The curious Celtic cases of Dr Jo Venglos, Neil Lennon and Brendan Rodgers

It was interesting as well as pleasing to read all the tributes to Dr Jo Venglos, who passed away earlier this week at the age of 84.
Dr Jozef Venglos back in 1999.Dr Jozef Venglos back in 1999.
Dr Jozef Venglos back in 1999.

Pleasing because, a wise, patient and warm man, he deserved these accolades. And interesting because, while he always behaved like a gentleman, he wasn't always treated with the same respect, by fans and media alike, during his short stint as Celtic manager in the late 1990s.

The irrational, complex, contradictory nature of the football supporter’s heart has been exposed for all to see this week. Artists who seek to examine the human condition just need to explore the way the tide of public opinion can change with regards to football figures.

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It seems particularly relevant in the case of Celtic, who cannot even wish their former manager Brendan Rodgers a happy birthday – he turned 48 earlier this week – without causing an eruption of disapproval among their support.

It was an afternoon’s work to get near to reading most of the replies. Talk about triggered. To date, the post in question has generated nearly 1,500 responses on Twitter, not all, admittedly, from Celtic supporters. But a large proportion are. And they are not all endorsing the club’s thoughtful gesture towards the former manager. Indeed, nearly all are opposing it.

And then there’s the current fate of Neil Lennon, who’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If the figures involved are anything like reported, then Jeremie Frimpong’s departure is an inspired bit of business in anyone’s language.

Yet Lennon’s detractors are up in arms – he didn’t develop the player. Indeed, worse, the player regressed in recent months under his tutelage, which is an interesting take on someone who cost an initial £300,000 and has been sold to Germany’s top-flight for as much as £11m. Even with the 30 per cent due to Manchester City, that’s impressive.

In different circumstances, one of outgoing chief executive Peter Lawwell’s final tasks might have been to commission statues of Lennon and Rodgers.

Both men have delivered success to the club – unparalleled in the case of Rodgers – and yet now find themselves ostracised, particularly hurtfully so in the case of Lennon since he is still there. Not so very long ago their images were among the most popular to be found on flags and scarves being sold outside Celtic Park.

Such sudden shifts in the way club figures are viewed is by no means exclusive to Celtic. At every club there are examples of those who have overstayed their welcome or – in the case of Rodgers – too swiftly terminated the relationship.

Time is a healer of course. Venglos recovered despite failing in his mission to retain the Scottish title after Wim Jansen’s equally short reign – admittedly, the acquisition of someone as mercurial as Lubo Moravcik tends to absolve a lot of sins.

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Involvement in ‘losing the ten’ might not be so readily dismissed by the rank and file. However, Lennon will surely be granted some clemency eventually, Lawwell perhaps too. In the case of the former, one hopes any re-assessment focuses largely on what he achieved up to this season, in a Celtic association stretching back to his inspired signing as a player in 2000.

In saying that, Rodgers’ rehabilitation, judging by the slew of comments under something so innocuous as a birthday greeting, could take until the end of this millennium – at least. In this great drama called football, betrayal remains unpardonable.

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