Celtic manager Neil Lennon struggled to hide his unhappiness at the punishment imposed yesterday on oldco Rangers by an independent commission who found the Ibrox club guilty of making undisclosed payments to players.
The three-man Scottish Premier League-appointed body – chaired by Lord Nimmo Smith – handed out a fine of £250,000 for not disclosing side-letter arrangements during 2000-2011.
However, the Ibrox club avoided the most severe possible sanction of losing up to five SPL titles won during the period investigated after the commission ruled Rangers “did not gain any unfair competitive advantage”.
The Celtic boss, who was a player at Parkhead between 2000 and 2007, was asked at the press conference ahead of tomorrow’s William Hill Scottish Cup quarter-final tie against St Mirren in Paisley, about the claims of vindication from the Ibrox club.
“Maybe that’s because they got their own way,” he said.
“I only saw some snippets in the paper today, I believe they were found guilty of paying £47million over 11 years in non-disclosed payments.
“Am I surprised at that, no?
“As regards the competitive advantage they gained or didn’t gain, a lot of other people will have a say on that, I have my own views on that but I will keep them to myself for now. I don’t want to take anything away from what my team and club are doing. The way we behave, the way we do our business has been impeccable and that’s the reason why we are in the position we are in now.”
Lennon could not resist having a dig at the current disparity in fortunes between his club and Rangers, who re-emerged in the Irn-Bru Third Division this season following liquidation and who allowed Juventus to train at Murray Park before the first leg of their Champions League tie at Celtic Park last month, where the visitors won 3-0.
He said: “It wasn’t our fight, it was the SPL, they brought up the tribunal against Rangers.
“It doesn’t affect us, we have the quarter-final of the Scottish Cup to prepare for and we are playing Juventus in the last 16 of the Champions league, we are not renting out a training ground.” Celtic released a statement last night to explain their “surprise” at the panel’s findings before stressing that they would continue to “concentrate on our own affairs”. Lennon took umbrage when asked how things in Scottish football could be moved forward in a positive and more trusting way.
He believes Celtic have been a perfect example of how a football club should conduct itself.
He said: “Listen, we have been nothing but positive, we have talked the game up all year, it is everybody else who has been talking about other things outside of our club.
“We have been a shining example to any other club this season, on and off the field. If people want to take the game forward, I am all for it, then they better get their finger out and do it.
“If you look at what we have done, I think a lot of the shine has been taken off that.
“But we have done nothing wrong, we have tried to promote the game not just domestically but also in Europe and I think we have done that very well so we don’t have to do anything else. Other people have to stop talking and show more action.”
The Northern Irishman was on a roll, shooting down the notion that the 2-1 SPL defeat at Motherwell in midweek was a sign that he was finding it difficult to motivate his players who are still 19 points clear of the Steelmen at the top of the table.
“It is a cheap way of criticising the team,” he said. “It is absolute nonsense to say they are complacent.
“We have lost one game in the league since December. We have won seven and drawn one so that’s not bad. We have scored 23 goals in the last five home games. Winning games is hard, these boys do it consistently, which is why they are where they are.”
Lennon played down the revenge factor as he prepares to take on St Mirren after losing to the Paisley club in the Scottish Communities League Cup semi-final at Hampden.
“It’s not what happened at the League Cup, it is to do with how our season will shape up between now and the end of the season,” he said.
“We are well clear in the league after having a setback on Wednesday night. I think the players are very motivated for tomorrow and I think the fact that we lost to St Mirren in the League Cup adds a little bit more to it
“It’s a quarter-final, we are away from home, we know it will be a very tough game.”
Celtic follow up the semi-final with a daunting trip to Turin on Wednesday to face Juventus in the second leg of the Champions League last-16 tie. They trail 3-0 from the first leg in Glasgow.