Jump the final hurdles
The bar was crowded and the noise and laughter was seemingly getting louder at the night wore on and alcohol took its effect. One man though sat silently nursing his pint his eyes focused on the man just a few metres away. His gaze was noticed and the man he was staring at and his companions were ready for any eventuality. As closing time moved closer the man made his move; he walked towards the group of friends his hand reaching inside his jacket pocket. As the group tensed he removed from his pocket a union flag and threw it into the face of his intended target. The incident was not reported in the press nor did the man involved make a fuss about it. It was just another day in the life of Neil Lennon.
The above incident took place a few years ago and was one of many involving Lennon in his time as a Celtic player and Manager. His persecution in Scotland still shames the country as did some of the reporting surrounding it. There is no need to recount the long list of assaults, insults, sectarian graffiti and vilification he endured during his years at Celtic. Yes, he is a fiery and sometimes confrontational character, but so too were players like Strachan and Souness and they never endured the off field harassment Lennon did. In that context you’d have to admire his decision to step into the Glasgow goldfish bowl again as Celtic’s interim manager.
Who will be Celtic’s manager next season remains open to debate but Lennon is in the box seat and if he manages to win the Scottish Cup and league title it will be difficult to deny him the job permanently. That being said online debate shows that many supporters are far from convinced he is the man to lead Celtic forward. There has been grumbling about the style of play and seeming inability to put teams away when dominating. Last gasp wins against Hearts and Dundee recently have been cited by some proof the team is labouring but to lay this at Lennon’s door seems churlish as some of the performances the team put in before Rodgers departure were similar in their lack of fluency. Virtually a whole team has been side-lined with injury this season and even a team with a squad as big as Celtic’s would feel the effects of key men being out. This has been particularly true in the engine room of the side with McGregor, Rogic, Christie and N’tcham being out for long spells.
Debate around who should be Celtic’s Manager next season has centred around a few clear frontrunners but then again no one saw Rodgers coming when Dermot Desmond pulled that particular rabbit out of the hat so we can never be sure who the club will appoint. That being said the supporters are fairly split on who should be the next boss. A hard-core remains convinced that Lennon has the passion and know how to lead Celtic to the holy grail of ten in a row. Others cite Marco Rose of Red Bull Salzburg as the man with the know-how and modern ideas needed to not only succeed in Scotland but to begin making a better fist of things in Europe. There is no doubt his RB Salzburg side play against Celtic in this season’s Europa League was impressive but then he is well backed financially and this is allowing Salzburg to dominate domestically and do so playing a quick moving, passing game which when it works looks very exciting. His team defeated Club Brugge convincingly in the round of 32 in the Europa League but were brought down to earth by Napoli though who won 3-0 in Italy. A spirited 3-1 home win wasn’t enough for Salzburg though and they went out. Rose is undoubtedly a good manager with modern ideas. He was well schooled in the German Bundesliga and worked as a coach with RB Salzburg’s youth teams so he knows the game. Tempting him to leave Austria though would not be easy.
Steve Clarke is another mentioned for the Celtic Job and there’s no doubt he has organised Kilmarnock into a stubborn side who seldom crumble in games and give anyone trouble. His much publicised statements about the nature of bigotry in Scottish society would of course mean joining Celtic might well bring him the sort of problems Neil Lennon has endured from the Neanderthal elements in our society. Would he want that? Clarke speaks well and knows how to set up a team to nullify opponents but some argue he can be too defensive minded and this might not suit Celtic’s attacking traditions. Then again some of Celtic’s away displays in Europe in recent years were crying out for a more pragmatic approach. You can’t go toe to toe with teams like Barca and PSG who are among the best in the world at what they do. There are many ways to win a football match and good managers choose the one best suited to the opposition.
Another name mentioned in the context of the Celtic job has been Roberto Martinez and the man who led Belgium to a third place finish in the last World Cup. This is a really long odds suggestion for despite having played for Motherwell in 2001-02 season and having a Scottish wife, he currently coaches some of the best players in Europe and is spared the day to day rigours of club management. It remains highly unlikely he’d swap his current lifestyle for the climate (literal and metaphorical) of Scotland.
Rafa Benitez has been mentioned but again the truck loads of money available in England make a move to Scotland where things are more frugal less attractive. Things are going fairly well for him at Newcastle and I really couldn’t see Celtic tempting him to the SPFL and even if they did would he, like Rodgers before him, soon have one eye of the ‘situations vacant’ down south? David Moyes too is an unlikely shout and would not be a popular choice among most supporters I’ve spoken to. His pragmatic and some argue unexciting style of play would not go down well amongst a support which saw Rodgers develop players and foster a possession based passing game which when it clicked was very good to watch.
There is a big decision ahead for Celtic and I’m sure the powers that be at the club are already weighing up the options and discussing candidates. The suggested £9m pay off they got from Leicester City for Rodgers would go a long way to funding a good quality replacement. Will the club surprise us with an unexpected appointment or stick with a more predictable decision by appointing Lennon or Clarke? Either way with the mystical 10 in a row at stake they need to get it right. Once they do appoint a permanent boss, they need to invest boldly to ensure a once in a lifetime opportunity isn’t lost. Too often in the past Celtic failed to build on a position of strength.
For now though, we get right behind Neil Lennon and the team as they push for an unprecedented treble-treble. Thinking too far ahead in football can risk losing focus on the task in front of us though so let’s jump the final hurdles of season 2018-19 and we’ll see what Mr Desmond and the board have in store for us in the summer. With the Champions League Qualifiers in July and a possible shot at 9 in a row in the offing, they’d best get it right.