Lennon revealed there is “ill feeling” towards PFA Scotland from the Scottish Premier League champions’ camp following the announcement that Hibs striker Leigh Griffiths, Inverness midfielder Andrew Shinnie, Motherwell striker Michael Higdon and Aberdeen forward Niall McGinn make up the four-man shortlist from which the winner will be announced at a gala dinner in Glasgow on 5 May.
But PFA Scotland chief executive Fraser Wishart responded to Lennon’s criticism by pointing out that no fewer than seven Celtic players received votes in the poll, in which over 250 SPL players participated, but none of them attracted sufficient support to get into the top four.
The award has been won by a Celtic player in eight of the last nine seasons, a statistic which makes any suggestion of unfairness towards the Parkhead club’s players appear to be on shaky ground.
Lennon, however, believes his team have been wronged by their fellow professionals this season. One of the contenders for the award, Aberdeen top scorer McGinn, was released from Celtic by Lennon last year and he is adamant none of the four nominees would make it into his current line-up.
“No, none of them would [make my team],” said Lennon. That’s not having a go at them, but I’ve got a very good team. I’m surprised by the shortlist, to say the least. Are you voting for the best player in Scotland or are you voting for the most improved player? I have no axe to grind with any of the nominees, I think they have all had fine seasons. But for none of our first-team players to be in the shortlist is bewildering.
“It beggars belief that we make a semi-final of the League Cup, final of the Scottish Cup, win the championship, make the last 16 of Europe, beating Barcelona, beating Spartak Moscow, putting the country on the map again, and don’t have anyone on the list. It belittles the efforts of our players. It is abysmal. To not have one Celtic player in there is unbelievable.
“The players are not happy. They feel as if they have been slapped in the face. There is a bit of ill feeling there. We have been the only thing to talk about in Scottish football this season, the rest has been all doom and gloom with the off-the-field stuff and the national team’s results. So we have carried the flag for Scottish football and for that not to be recognised, I understand the frustration among our players.
“They made the last 16 of the Champions League with ten points, a record for a Scottish team, and on a budget which was very limited compared to other clubs in the past. These players have performed heroically, I don’t think they could have done much more this season. For it not to be recognised by their peers is very disappointing.”
While Wishart expressed some sympathy for Lennon, he robustly defended PFA Scotland’s voting process and added that Celtic had actually had one of the largest representations in the poll’s history.
“Every player in the SPL gets one vote,” explained Wishart. “We send out the forms, they come back in, and we collate them. From that, we name the top four. That’s all we can do. It’s an independent and democratic process.
“As Celtic manager, I’m sure Neil is surprised there is not a Celtic player in the top four. But all I’d say is that seven Celtic players received nominations of various levels across the board.
“I think that reflects what we all think, that Celtic have had a fantastic season. They’ve reached all the various milestones, winning the league and reaching the cup final. It’s been a team effort because a lot of their players have been outstanding this season. They should be congratulated on that.
“Seven of their players were nominated by their fellow professionals and received a number of votes. That’s probably as many as we’ve ever had. Usually in recent years, it’s been one or two players from the Old Firm clubs who have been outstanding and dominated the voting. But Celtic as a team have been outstanding this season.
“It’s really impossible for me to tell anybody why a player votes in the way he does.
“When I was a player, I voted for the guy I thought was the best in the four games against me. That’s because there was less television coverage then, but now players have a bigger knowledge base to vote from.
“I think we should be focused on the players who have been nominated. I’m sure Neil will agree with me, his team have been fantastic this season. So for the four players to be nominated above his players reflects very well on those nominated.”
Lennon does accept that the number of potential candidates in his squad this season may have worked against them, although that does not temper a sense of disappointment which will see him snub the PFA awards dinner next month.
“I won’t go,” he said. “The players haven’t discussed whether they will go yet, I’ll speak to them on Friday and see how they feel about it. There was possibly a split vote and there’s maybe not one of our players who stood out from the rest, which for me is a good thing.
“Maybe at other clubs there’s been one outstanding player. But a lot of our boys are understandably aggrieved about it.
“You could have picked any one of six players from our team – Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama, Kelvin Wilson, Kris Commons, Gary Hooper or Georgios Samaras who have all performed brilliantly at Champions League level. You can’t tell me at least one of our players didn’t deserve to be on the list.”