NEIL Lennon gave a good impression of someone who is fed up with the reconstruction debate yesterday, as he prepares for a weekend when Celtic could win what might stand as the last Scottish Premier League title in the current league structure.
The Celtic manager is a proponent of the new system of 12-12-18 that has been devised by an SPL steering group, although he sounded unconvinced by some of the details, including the split into three leagues of eight in the top two tiers after 22 games. While he conceded that “this looks the best way forward for the game” he is not hopeful that the proposal will survive the two votes, which are due to take place the week after next, and following several months of often heated discussion.
Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, is among those who are driving this new proposal, viewing it as way to increase the number of meaningful games in the league, and thereby increase interest among supporters and the media. However, Lennon is not confident that there will be consent among all 42 Scottish clubs – or at least enough consent to see the plans given the green light.
“There is too much dissent from some of the chairmen for this to go through,” he said.
“It’s not my decision,” he added. “I’ll wait and see what the chairmen vote for and then we’ll work around that. But our remit is a bit different to a lot of clubs, obviously.
“No-one likes change, but you want change for the better,” he added. “That’s what people within the SPL are trying to bring. There are a lot of factions – the SPL are at war with the SPL and it does not make for good reading. It sends confusion out to the public.”
“The fans don’t want it and I don’t think it will happen – that’s my honest opinion,” he added.
Nevertheless, the SPL clubs will meet to vote on the proposals on 15 April, with the SFL clubs gathering later that same week. Lennon views it as a “missed opportunity” if the clubs fail to reach agreement on change, and stay with the status quo. Although Celtic have struggled at times in the league this season, they will still win the title with five games to go if they defeat Hibernian on Saturday and Motherwell lose at home against St Mirren.
“12-12-18 is the best way forward,” said Lennon. “They have had a look at all the models and a look at other countries and play-off scenarios, which generate excitement at the end of the season and give most teams a competitive edge. We don’t have that just now unless it is fighting for a top-six spot.”
Rangers are among the clubs favouring a top league of 14 clubs, and a recent fans’ survey conducted by the Scottish Football Association proved there is an appetite for a larger top division. Asked whether a 14-team division would suit him, Lennon’s answer betrayed some weariness, and he is undoubtedly not alone in feeling worn out when it comes to this heavily debated subject. “I don’t know what suits us any more,” he said.
As he had already mentioned, Celtic are a special case, in that they hope to also be making progress in the Champions League, while the controversial “middle eight” idea, where the clubs involved have their points totals re-set at zero after 22 games, is unlikely to affect Celtic.
“I feel that the way the current league is, it is probably a bit staid,” he said. “But it has also produced five last-day finishes. That creates enough excitement on its own.
“The problem with the new model for the teams that will be down there [at the bottom], is there is going to suddenly be four teams who are fighting to stay up, and that puts extra pressure on managers and chairmen. It puts extra emphasis on the January transfer window as well.
“That’s become a concern. You get to 22 games, and everyone will be vying to get into that top eight and it becomes a real pressure pot for managers. This season it has not been.
“There will be more chance of teams going down [in the new model], but that is where the re-distribution of money will help.”