NEIL Lennon didn’t invent the preconceived rant, but it is a practice for which he could be said to have an evangelical zeal.
The Celtic manager was missing only a fiery cross when he spread the message this week, adopting an all-embracing approach to nailing those he believed to have been excessive in their criticism of his team’s League Cup semi-final defeat by St Mirren.
Almost invariably in such circumstances, the counter-attack is even more savage than the original onslaught, but it is equally inevitable that even the most fevered and seemingly uncontrolled riposte will be rooted in an ever-hardening conviction and contain a certain truth.
The area of Lennon’s discourse with which it would be inadvisable to quibble was his insistence that no team should be condemned purely on the basis of their failure to capture a domestic treble.
This is a claim that is not only supported by the persuasive testimony of those who have tried, but by the statistics over the 67 years since the League Cup became the third national trophy in the immediate aftermath of the second world war.
Despite overseeing an era of virtually unrelenting domination of the Scottish game through most of the 1990s, Walter Smith could not avoid hearing rumbles of fan discontent at those times when his team fell short of a perfect haul. The criticism irritated him in the way it does Lennon for the same reason. The vast majority of those voicing the condemnation have no idea of the difficulty of plundering all three “majors” in one campaign.
“Despite what people say about Celtic and Rangers having all the advantages, it’s hard enough to win the championship, never mind the treble,” Smith has frequently commented.
“To lift all three trophies takes constant concentration and application over a long period. And, of course, in the cups, it takes just one below-par performance and you’re out. No second chances in the cup. It’s a long, very hard road to a treble.”
Those with only a hazy recollection of the details of the Ibrox side’s virtual monopoly of the Scottish game between the accession of Graeme Souness in 1986 and Smith’s departure in 1998 may be at least mildly shocked to discover that they completed only one treble during that golden age. That was in 1993, when the traditionally strong competition from Celtic was at its weakest, as the Parkhead club headed towards destitution under the pre-Fergus McCann regime.
Curiously, Dick Advocaat, Alex McLeish and Martin O’Neill all secured triple honours in their first full season at the big Glasgow clubs, an accomplishment even Alex Ferguson was unable to match during eight years of unparalleled success at Aberdeen.
Like Smith, Ferguson has also testified to the enormity of achieving a full house, an event that has occurred a total of only ten times in those 67 years.
The fact that Celtic may be credited with only three of those ten and that only two of the multitude of managers they have had in all that time have completed the set (two for Jock Stein, one for O’Neill) is pretty conclusive evidence that the Parkhead club and domestic trebles, like Hibernian and the Scottish Cup, have never really attained compatibility.
Lennon also fulminated against the harsh words of former players now cast in the role of pundits, doubtless on the grounds that they, of all people, should have a deeper appreciation of and insight into the severity of the assignment.
But his specific contempt for Murdo MacLeod, once a player and then a coach under Wim Jansen at Celtic, was merely the eruption of a sore that has been festering at Parkhead for a number of years.
As a collective over a quite lengthy period, successive Celtic managements have been immovably convinced of an imbalance in the type of comment made by former Old Firm players in print or on the airwaves. They have privately remarked that, while those who once wore the green and white hoops are always prepared to take the cudgel to Celtic on those occasions when disaster strikes, there is a conspicuous reluctance (at times they call it a downright, almost embarrassing refusal) among former Rangers players to be hard on their old club.
MacLeod, Davie Provan, Andy Walker and Craig Burley are regularly highlighted as contemporary examples of erstwhile Celtic men who seem to bend over backwards to demonstrate their impartiality but, in the process, stray into unfairness.
On Rangers’ side, Mark Hateley and Derek Johnstone are the two most commonly held to be so gentle in their handling of the Ibrox club – no matter the ignominy the latter may have suffered – as to be almost laughable. In addition, there have been frequent references to the inappropriateness of Hateley and Johnstone working for a supposedly neutral mainstream media while also on the Rangers payroll.