Lisbon Lion Jim Craig believes Neil Lennon has earned the right to a permanent second stint as Celtic manager but insists whoever gets the job has a rebuilding job on his hands.
Celtic are gunning for a historic “treble treble” when they face Hearts in Saturday’s Scottish Cup final at Hampden but despite that domestic dominance Craig, who played right-back on that famous day 52 years ago when Jock Stein’s men became Britain’s first European champions by beating Inter Milan, believes there is lots of room for improvement.
“In the case of Neil, where you have a man who is obviously suited to the job, it depends what the club want,” said the 76-year-old, who was speaking yesterday to promote Saturday evening’s Guinness Pro14 rugby final as his son James’s former side Glasgow Warriors face Leinster at Celtic Park.
“Do they want a new face coming in with entirely new ideas?” he continued.
“They’ve got far too many players here, for starters. They need to get rid of a few because the pool is far too big. I would like to take you back 52 years.
“When we won the European Cup, there were two goalkeepers, three full-backs, three midfielders and six forwards. Now, if you compare that to what is around just now, it’s night and day. So you’ve got people who are not necessarily vital to the first team still here and still collecting a wage. I think that’s got to be reduced a bit and become more
It has been an emotional time for Craig of late, with the sad passing in quick succession of both legendary Lisbon skipper Billy McNeill and the winning goalscorer from that famous day, Stevie Chalmers. He believes that Lennon has been a good man to have at the helm.
“Neil deserves great credit, of course he does,” added Craig. “He’s maintained a presence there and made sure the team haven’t been affected by everything that’s happened.
“It’s also true to say they’ve not been playing the best football you’ve seen in recent years. But they’ve got enough points to maintain their position and win the league. Now they’ve got to add to that on Saturday.”
Celtic will honour McNeill and Chalmers by wearing the Lisbon Lions’ numbers 5 and 9 on their shorts in the Scottish Cup final.
“It has been a difficult few months,” said Craig, who is now one of five of that legendary XI still with us.
“We knew about both of them for some time, it was probably inevitable. But it doesn’t make it any easier when they eventually go. It will be difficult for their wives. I extend my sympathies to the families of both Billy and Stevie. It will be nice to remember them.”