Lambasted for falling off a cliff edge to crash out of the Champions League; now lauded for standing up to continental opposition in the Europa League, Neil Lennon has experienced the vagaries of popular opinion during these past two months that have left him feeling he should be pinning on a rosette and preparing for an election.
But the Celtic manager knows he simply must ride the relentless waves of public opinion, and ignore the froth, whether that is the social media saluting of his talents for the comeback victory over Lazio on Thursday that has put his team in a commanding position in Group E, or the extreme online opprobrium that demanded he be ejected from office following the hapless Champions League play-off exit at home to Cluj in August.
“We’re almost treated like politicians these days,” said Lennon of the manager’s lot. “Hero to zero, zero to hero, in a matter of days, hours. It’s not real and we have to have a realistic sense of perspective on it.
“I’ve been through this before, I’ve seen that book many times. So I don’t take too much notice of it, I don’t get too upset about it. I can’t control it.”
He knows how quickly fortunes change – “and can change back again”. “I’m very aware of that. I don’t think I’m the greatest and I don’t think I’m the worst. I don’t pay any attention to it. We come in and do our work and do it as conscientiously as we can. I don’t listen to it because I don’t believe it anyway; and I don’t believe all the nice stuff that’s said about me either.
“I’m hoping my players are going to rest up and recover for what is undoubtedly going to be a tough test on Sunday [at Aberdeen]. Lazio’s gone, it was brilliant but we move on and have to concentrate on getting three points on Sunday.”
Four years at the Celtic helm from 2010, and his six months since being handed the unenviable task of following Brendan Rodgers as interim and delivering a treble treble have inured Lennon to nonsense knee-jerk conclusions, and taught him he must trust his decision-making, but at the same time be open to learning.
The Herculean effort required from his players to overcome their Serie A visitors the other night won’t lead him to rotate for the lunchtime fixture that will kick-off at Pittodrie only 62 hours after the riotously-celebrated final whistle on Thursday evening.
Lennon was criticised for asking the same players to go to the well at Livingston three days after Cluj were swept aside in the Europa League earlier this month. Celtic suffered their first Premiership loss of the season in West Lothian which allowed Rangers to claim top spot in the table. That has been wrestled back by Celtic on goals scored in this all-consuming quest for a record-equalling ninth title. And Lennon believes he must largely trust his mainstays to do what is required to in this already wonderfully-undulating title race. Within certain parameters, though.
“These games are hazardous after big nights in Europe. It is a quick turnaround. We couldn’t have asked for a stiffer game after Thursday but we have to look if anything went wrong at Livingston to rectify that as quickly as possible. I don’t believe in making too many changes because that can be detrimental but maybe needs must as a few of them had fatigue towards the end of the Lazio game because they put a lot into it, so recovery is really important.”
Any changes are not likely to extend to a first appearance for Greg Taylor since his £2 million move from Kilmarnock on deadline day. The Scotland squad left-back has simply disappeared since then – he hasn’t even been on the bench of late – and is without a minute of senior football since the middle of August.
“It’s difficult for him because Boli [Bolingoli] has come in and been consistent and he has to be patient,” said Lennon. “We’ve had a chat with him about it and he knows the situation. He’s not been kicking down doors or anything like that, he’s been training really well and he knows his time will come.
“The fact he’s not in the squad is because he knows we have [Jonny] Hayes who can double up positions, either right-wing, left-wing or left-back. So it’s pointless having one bona fide left-back when you have a player who can factor in a couple of positions for you, and Greg totally understands that.
“It’s new to him because he played every week at Kilmarnock and I was a big fan of him when I was managing Hibs. I thought he was excellent over the two years I was at Hibs and he was at Kilmarnock, so it’s new for him but he’ll be patient and I’m sure when his chance comes he will take it.
“Working every day with the players, sports scientists and fitness coaches here will make him better but I understand there’s a need for him to play and he’ll get that opportunity because there’s so many games coming up.”