were only cogs in the wheel.
What they came to believe instead was their own hype and their own press, wherein they thought that all the success at the club was down to them.
Lawwell in particular resented the accolades and adulation Rodgers received and chafed at not getting the credit.
He has long interfered in transfer matters, a field in which he’s not remotely qualified.
A cowed and subservient press corps helped to feed his ego and that of Desmond until they were at the point where both believed that Celtic was theirs to do with as they pleased.
I have no doubt that both think highly of Lennon as a person. No doubt that both of them believe he’s a decent football manager. Yet this is part of the problem; they didn’t go looking for the best person they could get, they threw the gig to their pal, someone they got on well with, but also someone they knew they could control easily.
That has always been my primary problem with Neil Lennon.
He was handed the Celtic job by his mates, and by bosses who knew they could pull the strings.
This wasn’t a decision made on merit for the good of this club, it was made so that Lennon could establish a name for himself and so Lawwell and Desmond could play Football Manager for real, controlling the whole operation through a proxy.
It was cronyism.
That’s what pisses me off the most, it’s what’s always pissed me off, because of the echoes of Allan MacDonald giving the job of Director of Football to his mate Daglish and him offering the manager’s gig to his own pal John Barnes.
It reduces Celtic to a wee private member’s club run by an old pal’s act, giving gigs to their chums and risking everything on the back of favours and mutual understandings … and that has to end before the Lennon nightmare will truly be over.
Kennedy has to follow him out the door when his caretaker period ends. If Scott Brown is going to be a coach somewhere it should be somewhere other than Celtic until he’s achieved enough for him to come back home.
Lawwell is gone.
McKay should establish himself as his own man, on his own turf, and draw clear lines of demarcation between his responsibilities and those elsewhere. To know, first and foremost, what it is he doesn’t know.
He needs to build relationships with not only the fans but the other directors and not rely on the “judgement” of Desmond over in Ireland … he needs to make his own position fireproof by putting in place a structure that leaves no room for doubts about where one person’s responsibilities start and another’s end.
Lennon is the creation of Lawwell and Desmond; without them, Lennon’s football managerial career would have been in the lower leagues somewhere until he’d been sacked enough times he moved over to a more permanent gig doing analysis on the telly.
But these two men decided that they could “develop” a football boss in the same way they believe they “developed” players. It was them running Celtic just to prove that they could.
This was not a conspiracy to hand Ibrox a title.
The idea that this could end like this would have scared the shit out of these two men.
So this was not deliberate sabotage.
This was just two egotistical bastards taking a blue sky punt partly because Lennon was their pal and partly because they were so convinced of their own genius that they thought they could do it all, and run the club through him and actually get away with that.
It was, quite literally, a giant experiment with our club as the laboratory.
When Brendan Rodgers was clearly getting set to leave Celtic Park, those two men had a responsibility to sit down and find the best possible replacement for him.
Instead they took one look at Lennon and could see him standing there hoisting the tenth title trophy above his head, and heard in their own minds the adulation he poured on them at the after-match presser.
They imagined themselves taking the bow with him. They were more concerned with massaging their own egos and sharing in the credit than with getting the decision right for the good of the club.
They asked the wrong questions, so of course they got the wrong answer.
But Lennon wouldn’t have been the right answer no matter what criteria they were using. His two tenures at this club may have delivered a handful of trophies but they were major mistakes.
Time will tell how well and how long it takes us to recover, because this has been a flat-out disaster, costing us time and costing us money and ultimately costing us an historic achievement which would have been the crowning glory in the lives of so many Celtic supporters of all age groups … that is unforgivable.
All three of them carry collective responsibility for it, and none ought to be forgiven.
These three men have had a high old time at our expense.
I’m just glad that this part of the nightmare is finally over.
Two down, one to go.