There are two schools of thought when it comes to a club sacking a manager this early in a campaign.
The first is that it’s a sign of panic, and weakness, and one that clubs are punished for. The other school of thought says that you do what you have to when it becomes clear that a situation has begun to deteriorate to where it is no longer tenable.
No matter what those who subscribe to the first point of view think, football fans are not, by and large, idiots conditioned to lose their minds over every little blip.
Those who think Lennon was treated unfairly by a section of the Celtic support continue to overlook two huge problems; first, it was not a single game that tipped the balance, it was a rolling series of disasters for which there was no end in sight and a board that refused to read the writing on the wall.
Secondly, had the board acted in time there would have been a chance to save that season and in failing to act they virtually handed Ibrox a title.
I knew the season was going to be a disaster on the night of the Ferencvaros game when Lennon gave that startling press conference in which he turned the flamethrower on the dressing room and questioned the commitment of the players.
There was no coming back from that.
The moment a manager throws his team under the bus to excuse his own failings that’s the ball game, that’s the start of the disintegration, the fragmenting of the dressing room is inevitable and the collapse from there on was no surprise whatsoever.
I was numbed by horror that night listening to him.
There were already huge question marks over his leadership style – which I articulated in the article I wrote the following day – but I was astonished that he had gone so over the top in blaming the players.
It was his decision to play one up front without a recognised striker on the pitch, his decision to play with cross balls into a penalty area where no forward was waiting, his decision to leave the team exactly as it was when Rebrov made his game-winning tactical change and brought on the fastest striker he had available, to punish our gung-ho suicidal tactics with the long ball bomb.
I recognised that for what it was from the sofa at home … how a highly paid manager standing on the touchline could be caught out by it I will never know.
Lennon got every major call wrong that night and then sat in front of the media and said it was someone else’s fault.
Yeah, that was the moment the season collapsed.
It was 26 August 2020.
The Celtic fan protest which everyone talks about was on 29 November after we’d exited the League Cup at the hands of Ross County.
Those protests were the result of a long slide whose trajectory had been obvious for quite some time.
They were not so much directed at Lennon, although that was part of it, as they were directed at the board which was locked in paralysis or in denial about what clearly had to be done.
That night against the Hungarians, it was obvious that the manager had lost the plot.
It was clear that his tactical incoherence was the main reason for the defeat. If he had owned that and protected his players from criticism there might have been good reasons for people giving him the benefit of the doubt … but he revealed an arrogance which blinded him to his own faults and failings, and that was far more worrying than anything else.
There is a case to be made for saying we should have pulled the plug that night.
Some in the media and even amongst the support might have considered it an extraordinary response, but I think for most people in football, those who truly understand the game and the way it works, there would have been a recognition that when a manager displays such ineptitude on the touchline in a massive match and then detonates his own dressing room in the aftermath that terminating him is entirely justified and even necessary to limit the damage that’s been done.
And yet I didn’t call for that course of action that night and none of the other blogs or social media guys did either.
It was months before I would pen an article calling on the board to take immediate action in light of the obvious trouble we were in; it was the night of 5 November, after Slavia Prague had come to Celtic Park with half a team and routed us 4-1 when I finally snapped.
That was more than three weeks before the League Cup was surrendered in such an appalling fashion, sparking the car-park protests. By then nearly everyone knew it was necessary.
After Slavia Prague at home, there was no argument left for keeping him in the job.
The campaign wasn’t just unravelling, it had unravelled.
The scale of what was looming could no longer be denied. The team was in free-fall, and yet nobody at the boardroom level stepped up to show the slightest leadership. And all the excuses in the world don’t save these people from the condemnation that will be theirs for all time; they failed to act until the situation could no longer be salvaged.
Some online still think it was a deliberate act of self-sabotage.
I know this; if that had been their aim, they could not have done it more resoundingly.
Still, some argued at the time that even then sacking Lennon would have been seen as a “knee jerk reaction” to a handful of bad results. It amazes me the lengths to which some people will go in order to give our directors an alibi for their failures.
Nobody would have blinked had we sacked Lennon that night.
That result was an embarrassment and a disgrace.
His tactical approach to that game was so simplistic and unsophisticated that it makes The Mooch look like Robert E. Lee. More than anything, he was a mess. He looked and sounded like a guy who needed the weight taken off his shoulders. I thought that was perhaps the worst part of it. He was like a floundering man; his bosses watched him drown.
So, when do you know?
When does it become obvious that a manager is not going to make it, that a season is unravelling, that an appointment just isn’t working out? For Ibrox fans, that was months ago and those who think that The Mooch is only in the gunsights now because he’s lost to us and gone out of the Champions League in the same week really haven’t been paying attention.
Some of their fans have never been convinced … and even when they were on that winning run of theirs in the league there was still a lot of doubt in the air.
But where it started to look apparent that it wasn’t going well was, oddly enough, in his press conferences when he would contradict himself sometimes three or four times in a single statement.
Some of what came out of his mouth at those early media events was plainly bizarre, and led to me giving him that nickname. He continues to ramble to this day, with some of what he’s saying so removed from reality that you wonder how the hacks can keep a straight face.
On the pitch, he had no fewer than three high profile games against Celtic last season where it was all on the line for him and he didn’t win a single one of them.
He came in saying that he knew his mandate was to win at least one trophy and that Celtic winning a treble was “unthinkable” only to be bested by us in both cup competitions, and watching as we did exactly that.
This season he almost blew the tie against Servette and then saw his team hammered in the Champions League against PSV. Losing to Celtic, with us in the state we were in, has confirmed some of their fans worst fears about his inability to get results when it really matters.
But there’s an unacknowledged issue here too, which nobody in the press has picked up on but which their fans are as acutely aware of as some of us were about Lennon as early as August 2020.
His domestic form started to look shaky towards the end of the last campaign, with a loss to Aberdeen and a draw at Hearts … he couldn’t afford to start badly this season, and add to the impression that other managers had figured him out.
The loss against Kilmarnock was a disaster in that regard.
I think it’s pretty clear that The Mooch is living on borrowed time.
It’s not if this ends badly for him but when now, and every day he remains in post sucks a little more of the life out of his club and makes the road back that much harder to travel.
The decision to appoint this guy in the first place, to challenge a resurgent Celtic under Ange Postecoglou, when he had so little direct managerial experience was an act of lunacy every bit as acute as the shower scene from Hampden, only more so because Lennon at least did have experience and had won things here.
But the decision to give him all that money to spend over the summer, and to allow him to use the bulk of it in the forward area when the defence has been a nightmare of epic proportions for years already looks like a catastrophe. This complete novice has been allowed to spend their transfer kitty on building a team to play 1980’s style football in a game which is light years beyond it.
That some in the media remain baffled by his tactical ideas is both incredible and yet understandable to an extent.
To me, it is obvious that there is no dazzling style which the players are still to gel into here, and that what you are watching is what The Mooch intended all along.
But I can certainly see why some in the media are looking for complexity here, because in the modern game there aren’t more than a handful of managers left with such elementary tactics and they are struggling to accept that the second biggest club in Scotland has hired one of them.
Yet to him it all makes perfect sense and, in many ways, he’s only done what Ange Postecoglou did at Celtic; he’s signed the players to suit the system he wants to use … and this is it.
His prototype footballer – big, strong, offering a “presence” – is pretty clear and so whilst I scorn the very idea of it, it’s not as if this is a scattershot policy. It’s obviously been thought through, there is a connecting thread between the way they play and the footballer’s he’s signed.
And it is precisely that which presents the Ibrox board with its biggest headache and makes the comparisons with the choice our board botched over Lennon difficult to reconcile. I firmly believe that sacking Lennon in August 2020 would have given us a chance to save the season, and that we would have been able to make a good, strong appointment.
There are two things however which may have skewed the equation; the timing, yes, but more importantly COVID.
There are people in football – not many, and not enough of them to matter – who would have balked at our actions and taken it as a bad sign. COVID itself might have made convincing someone new to come in incredibly tough.
But by November, the concerns over perception would no longer have applied.
The concerns over COVID would have been greatly lessened as we started to see a path out of the crisis.
By December, and especially after the Dubai fiasco, we’d no longer have had to worry about the reluctance of managers to come in and salvage the season … they’d have been looking at a lost cause, under no pressure except to get on with making plans for the rebuild.
So, I believe we could, and would, have found a top boss to come in during that campaign and steady the ship had we not delayed and delayed and delayed. Maybe not enough to have averted their title win, but enough to have put them under the sort of pressure a club in turmoil could not sustain.
Only the unique circumstances of the virus and the lockdown offer any sort of alibi for our board not acting sooner than they did.
The situation Ibrox is in is markedly different.
Even this early in the season, you would struggle to get a top manager to come here and challenge a Brendan Rodgers Celtic team which already has a four-point lead and with several key players on the way back from injuries.
Looking at their squad, any decent coach would wonder if the composition of it allowed for improvement, and I think most would agree it’s a lopsided mess. Asking for guarantees on the budget, you might get greeted with nervous laughter.
The one thing any replacement for Lennon would have known was that there were three key players, Edouard, Ajer and Christie, who would be leaving at the end of the season, which would have enabled the spending of a decent sized sum on transfers.
Ange Postecoglou replaced the better part of the team with the money we made from those sales.
Where is the re-sale value in the Ibrox squad, the sort of value that would give any incoming manager who didn’t fancy that team a chance to put his own imprint on it? I think they’ve grossly over-spent, and James Bisgrove’s comments about having given the manager the funds to build a “Champions League team” bear that out … except they didn’t get there.
There is no obvious solution to this for them.
No coach with a decent reputation will go there to work, knowing that aside from those reasons it’s a place which leaves a toxic stain on your CV. But the biggest factor counting against them is that every potential Ibrox boss knows he is effectively outgunned if Celtic decides to push out the boat.
That we are able to render any sum Ibrox spends redundant by committing to spending more automatically rules out half a dozen of the fantastical names they tell themselves they can get.
The likely personal demands of the other half rule them out too.
The enormous pressure that their fans put on everyone at the club, and the grossly unrealistic nature of many of their expectations, is another solid black mark against their ability to bring in the kind of quality in the dugout which Celtic can attract.
There cannot be many people at Ibrox who do not realise that their manager is a bust, and that his signings have been a disaster. But he’s contracted there until 2026, which is astonishing to consider and is another reason why we have tended to go for rolling contracts until a manager has proved that he can cope with the demands of the job.
The costs associated with getting rid of their manager and the distinct possibility that half of his team will need to be junked with him, with little prospect of recouping their transfer fees, are amongst the most compelling reasons for the deed not having already been done.
Because even directors, as far removed as some of them are from the stands, do often known when somebody is all at sea in the manager’s chair. It’s more dangerous for The Mooch that the current directors aren’t even the guys who hired him … it can’t be doubted that some of them would terminate his contract in a millisecond if they thought they could do it without it costing a fortune.
Those who do see that it’s going badly wrong are in an invidious position.
They probably do see the necessity of swift action, and will certainly recognise that it should come before things are so bad as to be unrecoverable … but that begs the question as to who replaces him in the job?
The Ibrox fan forums suspect the job would go to “a local”; their way of saying Derek McInnes or someone of that ilk, although suggestions, half joking ones, that it should be David Martindale are met with derision and even hostility.
But it makes an odd, and undeniable, kind of sense.
The last time Celtic had a box-office manager and an Ibrox board could see no obvious way to attract a top figure to the gig, especially after said manager at Celtic had seen off Dick Advocaat, they went for Alex McLeish who seemed an unlikely fit but proved maddeningly good at the job and made a go of it.
A lot has changed since then, of course, but the thinking in that club doesn’t evolve with the times.
They still think a “British” manager is the way to get results and although they flirt with the idea of a Kevin Muscat type I don’t know that the directors have the stomach for such an experiment. Just doing two of the jobs Ange Postecoglou held doesn’t make you Ange Postecoglou, and they have to know, on some level, that this is the case.
When it’s this obvious that a change has to be made, surely that should be it?
Except we know that it isn’t, because what paralysed our board was a lack of imagination; they did not believe that there was an obvious candidate out there to replace Lennon at that time. I happen to think that was lazy, weak thinking … but in Ibrox’s case they believe it because it’s true.
For once, that club which lives in the realms of fantasy is looking reality squarely in the face.
And even with the example of what not to do – which is to do nothing – staring back at them from across the city, what other choice do they have but to give The Mooch time and hope for a miracle?
A miracle they all know they aren’t going to get.