Trust, it is said, is hard to win but easy to lose. It has never existed for Boli Bolingoli the footballer across his 13 months as a Celtic player. The same is now true of the 25-year-old Belgian as a man following his incomprehensible covert day-tripping to Spain, in complete contravention of Covid-19 quarantine rules.
His wilful disregard for his team-mates, his club and Scottish football, has eroded faith in the game’s ability to operate within the strict regime necessitated by playing sport in the age of a pandemic.
National clinical director Jason Leitch, pictured, said yesterday that , while he had trust in football’s governing bodies and clubs to follow the protocols, he could not offer the same certainties over the adherence of individual players. Little wonder, when Bolingoli’s unforgiveable actions follow two Aberdeen players testing positive for coronavirus on the back of being in a group of eight players at the club who hit the city bars a week past Saturday.
Any faith that supporters may have had that they could soon be back in grounds watching live football can also have only evaporated in the wake of recent unedifying developments.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon side-stepped this issue yesterday, while acknowledging that any further breaches could threaten the continuation of the season. Maybe, we had to expect that games could be called off at short notice in the midst of this health crisis. But not through a lack of straightforward compliance, as explains why Celtic will not be facing St Mirren and Aberdeen this week, while the trip to Parkhead will be a third straight fixture inside nine days that Derek McInnes’ men will not be allowed to fulfil.
Ultimately, Neil Lennon believes that personal responsibility will have to be met to avoid any further disruption. Responsibility Bolingoli utterly absolved himself of. For reasons a “livid” Lennon cannot “fathom”.
“You cannot be any clearer than saying, ‘don’t leave Glasgow. Stay around if you are going to the shops or whatever’,” he said. “Now we have to log in everything we have done in terms of where we’ve been. There are no restaurants, no socialising, no cafes, but this particular individual has decided to jump on a plane and go to Spain for a day, which is baffling. Then he comes back and doesn’t tell anybody where he has been. We have been totally oblivious to it for the whole week leading up to the Kilmarnock game [on Sunday]. Obviously he played some minutes in the game and, again, we were oblivious to it. But all this came out yesterday and blew up in our faces really. So, in terms of the club responsibility, the club can’t do any more. The club have done everything possible for my backroom team, the playing staff, the people who work here .
“Everybody has done their bit. We’ve had umpteen rounds of testing now and everything is negative But we can’t legislate for the behaviour of an individual. We can’t legislate for tracking them 24 hours a day. Sometimes you have to take accountability for this. I’m not saying the club are not taking accountability – we are holding our hands up. But it’s reprehensible behaviour from one individual.”
Reprehensible in a fashion that sets it apart from any previous misdemeanours Lennon has known. The Celtic manager’s takedown of Bolingoli, indeed, was a character assassination to make a Mafia-style hit seem merciful.
“I think it is one of the worst behaviours from an individual I have come across,” said Lennon, pictured right, who said he was personally hurt by Bolingoli’s infractions. “Everything has been tight and everything has been strict and he had been warned previously about travelling and he blatantly disregarded my instructions and the club’s instructions. It is a complete act of selfishness.
“It’s just appalling behaviour and one the club will deal with in the strongest possible way internally. He put everyone associated with the club, the playing staff, the backroom staff, the players at Kilmarnock and their staff in jeopardy. By the grace of God, he’s had two negative tests, but it’s not the point. It’s the lack of responsible behaviour which is paramount.”
Lennon refuses to believe that events over the past week and a half will dent hopes of spectators being admitted to games being played at present behind closed doors in this nascent season. Yet, the SFA’s plans for Scotland v Israel at Hampden on 4 September to be a test event for supporters in social distanced fashion now appear wildly optimistic.
“I hope [that’s not the case],” he said. “The First Minister was asked about that today and she said it is almost like a yellow card for football off the back of the incidents we have had this week.
“I don’t think she’d have any hesitation in shutting the game down again if something else was to happen. So while we have to accept our responsibilities we can only apologise to all the other clubs and all the other supporters and make sure something like this doesn’t happen again for the sake of the game.”
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