There is a danger that Neil Lennon has turned a drama into a crisis. It was supposed to be a one-legged defeat that Celtic suffered against Ferencvaros the other night. But his deliberate calling out of players’ commitment has given the episode legs. As a result, this one could run and run. To the detriment of a 10-in-a-row campaign on which the club’s support feel their entire worldview rests.
First up, recognition must be given to the fact that, irrespective of what the Celtic manager said in the wake of his side’s sorry exit from the Champions League qualifiers, he would have been flailed from all sides for the circumstances surrounding it. However, he could have kept the criticism in-house.
The Irishman would still have taken it in the neck from all quarters for the perceived failure to play a recognised centre-forward in the injury absence of Odsonne Edouard.
Crucially, though, he would not have set in motion the super-sleuthing that has the potential to destabilise the entire squad, and therefore the club as a whole as fans speculate as to the identities of the unnamed players Lennon said had been “making inroads” into “wanting to leave... for the last six months” and who “are obviously not committed”.
“If they want to leave, leave”, he added. Players, he demanded, had to “buckle up...they have to want to play for the club....I’m just detecting a little bit of malaise, sometimes, among them. Sometimes they’re not as good as what they think they are.”
At least seven players have subsequently been placed in the social media dock, with Kristoffer Ajer given top ranking and such as Olivier Ntcham, Odsonne Edouard, Ryan Christie, Callum McGregor, Tom Rogic and Boli Bolingoli mentioned in despatches.
The problem with Lennon giving players “the whip” – as he termed his regular calling out of his squad when at Hibernian – is that innocents will feel lashed by it.
It is well known, and not new, that Ajer, Ntcham, Edouard, Rogic, Bolingoli and, last summer at least, McGregor have had designs on moves away from the club. Yet, it is doubtful Lennon wanted to create the impression none of these players is even interested in the working part of earning their ticket.
It can be overhyped about players taking the hump in such circumstances, and that managers can “lose the dressing room” when they publicly castigate their personnel. That said, the Celtic squad are hardly likely to feel more pre-desposed towards Lennon than they were previously.
Moreover, say the shirker suspects all took him at his word, lodged written transfer requests and successfully agitated to be moved on. Precisely in what sort of shape would that leave the Celtic squad?
Lennon’s management has been taken to task for the events of Wednesday evening. Perhaps where he really didn’t cover himself in glory, though, was not with team selection and game management, but in what followed.
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