FORMER Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes that a lack of investment and the short time his successor Ronny Deila has had to settle into the job were behind the Scottish champions’ dramatic 4-1 defeat by Legia Warsaw on Wednesday.
The club’s hopes of progressing to the money-spinning Champions League group stages are now slim after the Norwegian lost his first match since taking the hot seat, with Efe
Ambrose sent off and Callum McGregor’s early goal surpassed by four from the home side in what became a mauling.
A lot of the blame for the first-leg qualifying defeat in Poland has been pinned on the club’s board, and fans have made it known they are unhappy at there being so few signings.
Lennon said that while the defeat was not “inevitable”, there was always a chance it could happen given the circumstances. Speaking at the Commonwealth Games yesterday where he took in some bowls action, Lennon told BBC Radio 5 Live: “I wouldn’t say it was inevitable, but I think it might have been on the cards.
“There has been no investment at the minute in the team and Ronny really hasn’t had much time to bed himself in with John Collins and get to know the players.
“Those qualifiers are always really tricky and it took me a year or two. I remember Gordon Strachan in his first game losing 5-0 to Artmedia in Bratislava. He won the second leg 4-0 – but it was too big a gap to recover.”
And he added: “I remember losing 4-0 in Utrecht and getting knocked out. It’s going to take time, there’s always a transitional period at a club like Celtic.
“So it can happen. They are not out of the tie, but they are going to have to play supremely well to get through now.”
Lennon, who has been watching the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow, said he did not think missing out on the Champions League would cause the club huge problems financially, but it was still important to qualify, especially as three of the nation’s biggest teams – Hibs, Hearts and Rangers – are in the Championship this season.
He said: “I think that’s always important [to qualify]. It gives the fans and players something to look forward to. There is the money side as well, but the club is financially healthy.
“They can maybe take the hit on not making the Champions League this year.
“But in terms of the football angle it’s imperative to stay in there and qualify if they can. It’s incredible. You probably have three of the biggest teams in Scotland out of the top division. That’s probably unprecedented in the history of Scottish football. You might have eight or nine teams in the SPFL Premiership who have an average gate of 4000 or 5000. It’s the environment more than anything.”
Lennon also explained his departure from Celtic Park, claiming – with a great deal of justification – that the Scottish Premiership now offered no real challenge to either Celtic or to the manager and his backroom staff. He said: “Celtic is a fantastic club. I was there 14 years – barring one season. I was player, coach, manager and it was a huge part of my life. But in the end we won the league by 30 points last season and I just thought it was maybe a good time to look for a different challenge.
“We felt, myself and the backroom team, that the challenge wasn’t really there. We had a great time in the Champions League, but we struggled a little bit for competition.”
Lennon added that he was enjoying his break from football after four years as manager and that the time had been right for him to move aside.
He said: “There is no question I am more calm now. People say management is stressful. For the first three-and-a-half years I felt okay in it, but for the last six months of last season the enjoyment was not there as much as it had before.
“I stopped getting angry with the players and that’s when I thought, ‘maybe it’s time for a change’ because you don’t want to lose that passion.
“You want to keep the players on their toes and don’t want complacency creeping in either. On reflection I do feel that the time was right. You know yourself. Deep down inside you know when the time is right to move on.”