NEIL Lennon has threatened to adopt the strong-arm defensive tactics employed by Juventus as he seeks clarification from Uefa as to why the Italian champions were given such leeway by the match officials to use them in Tuesday night’s Champions League last-16 tie at Celtic Park.
Three days after the 3-0 first-leg defeat which effectively ended his team’s hopes of progress to the quarter-finals, the Celtic manager was still bristling with indignation yesterday over Spanish referee Alberto Mallenco’s leniency in dealing with the man-handling of opponents by the Juventus defenders at set pieces.
Celtic are compiling a DVD package of the controversial incidents, in which striker Gary Hooper was especially targeted by Juve’s Swiss defender Stephan Lichsteiner and bundled into the net on one occasion, to send to Uefa.
“I may introduce that to our defending now and see what sort of reaction it gets,” said Lennon. “Why not? I’ll say to Victor Wanyama ‘just go and put your arms around him and hold him, pull him, drag him, throw him into the goal’.
“Because you cannot do it. It’s alright people saying ‘Well, the Italians have done it for years’. It doesn’t make it right. Teams from no other countries do it.
“I watched the other European games on Wednesday and Thursday night this week for the specific reason of what happened against us on Tuesday. I didn’t see any of it in those other games.
“I see a bit of holding, a little bit of tugging, discreet or indiscreet which goes on. Fine. But not to the extent that Juventus did.
“I don’t want to be critical of Juventus. They’ve got away with it and will think they’ve done the job properly. But our view in Britain, and I would say the main part of Europe, is that it shouldn’t go on. We have DVD footage of the game and we would like someone to give us some answers. I am compiling it myself along with the video analysis guys and writing a letter to Uefa asking for a ruling.
“We played Juventus 11 years ago and the same incidents happened. We were awarded a penalty back then from which Chris Sutton scored. What is the difference from 2001 to 2013?
“Can somebody please give me an answer? Everyone can see what is going on. I don’t mind the physical stuff but there was a lot of other stuff going on.
“What Juventus did was way behind the limit of the law in football. This wasn’t even close to a bit of shirt tugging. This was arms up around players preventing them from forward momentum.
“They were basically pulling and holding them at every opportunity and you can’t do that. You may as well turn the game into a wrestling match.
“I’ve heard so-called ‘experts’ say it is part of the game. It is not, otherwise it would be done all over the pitch.
“Stuart Dougal, the former ref, made a technically correct point that the ball has to be in play for the officials to take action. But it was also going on while the ball was in play.
“Now former refs Graham Poll and Dermot Gallagher, along with ex-pros Gianluca Vialla, Trevor Francis and David Moyes have all said we should have been awarded at least one penalty.
“Why the ref didn’t do his job is beyond me. There is always a concern with the referee. But I didn’t think he would be as poor as Mallenco was on Tuesday night.
“I’m not taking anything away from Juventus as they deserved to win the game. I don’t want to make a huge issue of this but you need to play to the letter of the law.
“We knew what Lichtsteiner would do. We had seen coverage of him beforehand. He is insecure about his defending and we told our lads to flag it up, which they did.
“They did everything right. The only one who didn’t do anything right was the referee. I tried to speak to him at half-time but he was having none of it and waved me away. I spoke to the fourth official on three or four occasions and got no answers.
“You can’t tell me the extra official behind the goal hasn’t seen it. I don’t know if there is any communication between them and the referee. If they are not allowed to overrule the ref or help him out, then why are they there?
“I will emphasise, and you need to make this point clear, that we didn’t lose the game because of the referee. But we didn’t get what we deserved in terms of penalties, because of the referee.”
On the other major talking point surrounding Tuesday night, the inclusion of Efe Ambrose in the starting line-up just 48 hours after he had helped Nigeria win the Africa Cup of Nations in Johannesburg, Lennon is insistent he has no regrets.
Ambrose was at fault for two of the goals conceded by Juventus and also missed a glorious chance to make it 1-1 at a pivotal stage of the match.
“Efe is alright,” said Lennon. “He was obviously very apologetic after the game. He made basic errors but it has coincided with his situation.
“But if I had my time over again, I would still pick him for the game. No-one would have said a word if he had scored with the header to equalise. Which he should have done.
“That’s nothing to do with tiredness or fatigue. It’s just a bad miss. If he makes it 1-1, no-one would have been questioning the selection or saying it was madness to play him.
“That’s the fine lines that managers walk on sometimes. Efe is quite adamant he should have played. It wasn’t really a massive decision for me. He has been fantastic for us. He’s added a different dimension to the way we play, particularly in Europe.
“Bringing him in alongside Kelvin Wilson has made us defensively a very good outfit in Europe, with the pace that they bring. His performances away from home in Barcelona, Lisbon and Moscow were as good as any centre-half I’ve seen at the club for a long, long time.”
Ambrose was criticised publicly on Tuesday night by team-mate Kris Commons who suggested the defender should not have declared himself ready to play. Lennon has informed Commons he was wrong to make the comments he did but stopped short of fining the Scotland international.
“I have dealt with it internally,” added Lennon. “There will be no disciplinary action taken. Kris said things in the heat of the moment. But it shows to me that he really cares about the club and team. He knows that he shouldn’t be singling people out.
“We are a team, we are a unit. He has learned from that. I’ve dealt with it and we move on. I would imagine Kris has apologised privately to Efe.”
Lennon also insists Celtic still have much to play for in the second leg against Juventus on 6 March.
“What I want to do now is go and win the game in Turin if we can and salvage some pride, if you want to call it that, in the tie,” he said.
“It would be a fantastic effort to win in Italy and it would also equal the club record of wins in Europe for a single season. So there is still plenty of motivation for us going to Turin.
“Listen, if you had said to me at the start of the season we would reach the last 16, I would have said we’re talking about miracles. The difference at the end of the day is £100 million between Juventus’s squad and ours. Quality counts sometimes.”