Thursday, 22 May 2014

Bringing Back The Thunder
Every Manager has his life span at a club and generally knows when their time is drawing to a close. Most are shown the door without the opportunity to make a dignified exit. A lucky few get to choose the time of their departure and leave with their head held high. Football can be a ruthless business and if the rewards are great at the big clubs, so too are the pressures. Neil Lennon has decided that his tenure at Celtic is over and his four years have been to say the least interesting. He has decided his future lies elsewhere and we must accept that gracefully and reflect on what he achieved at the club.

Never in the history of Scottish football has a Manager had to endure the sort of abuse Lennon has endured. From physical assaults, threats, sectarian graffiti, bombs and bullets in the post, God knows how he dealt with those pressures and still functioned as a successful and driven manager. Take it from me there were other incidents which never made the media involving Neil which were and remain a stain on this country. The media portrayal of him was at times unhelpful and on other occasions disgraceful. We all recall the ’Who is more hated at Ibrox’ or ‘Thugs and Thieves’ headlines in our more moronic tabloids. Whenever it was raised that his treatment in Scotland was influenced by the fact that he was a feisty, Irish Catholic we were treated to the usual ‘He brings it on himself’ nonsense. I’ve said it before and I’ll restate it; if Neil Lennon was receiving this abuse as a Jew, Muslim or black man there would be huge outcry. However, our jaundiced media simply imply that it’s just the silly ‘Old Firm’ at it again and the nation rests easy. Instead of reporting the sad truth that virulent anti-Irish racism still exists in this land.
Neil Lennon’s legacy at Celtic is that the Team he inherited from Tony Mowbray following a 4-0 defeat at St Mirren has been completely transformed. Consider the starting 11 at Paisley on that bitter night in March 2010: Zaluska, Wilson, Braafheid, Thompson, O’Dea, N’Guemo, Ki Sung Yeung, McGeady, Keane, Samaras and McGowan. No doubt that side should have had enough to win at St Mirren but they let themselves down and signalled the end of Mowbray’s tenure as boss. Only Samaras had a long term future at the club following Mowbray’s departure. We saw the huge change in Celtic’s league form when Lennon came in as interim boss that spring and 7 straight League wins, including beating Rangers, boded well for the future. Although the sub-standard display in the cup semi-final with Ross County was not one to remember with pride, most Celtic fans were happy when he was appointed boss for the season ahead. The title of 2010-11 was thrown away on a bright spring evening at Inverness. The team had played some excellent football that season and none more so than Kris Commons, surely the best £300,000 Celtic have spent in recent years? The Cup victory of Motherwell that season helped us endure the boasting from Govan but Rangers were about to implode and the smiles were soon wiped from their faces.

Neil Lennon led us to 3 successive titles from 2012-14 as well as reaching the last 16 of the Champions League. The defeat of Barcelona was a night I’ll never forget and we owe such successes to Neil. He signed Hooper, Wanyama, Ledley, Stokes, Mulgrew, Commons and Forster as he built a team to dominate in Scotland and at least get us involved in Europe’s top competition again. Yes there have been disappointments along the way, not least the relatively poor showing in domestic cup competitions and the odd hiding in Europe but overall he has presided over an era when Celtic has thrived on and off the field. He was in charge of Celtic for 228 games and won 159 of them. (70%)  Not a bad return in any era.

The death of Rangers has been trotted out as a mitigating factor in his success but don’t forget how he overturned a huge Rangers lead to win his first title in 2011-12. Equally he could argue that the club’s policy of selling his top players for big bucks and expecting him to replace them with a fraction of the money has held him back. We shall see in the days ahead if this was a factor in his decision to leave. My abiding memories Neil Lennon will be of a man who gave his all for Celtic and stood up to the bigotry which still skulks in the dark corners of our society. As a player he was fearless and dedicated. Others may have shone brighter but the team ethic build on the graft of men like Lennon gave them the chance to do so. Frank Rijkaard former Barcelona coach said of him…’Lennon is a dog, all teams need dogs.’ The Dutchman was referring to Lennon’s unceasing harrying of opponents and tireless tracking back.

When Neil Lennon became Celtic Boss in 2010 he stated at his first press conference….

"What I want to do is bring is the thunder back. I want this place rocking again. I want the passion, I want the noise. I want the fans to be able to walk to the ground ready for it. I want the players to go to war every time they go on the pitch. All those things will be in-built before the season starts. We’ve got to put up a really stronger challenge to Rangers and try to wrest the title away from them.’’

In a very real sense he achieved that. It remains to be seen if the board can build on his legacy by investing in the side and re-uniting a fractious support, some of whom are openly critical of some of the club’s policies. Celtic has always been at its strongest when the fans and team unite in the common cause of making the club successful. Lennon was a unifying factor at times and his absence will mean the board must plan their future strategy very carefully. If top stars such as Forster or Van Dijk are sold then the new man must get that all of cash to rebuild. Anything less will continue the disillusionment of a significant number of fans.

Whoever takes over from Lennon will inherit a far healthier squad than Lennon did in 2010 but that discussion is for another day. For now I’d simply like to thank Neil Lennon for all he has done and all he has endured during his time at Celtic. He is very much one of us and suffered the disappointments with us as well as celebrating our successes. He brought honour and success to Celtic as a player, captain and manager and for that we owe him our thanks.

Neil Francis Lennon:
Thank you and God Bless.
Hail Hail



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