Squad split, fractured support, Marco Silva? Celtic powerbrokers Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell have much more than Neil Lennon situation to resolve
The fresh scaring covers the relationship between key squad members and the club, between the Celtic board and their support and between various factions within that support itself. Lennon’s departure will be more sticking plaster than bandage when it comes to addressing the bloodletting.
It was justified for Celtic’s largest shareholder Desmond – whose shareholding makes him the club’s kingmaker – and chief executive Lawwell to give Lennon as much latitude as possible to arrest the annihilative sequence of results that now reads a mere two wins in ten games. Whatever mitigating circumstances could be invoked to offer allowances for Lennon’s part in this horrible spell, Celtic managers just do not survive their team tanking in such fashion.
There is no question that as the man who had delivered all four trophies contested across his 21-month second spell, Lennon deserved respect and patience, and the utmost support for everything he has given to Celtic as player, coach and manager across two decades.
However, results – and in this case the desultory performances that have underpinned them – have reduced Celtic to a team as brittle as porcelain. As much as Ross County brought to an end their Scottish record four-year monopoly of the country’s domestic honours on Sunday, Celtic beat themselves in the League Cup encounter that put a full stop on their unprecedented 35-game winning run in domestic cup ties.
The terrible trio
Any new manager to which Desmond and Lawwell turn will encounter the same gnawing issue that seems to have blunted Celtic’s drive and hunger: there are players within the club that simply do not want to be there.
It is not the fact Lennon is in charge that is behind Odsonne Edouard, Kristoffer Ajer and Olivier Ntcham wishing they were playing their football elsewhere. All wanted moves in the summer and, to limit the damaging discontent such disaffected performers even simply unconsciously spread, it may be that the Celtic hierarchy will require to sanction January transfers for these players in the event of there being any acceptable bids. Willing volunteers are, so the saying goes, worth – if you will – ten pressed men.
Celtic resisted following their model and managing these assets as they would have normally owing to the ten-in-a-row quest, an unhinging pursuit that it now feels has disfigured the club and its support.
It is far from straightforward to determine how to repair the damage in relations between the Celtic board and their fanbase. They should not look to satisfy the braying rabble that gathered outside the stadium on Sunday night and behaved like a lynch mob in chanting for Lennon to “get tae...” and abusing the board and players as they were given police escorts to their cars. Celtic don’t need these people – invariably men and boys, it should be said – and they certainly should not be seen to allow them to dictate a manager’s shelflife.
Yet, there does require recognition as to what events on the pitch say about the imperative for change at the top of the football department. The frustration and fury expressed by the riffraff over that is shared by the many level-headed members of the club’s support ... even if these decent sorts would not lower themselves to such despicable treatment of personnel who have given so much across a remarkably successful period.
If there is this recognition from Desmond and Lawwell then they will surely appreciate they can’t now simply turn to another former manager – Gordon Strachan currently being heavily touted – to take charge on a caretaker basis for the rest of the season, as was the process when Lennon succeeded Brendan Rodgers in February 2019.
Set your sights high
It is beginning to seem fated that Celtic’s bid for a tenth straight title will fall short, even if they currently have two games in hand over a Rangers side holding an 11-point advantage over them in the Premiership. It doesn’t mean they give up on the chase, but that they are bold and ambitious in recruiting a manager that, like Rodgers, could make an instant impact.
The club will recover a degree of goodwill from the reasonable majority among their followers if they invested in a manager of real pedigree and standing. It is a common refrain from managers that there are ways to lose in football. The well-worn line extends to the greybeards seeking to dig their team out of a hole by means of their recruitment process for the most important position in a football club. If Celtic lost the ten with Strachan at the helm, or lost it with such as Marco Silva guiding them, the scenario would be very different. They would have to push the boat out financially for a figure such as the Portuguese, and he would be an obvious risk, but his inability to revive the fortunes of Everton should not be a black mark against his name when it followed a number of impressive successes. Moreover, Celtic have already profited massively from a coach having his career derailed by an ultimately unfruitful stint on Merseyside ...
Desmond is reported to be willing to harden his resolve following the contemptible scenes at Celtic Park on Sunday evening. Yet, as a billionaire at ease with his reputation as a ruthless businessman, he must understand that sentiment cannot be allowed to cloud judgement over the correct, if painful, course of action. To leave Lennon hanging would be cruel and neither serve his welfare, nor that of this embattled club.
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