A Sacked Celt: Neil Lennon’s Celtic future at risk
In a year that could see Celtic win their 10th consecutive title, things aren’t going to plan and one man is taking the brunt of the criticism. Calum Muldoon takes a look at whether or not Neil Lennon should stay or go, as the club attempt to fight back against high-flying Rangers in the title race.
Deja vu. That was the thought that crossed my mind as Sparta Prague attacking midfielder Srđan Plavšić dashed around Scott Bain and fired a shot past the retreating Callum McGregor to put the final nail in coffin on another ghastly Thursday night for Celtic. A repeat of the 4-1 defeat to Prague brought about Celtic’s fourth loss in nine games and raised speculation over manager Neil Lennon’s future with the club. After a long chat with chairman Peter Lawwell and owner Dermot Desmond, Lennon’s future with the club has been secured and he will not be leaving anytime soon. To many, that chat may have doomed Celtic’s aspirations of ’10 in a row.’
I am not a firm believer in the idea that a manager should be booted because the club is going through a rough patch. In fact, I am against it. In moments of panic, a club must keep a level head and see that the manager they have appointed can take the team out of a slump, but the chinks in Celtic’s once impenetrable armour have been on display all season and Neil Lennon is refusing to acknowledge them. While it might be important to give the Irishman another chance to redeem himself, it could be too late for him and those around him.
One of Lennon’s glaring issues is that his team selection process is deeply flawed. For example, he decided to play centre back Christopher Jullien on Thursday, who was clearly not match ready after returning to the squad following a back injury. This shows the slip of judgement on Lennon’s behalf – by playing a weakened Jullien, Lennon has exposed the centre of the defence, allowing strikers David Karlsson and Lukas Julis to slip through and do what they do best: score against Celtic. Another example of his questionable selection was in this season’s first Old Firm match, in which he chose to play 20-year-old defender Stephen Welsh. While this may not seem like an all-too-terrible choice, as Welsh has a bright future at the club, this was only his second domestic appearance for the Glasgow club, having made his debut all the way back in February in a victory over Hamilton. In one of Celtic’s biggest games of the season so far, Lennon opted to rely on an inexperienced youth prospect to stand strong against a ruthless and aggressive Rangers attack. Key mistakes are made at the worst times by Lennon and at the level the team should be playing at, they have cost the club dearly.
Of course, the blame cannot lie solely with Lennon – he is not on the pitch making these errors, but the issue lies with his reaction to a bad performance from his side. After each underwhelming encounter, he goes through the same old routine; he blames his players, then claims that the difficult period would be over soon. He has been making these same points since performance levels slumped many weeks ago. Obviously, this has not worked, yet he still holds on to the somewhat deluded notion that Celtic will climb out of this slump without any further input. By refusing to change his post-game approach, Lennon has left his players confused about why they are not playing their usual standards, thus lowering confidence and continuing the cycle.
It has also become clear that when Lennon feels obliged to change his usual gimmick, he has no backbone to enforce it. For example, after Celtic were eliminated from the Champions League qualifiers by Hungarian side Ferencváros, Lennon told the players who were not committed to the club to leave. One of the players highlighted for their lack of effort was Olivier Ntcham. In the past, the Frenchman has stated he does not see a long-term future at Celtic and this has been reflected in his lacklustre performances in games this season. Ntcham would be one of the first players to leave, yet three months on, he has played in both shocking defeats to Sparta Prague. This clearly shows that Lennon only said what he said in a measly attempt to scare his players into returning to their usual form and when that did not work, he chose to return to his usual upbeat press releases. Lennon has realised that issues within the club run deep and believes they will straighten out themselves, which is a foolish thing to believe.
Celtic are at a difficult point in their history right now. With 10 titles in a row within touching distance, they cannot afford to play like this, and Lennon cannot see this. It is not wise to believe that Lennon is the heart of the problem – he has brought great success to the Glasgow side with the same tactics he has used for years and fans should not forget that. He brought supporters four trophies since his return to the club and even some European success but frankly, he has peaked.
It may well be time for him to move on and let someone else step in and take the reins. With Rangers already 11 points clear at the top of the table, the 20/21 season looks bleak – barring a miracle comeback from Celtic, Lennon’s head could be on the chopping block come next summer. However, it could be argued that he is not the only one who has to go; Lawwell’s future at the club could be in jeopardy – some first team players, too. Celtic and Lennon must really stop lying to themselves and admit that there is a deep-rooted issue within the club. If nothing has changed by the turn of the year, Celtic can kiss goodbye to their decade-long dream of 10 in a row.
It might be time for him to move onto other things and let someone else step in to take over the reins. With Rangers 11 points clear at the top of the table, the 2020/21 season looks bleak. Celtic make a miracle comeback in the coming weeks; Lennon’s head could be on the chopping block. However, it could be argued that he is not the only one who has to go; Lawwell’s future at the club could be in jeopardy. Some first team players too. Celtic and Lennon really must stop lying to themselves and admit there is a deep-rooted issue within the club. If nothing has changed by the New Years, Celtic can kiss goodbye to their 10 in a row dream they have been working towards for the past decade.