Nine myths to bust about the club's board, Neil Lennon and Rangers as Celtic endure crisis
Celtic’s run of only two wins in 12 has resulted in Neil Lennon running out of road. But it has also resulted in some questionable myths, as Andrew Smith writes ...
1 – The Celtic board have been ‘asleep at the wheel’
There is no question that Neil Lennon’s position as Celtic manager has become untenable after two wins in 12 games, and, what looks, fatal, avoidable stumbles across three competitions in that span. It doesn’t do for football supporters, but there are times when a team unravels for inexplicable reasons. How else to explain why both Jose Mourinho and Claudio Ranieri found themselves out on their ears within months of storming to the English title with Chelsea and Leicester City respectively? If anything, the Celtic board have been too active at the wheel with an unprecedented net spend of £14m on players during the summer, with £12m forked out on signings last summer. The outlay for the quest to claim ‘the 10’ came without them parting with any of their major assets – again unheard of. You can argue with the suitability/quality of such as Vasilis Barkas, Albian Ajeti and Shane Duffy - though every Celtic supporter treated their arrivals as triumphs – but they all came with pedigree. It now appears it would have served Celtic better if they had allowed players such as Odsonne Edouard, Kristoffer Ajer and Oliver Ntcham to move on during the close season as these individuals hoped would happen. Yet, if they had acted more like a pragmatic board, as they have been in the past, and less like supporters, they would have been slaughtered by the same people now accusing them of mismanagement. With a 77 per cent wages to turnover ratio they have departed from good governance, but just not in the fashion of which they are now accused.
2 – Neil Lennon should have been sacked a month ago
Some Celtic supporters would have had Lennon shown the door as soon as points were dropped at Kilmarnock on the second weekend of the season such is their neurosis over 10-in-a-row. The board have been accused of allowing the situation to drift too far. And there might be some merit in that, with a tipping point appearing to have arrived with the League Cup loss at home to Ross County little more than a week ago following on from the 4-1 thumping away to Sparta Prague However, what sort of precedent would have been set were Lennon to have been sacked a month ago, with then only one domestic defeat in 2020? It would not have been fair to a man that has led Celtic to four straight trophies – two titles among the haul – since returning for a second spell in February 2019. It would also suggest any future Celtic manager experiencing a run of one win in six ought to be bagged. What kind of club would that create? If such a policy had been in place, Celtic would have had an average of one manager for every year of the past decade.
3 – Celtic have shown contempt for the fans by briefing certain journalists
An online favourite that crept into the Green Brigade’s last tablet of stone, if only it were true… Celtic have made a point of not tipping any winks as the current Lennon situation has become critical. Fans’ refusal to accept this, and constant peddling of bogus claims to the contrary, just shows they can pump out precisely the sort of rubbish they hypocritically decry the media, sorry MSM, for doing. Whatever has been written about Lennon’s position, it hasn’t come from board members. Think about it, they are not the only ones with handles on the current predicament at Celtic Park …
4 – Celtic should have been so far ahead of Rangers they should never have been caught
The anger over the fact this was patently untrue, and was always going to be wide-of-the-mark, cuts to one central reason the Celtic faithful are currently apoplectic. They convinced themselves that the Ibrox club’s 2012 liquidation was the end of them. It was never going to be, regardless of how many boastful Celtic bloggers talked of their club winning 20-in-a-row and there being no point in the existence of the ‘successor’ Rangers club since they were destined to be second in perpetuity. Had these people all forgotten how Celtic overhauled a seemingly-unstoppable Rangers in the late 1990s? They hauled themselves up from top-flight oblivion – finishing fourth in both 1994 and 1995 – because they moved much closer to their rivals’ spend on players and salaries. Exactly the same has happened now. Rangers’ football spend is only 23 per cent shy of Celtic’s, so the playing field has been greatly levelled. No-one envisaged Celtic coming apart at the seams so dramatically or rapidly, but such is the beauty/agony of football.
5 – Standards have slipped massively since Brendan Rodgers left
A large section of the Celtic support seem to forget that last season happened. Ahead of Scottish football’s shutdown because of the Covid-19 pandemic, Lennon’s men were on course to break the 100-point barrier … or to put it another way, improve on their haul from two of the three Rodgers’ seasons. Following the club’s first ever summit placing in a European group last December, fans gushed that ‘Lennyball’ was a more exciting brand of football than Rodgers’ more considered tiki-taki football, under which they said their team had become ‘sterile’. For all that Celtic currently look like they could fail to beat anyone, it is also worth noting that their 31-point haul from the first 14 league games is one point more than Rodgers’ total from the same number of games in 2018-19.
6 – Celtic are 13 points adrift of an average Rangers team
As the point above illustrates, Celtic’s inability to make a decent fist of claiming a record tenth title has more to do with the league form of Steven Gerrard’s men than their own. Rangers are enjoying their best opening to a campaign in 53 years, and this week could well top a European group, as only one other Ibrox side has previously. It is entirely understandable for the Celtic faithful to be unwilling to offer praise to their ancient adversaries – that is the nature of footballing tribal warfare – but Gerrard’s men warrant commendation.
7 – Celtic have structural problems at board level
This accusation appeared in the Green Brigade’s statement/banner protests late last week, and is oft-repeated among Celtic’s cyber community. Notably, it didn’t appear in any banners erected to celebrate nine-in-a-row the day Celtic were announced as champions of the curtailed season in May. Yet, boardroom structures are unchanged from those that made the 2010s the club’s most successful decade in its history, with a footballing world-first triple treble that could be extended to a quadruple treble in this month’s Scottish Cup final. It is perfectly reasonable for the left-leaning ultras group, and a support largely so politically aligned, to despite a board populated by Tories, diet Tories, and others who espouse a neoliberal capitalist agenda. The disquiet from the fanbase overall at the remuneration package that allowed chief executive Peter Lawwell to pocket £3.5m last year is wholly legitimate, too. It is a different thing entirely, though, to attempt to suggest kingmaker major shareholder Dermot Desmond and the other directors have failed in their fiduciary duties, or have come up short in delivering on-pitch success simply because they do not bend to the will of quarrelsome sections among the support.
8 – Celtic have structural problems at team level
This relates to a desire to apportion all blame for Celtic’s travails to Lennon. He must shoulder it as befits his role, but if anyone thinks that it is how he has coached or configured his players that account for the team failing to function in any, and every, which respect, they clearly haven’t been watching Celtic this season. So deep is the rut, it almost seems fated for the club to fail this season. Moreover, there was little quibble with the structure of the Celtic team last season, despite Lennon being then too the man directing operations.
9 – Lennon is tactically naive
No one is batting for Lennon anymore because too much has gone wrong too quickly. But the anti-Lennon faction that have always been there strain their support by presenting the Celtic manager as if he is someone the board plucked out of a supporters’ club in the summer. Lennon has always been an astute reader of the game. It is what allowed him to outfox Barcelona that famous night in 2012, and, against Lazio a year ago, allowed him to become the only man in his position to preside over a Celtic win on Italian soil. Interestingly, next week, sees the two-year anniversary of the last time he managed a team against Celtic. Then he was considered to have staged a tactical masterclass over Rodgers in guiding Hibs to a comprehensive 2-0 victory.
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