Celtic drawing on durability and help from psychologist as Lille lie in wait for Neil Lennon
There are precious few certainties for Celtic as their world appears to be collapsing around them.
What is inarguable, though, is that the unedifying campaign being mounted against the Celtic board from a section of the club’s support cannot be underpinned by the accusation typically directed at those running football clubs.
A horrendous run in which only two wins have been claimed from 12 games has created an engulfing crisis. It has left Neil Lennon’s men going into their final game of an abysmal Europa League campaign at home to Lille without a Celtic Park success across five outings for the first time since 1957, and without a victory in five straight games for the first time in 23 years. Against such a backdrop, which has drained any confidence Celtic can overturn a 13-point deficit in the title to claim an historic tenth straight title, the fanbase is entitled to their outrage over the club hierarchy’s renewed backing this week for Lennon … if never entitled to resort to putting up a despicable banner proclaiming “shoot the board”.
Whatever crimes against good governance fans might consider have been perpetrated by their trustees, they could never fingerpoint that they are acting out of self-interest. Practically any other football board, faced with such uproarious opposition to their continued employment of a failing manager, would have cut said individual adrift to get their customer base off their backs.
Belief in continuity
That managers in modern day football are not given time has become a footballing truism. It does not apply, though, to how Celtic’s custodians are treating Lennon, and the Northern Irishman is fully cognisant and grateful for that. Yet the grace period of three weeks he has been given to pull his team out of their tailspin to Lennon highlight precisely the strong-willed leadership that is responsible for taking the club to the heights from which they are now dropping like a stone.
“They [don’t get time these days, managers] but this board don’t behave in that manner. There’s a durability about them, and I think that’s why the club has been so successful during their tenure,” he said. “We’ve had unparalleled success here and they believe continuity is important. It breeds success. That’s what we want. It has been brought by the board through shrewd investment in players and the training ground and evolving the club as we go along. I think it has been a fantastic, unbelievable period for the club, as good as I can remember in my lifetime anyway.
“The league is not over by any means. It’s going to take determination to turn the season around quickly and get back to the standards they know they are capable.”
Supporter trust in major shareholder and ultimate powerbroker Dermot Desmond and chief executive Peter Lawwell is at an all-time low, and it was never lofty at any stage. Lennon believes that is the product of a last decade, which witnessed a best ever return of ten-year return of 19 trophies, being airbrushed out by a now disenchanted club faithful. He could have extended the airbrushing to himself, with Lennon not being treated as a man who has claimed more silverware for the club than all but Jock Stein and Willie Maley.
“It’s a modern day phenomenon. Reactions now are so instantaneous,” he said. “There has to be some perspective. I’m the first one to say the results have not been good enough lately for the squad we have here and the standard and expectations we set for ourselves. We can turn it around. I don’t think we need to make radical changes to the squad or the training. We know it’s been successful before and they’ll be successful again.”
People to call upon
The club have employed a psychologist to attempt to address a confidence crisis all too evident in the fragility and, frankly, fecklessness displayed in the League Cup loss to Ross County and the fortunate draw with St Johnstone in their own environs this past week-and-a-half. Two results that have prompted violent protests in their wake, Lennon conceding “it doesn’t help” for players to consider what could be bubbling up outside the stadium as go off the boil within it.
“A psychologist comes in two times a month,” Lennon said. “The players have been having individual conference calls as well. They’ve been working away on a one-to-one basis at times. You just don’t know with some players, some of them are very private individuals who don’t give too much away. What I did feel is that you can see a little bit of anxiety in their play in the final third. They’re trying to force the issue a little bit. I felt that was apparent on Sunday. They weren’t taking enough risks with the ball or penetrating enough. They were just holding onto the ball for that extra touch or making the safe pass. We need to get past that and express ourselves with a little bit more freedom when we’re out there. We had plenty of the ball at the weekend without putting enough crosses into the box. We had some good chances but we’re not creating the volume of chances that I’d like. It’s just a question of balancing that off. We need to stop trying too hard and just relax a bit more out there.”
Lennon is set to mix up his team for the visit of a French side vying for top place in Group H. Ryan Christie is suspended, while minor fitness concerns over Nir Bitton (knee), Callum McGregor (thigh) and Hatem Abd Elhamed (knee) should see a much-changed line-up from the draw against the Perth club on Sunday. “The likes of [Patryk] Klimala, [David] Turnbull and [Ismaila] Soro will come in to my thinking. We’ll make some changes and give some players game time and others some well-earned rest,” said the Celtic manager. “David will make an impact between now ans the end of the year.”
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