Neil Lennon ponders Celtic whip-cracking mode as 'it's my head on block'
There is no question that Neil Lennon, a man driven by his passions, has sought to exude a calm, avuncular exterior since he returned for a second spell as Celtic manager 20 months ago.
Now, following the ghastly, supine display that resulted in the 4-1 thumping by Sparta Prague, the 49-year-old accepts there could be a need to cast off the Mr Nice Guy persona and do some tough talking with his squad.
Not least because Lennon recognises his “head is on the chopping block” with the Celtic faithful certain to demand the executioner’s axe be sharpened in the event of the Scottish champions falling to win at Motherwell on Sunday. Any outcome other than victory for the visitors at Fir Park would give Rangers the opportunity to build up a double-digits league lead in a title race in which the obsession with clinching the hallowed 10-in-a-row is melting the minds of the Celtic fraternity. Lennon would often talked of cracking the whip before his change to becoming zen-like.
‘My head is on the block’
“I might have to revert back a little bit [to that],” he said. “If I am going to get performances like I did against Sparta Prague, then, yeah, because it will be my head that is on the block. I’ll be honest, I didn’t see it coming. Nothing surprises you in football, but for this group of players to play with that lack of desire? It is on them. They have to roll their sleeves up now and show that, one, they want to play for the club and, two, they want to be successful. They have to show they haven’t lost that hunger because they looked on Thursday night as though they lacked hunger.
“There was a great performance last weekend [against Aberdeen] and then totally insipid against Sparta Prague and we [management] haven’t changed. We haven’t changed the training regime, we haven’t changed the timings, we haven’t changed the tactics. Again, people criticise tactics, but we had to change it again on Thursday. I want consistency of selection. Obviously, I’ll get the blame, but we are a close unit and I don’t want any separation, as if it’s like a me against them. It’s not. They have to hold their hands up sometimes. I can’t keep protecting them and defending them.”
‘Cut the malaise’
Lennon confessed to concerns the current crop at Celtic have lost a degree of humility on the back of 11 straight domestic honours, which they have the opportunity to turn into a quadruple treble in December’s Scottish Cup final against Hearts.
“I touched it on it after [the Champions League qualifier was lost to] Ferencvaros, so we need to get that back and that’s down to the individual. I’ve got to cut the malaise. It’s my job to nip it in the bud. And maybe became that little bit tougher on them now. To get some response for them. A proper response.
“So we need to have a real good look at it and I need to change the culture. Maybe getting a little bit harder on them might be the way forward. But then you can get criticised for that. Ultimately, they are professional footballers and the reputation of the club is important. If they fall below that standard, then they need reminding of their responsibilities.”
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