Neil Lennon’s sacking by Omonia Nicosia, which was announced to the amazement of almost everyone who heard it last night, is not something any Celtic fan will take the least pleasure or satisfaction from. But for many of us, it had a grim inevitability about it from the moment he was announced in the role.
Neil Lennon is not a good manager and he never has been.
But he has, at times, been a lucky manager, mostly in having caught the eye of Peter Lawwell. That gave him two shots of the hot-seat at Celtic Park, two more than he deserved or was ever justified, and whilst that set him up for the rest of his life, it also gave him ideas about where he might go in management.
Well that question has been answered. Bolton, in the lower leagues of England. (Sacked.) Hibs in the SPL. (Sacked.) And now his Cypriot disaster. None of these clubs was Lennon hitting the heights he had believed were within his grasp. None of it had a happy ending. His second tenure at Celtic was such a calamity that many of us thought it would take years to clean up his mess.
Thankfully, an exceptional manager was able to accomplish it in a very short time-span. But the mess Lennon left behind is no less because it was so swiftly put right.
We will never know what happened in Cyprus any more than we will ever know the full stories of what happened at Bolton or at Hibs. But we do know that when Lennon got the job for a second time his plans for his backroom team were vetoed by a board which didn’t trust his judgement on that and yet still handed him our most important campaign since 1997.
Peter Lawwell’s tenure as the untitled director of football was an ego-driven farce. He thought he knew better than his managers what players the club should have. He thought he knew how to spot a manager.
That’s why many of us still won’t join the chorus in applauding him for any role that he played in the appointment of Ange; we got lucky on the big man, because there is no footballing universe in which that wasn’t a left-field risk of momentous proportions.
Lawwell’s appalling decision making and tendency to meddle where he shouldn’t have been allowed to cost us ten in a row. It’s one of the reasons he can never return to this club in any official capacity.
I think his egomania harmed us. His lousy stewardship is at least partly responsible for the dismal European record which Ange is working tirelessly to turn around.
You only have to look at the overall performance of the club when the CEO stays in his lane and leaves the football decisions to the football department.
But Lawwell’s greatest act of harm was against Neil Lennon himself, a man who the CEO knew – and I write that with no equivocation – knew full well was not temperamentally suited to being Celtic boss when it was offered to him the second time around.
Lawwell knows what happened at Bolton and at Hibs. He knows full well the chaos which reigned inside both clubs, and it was no great shock that some version of it was later to reign inside Celtic Park.
He elevated Lennon above his abilities and that harmed Celtic, and Lawwell did this, in part, because he believed he could operate Lennon like a puppet on a string.
But of course, his experiment escaped the lab on that one, and by the time the board concluded that all control had been irrevocably lost – and I suspect Lawwell could have kidded himself on about the football side of it for even longer than he did – at around about the time when Lennon went on a media rampage against the Scottish Government over the Dubai disaster, for which the CEO had already publicly apologised, it was too late.
Lennon was allowed to stay in situ when everyone knew the game was up. Lawwell, who was the sole person responsible for his being in the job, knew he was floundering, knew he was shredding his relationship with the fans and knew he was doing probably permanent harm to his own managerial prospects, and he should have acted swiftly and spared us all.
Spared Lennon in particular.
But he didn’t do it, and so the original error – which was ever to give Lennon the idea that he belonged at a top tier club in a management role – was compounded further by letting him drift into self-pity, anger and paranoia. Thus the idea that Lennon might learn some lesson about his ability to handle such a job went completely by the boards.
Lawwell made sure that when Lennon’s departure was announced that he poured praise on the man he had twice given a job which was way too big for him. In doing so, Lawwell was not honouring Lennon at all but defending his own colossally bad judgement.
Lennon left Celtic believing that he had deserved to be there and that he had earned the chance to stay. He left still convinced that because he had gotten to the summit at our club that he had a foot on the managerial ladder to even bigger and better things.
Lawwell’s greatest sin perhaps has been allowing Neil Lennon to persist in that delusion.
Nothing speaks to how damaging that idea is to Lennon himself than that the only job he was able to get after leaving Parkhead was in the Cypriot league. He put a brave face on it, and dressed it up as a chance to “manage abroad” but it would not have been his first choice, not even close, and having failed there you wonder where else he can go.
He has always been a decent pundit, in the sense that having both played and managed the game and having worked under Martin O’Neill he will understand it better than most.
He certainly has a future doing that, although the BBC probably won’t put him on because he lacks the basic qualification necessary for one of their gigs – he never played for one of the Ibrox club’s.
But he has a future on Sky or BT or Premier Sports if he wants one there. Yet I suspect he will continue to believe in his chances as a manager. That’s the true cost of believing in Lawwell’s judgement.
That’s the true cost of our CEO’s greatest mistake.