Friday, May 23, 2014

Neil Lennon: Diminishing love

Once all the instant reactions were ploughed through yesterday, the most telling piece of information came from Celtic, not in what they said, but in when they said it. Coming a good five hours after Neil Lennon had announced he was stepping down, this was not the statement-crazy regime we have all come to know. The issuing of a statement is about as low as it gets in terms of PR. Designed to conduct the debate, it often poses more questions than answers but of course is designed to ensure no questions can be asked.

Once Neil Lennon spoke yesterday you can be absolutely assured that all hell broke loose at Celtic Park. "Akin to Wall Street on a bad day" was how it was described to me. So much in the dark were employees that people contacting Celtic on other matters were being asked "Is it true the manager has gone?"

Of course the real question is: Why did the manager go? As far back November 2012, Neil Lennon's mind was drifting. Concerns over the quality of family life were being expressed by his partner, Irene, his son's conditions at school weren't the best and on a trip to Oxford with Garry Parker and his wife, Neil was given a taste of what life could be like outside the goldfish bowl of Glasgow. Whilst the adulation is always there, the abuse remained daily.

It can never be underestimated what Neil Lennon went through to be Celtic manager (although plenty try) and this should never be forgotten either. We live in an era where before it would be newspapers that were tomorrow's fish and chip wrappers, now it's our feelings that move on quicker than a Sevco Chairman.

The other factor is his place within Celtic as manager. Probably the least amount of power a manager has ever had at Celtic, Lennon became increasingly frustrated at decreasingly low budgets and a level of interference that, whilst happening at almost every football club in the world, eventually became the bane of his life. Forget the cosy statements issued or ridiculous notion that Neil Lennon will be involved in the picking of the new manager (I know one candidate who shuddered at that thought), this is a clean break and one that Neil Lennon made up his mind about in January saying that if he didn't get a proper budget to re-build, he was off. 

There were clues of course.

Mjallby leaving, the season ticket literature had no mention of the manager in it, there were the increased appearances in England to build his profile higher and there was the arse covering from Celtic when Samaras let slip that Lennon had wanted to keep him but Peter Lawwell said no.

Ah, Peter Lawwell. A figure who divides more people than a Celtic Park steward. So entrenched are folk's opinions of him that it's impossible to have a proper debate about him in what has surely been his toughest week as 11 years as CEO. The BT/Sevco scandal is not going away and he spent most of yesterday privately seething at Lennon stealing a march on him in terms of releasing the information.

The question most have in terms of Lawwell's power, (the most powerful man by some distance in the day to day world of Scottish football and second only to Dermot Desmond in terms of power in Scottish football full stop) is would any manager worth their salt work with him? The answer is yes. Primarily because Celtic are a huge club, who win leagues, compete in Europe and offer a huge stage. There's also the fact that the days of Alex Ferguson types running everything are over (Ferguson himself was "advised" quite a lot by the Glazers before he left)

With that being said, it is not healthy for a man with no background in football at all to have such an influence on who plays for Celtic (nor is it healthy to have family members also with no background in football acting as scouts for Celtic)

Ultimately though, Neil Lennon had enough of the small budget, enough of players being foisted on him(Bangura, Balde and Gershon were the ones that really drove him mad) and enough of having to toe the party line no matter what he actually felt.

The Joe Ledley transfer summed it up, Joe asking to stay, Neil wanting him to stay and Peter telling both that Ledley was off to Palace. 

Modern football or too much meddling? You can decide but Neil already has. 

Of course Neil Lennon was not without flaws, his record in the cups was pretty dire and it could be argued that the football we wanted to see only really came towards the end of his time at Celtic. 

Typical eh?

As for the new manager, make no mistake that he will be Dermot Desmond's choice. Only two managers have been selected by CEO's at Celtic since Fergus McCann left, John Barnes and Tony Mowbray, so Dermot's hand is firmly on the chicken switch for this one. Which is interesting because last season Dermot actually attended Celtic Park the least in his 20 year involvement with the club.

Meanwhile we supporters sit and wait, what is the new chapter going to bring us? If it was me? I'd be thinking long term about a management team that would be here for a decade. One that understood Celtic and the absolute importance of remaining on top for at least the next seven years.

They are out there.

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