Why Neil Lennon has left Celtic now and the key factors behind the timing of his departure

There is an obvious question to ask about Neil Lennon’s parting of the ways with Celtic: why now?

Celtic manager Neil Lennon during his final match in charge, the 1-0 defeat against Ross County at Dingwall. (Photo by Craig Williamson / SNS Group)

A number of factors appear at play in answer to that. Only the hard of thinking didn’t understand that the catastrophes of this campaign meant his second spell as Celtic manager had effectively run its course months ago.

As a mark of respect, though, the Celtic board patently wanted to allow a man who has made such an outstanding contribution to the club over the past two decades the opportunity to see out the season and slip away quietly in the summer. The club’s powerbrokers had a sense they owed him that; instead of being party to a scenario wherein the Irishman was essentially bundled out the door before all matters were played out. Even if the wording on his hastened departure allowed for the term “resignation” rather than “by mutual consent”.

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The reluctance to act was understandable, to a point, since there was no title jeopardy inherent in this course of action. In truth, during this accursed term at no stage since mid-August did Celtic ever appear likely to topple frontrunners Rangers in their pursuit of a record 10th title. However unpalatable it may be to followers of the Parkhead side, that had more to do both with circumstances beyond anyone’s control in a Covid-19 shrouded campaign and the Ibrox men’s once-in-a-century league consistency than shortcomings on Lennon’s part.

Ultimately, though, with every subsequent desperate dunt dished out to Celtic on the pitch - the loss away to Ross County on Sunday the latest, and as it proved, the last - Lennon was becoming ever more of an Aunt Sally for the Celtic support. As a result, there were only two consequences of his remaining in charge: the dissing of him would be further driven beyond despicable levels as disaffection for their club among sizeable sections of the fanbase took on a dangerously permanent feel.

The second element is significant. In the next month, Celtic will begin to send out season ticket renewal letters. Even if all had been well, these would have been a hard sell on the back of supporters last year having paid full price to watch home games from their couches in this pandemic age. Lennon being in place, even when merely in the end game of his second spell, would have made many of these 50,000 ‘seats’ entirely unsellable.

There is another aspect at play. Celtic’s pursuit of a new manager, even by backdoor channels, would have been one more indignity for Lennon were the process to have been stepped up - as it must be without further delay - while he remained in post. He is not just an employee for chief executive Peter Lawwell and major shareholder Dermot Desmond. He is someone with whom they have grown close, and experienced so much.

It won’t seem like it right now, and indeed might never appear so for an admirably unrepentant, bolshy character who can stand on a managerial record that sees him the third most successful in the role across Celtic’s 133-year history, but his split with his beloved club was an act of mercy.

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