There is no perfect time for a manager to leave a football club but Brendan Rodgers’ decision to walk out on Celtic at such a vital time of the season leaves a sour taste. He was always going to head by south eventually but the manner of his leaving flies in the face of so much of what he has said during his time at Celtic. I can only surmise Leicester played hardball and told him it’s now or never. Such is the nature of professional football in the modern era, we move on quickly. There is a title to be won, a cup to be fought for and the best support in football waiting to be inspired.
I won’t be giving Brendan a hard time as I’ve seen it all before but it does still rankle that he could have taken Celtic to another level. Whether he lost patience with a board which allowed talent like Dembele and Roberts to go without adequately replacing them or whether they lost patience with his spending on players who haven’t exactly set the heather on fire, we’ll never know. What we do know though is that he gave us seven consecutive trophies and a hat full of memories. He brought organisation and self-belief to the team with many players showing huge improvement under his control. Some of the triumphs he engineered will live long in the memory; from the demolition derbies (5-1, 5-0, 4-0, 5-1) to the last minute cup triumphs, it was and remains a great time to be a Celt. History will record he performed exceptionally well in domestic football although he presided over some humiliations in Europe. Losing so heavily to PSG and Barcelona was one thing but that Red Imps result was appalling. Less than a year ago he said…..
"If you're happy, ultimately that's all that matters. The money's irrelevant. You can have 'X' amount of pounds in your bank every month but if you're not happy and you're not finding peace in what you're doing, it doesn't really matter. I love the Premier League, the quality of the players, the quality of the coaches. There are great challenges. But there are arms and legs flying off managers down there. You can come here and my genuine love is improving people and making them better, helping the club improve and getting the chance to develop and win things. I came here because I was asked by the major shareholder, Dermot Desmond, to be the architect of the club. I don't have to control absolutely everything because it is very difficult to do that now in the modern game. I don't need that. Celtic is one of the great clubs of the world. There's a pressure here that's different. You have to win every game. There's not a club in England that has that. I'm in a position where I'm in my dream job. As a guy from Northern Ireland who supported Celtic and worked in football, I'm living my dream here. There will be a time at Celtic where I’ve done everything I possibly can here and between the club and I, we will look at it and see where we’re at. I have to do the best with the resources we have here. That’s not a lack of ambition. That’s me at a club where I have a sense of happiness every day." (March 2018)
He was always likely to head back south again but most of us thought he’d do it in the summertime and not leave the club as it gears up for the run in to a possibly historic season. That will annoy many but when the dust settles we all know it’s done and we need to move on fast and get on with the game. No one is bigger or more important than the club and we’ve survived worse.
I’ve seen a few Managers come and go in my time following Celtic. Stein’s shabby exit in 1978 was probably the worse example of the board mishandling a delicate situation. Others such as Barnes, Mowbray, Brady and Macari didn’t quite fit and left in due course to various levels of relief among the Celtic support. Tommy Burns and Billy McNeill found their employers less than patient when demanding success and they were harshly treated in the end. The fans loved them though and will always hold them in their hearts. Wim Jansen stopped the Ten and then wandered off leaving Celtic supporters to wonder why we always squander strong positions instead of building on them? Ronny Deila was perhaps one of the few who left in a dignified way and history might be kinder to him than many fans were during his tenure.
Neil Lennon steps into the dugout with the opportunity to clinch the title and cup which he knows might put him in a strong position to get the job permanently. Others in the frame will of course be the likes of Steve Clarke and an outsider like Red Bull Salzburg’s Marco Rose but should Lenny perform well and bring home the Treble, few would be anything other than delighted to see him become permanent boss.
We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that Lennon left in 2014 as the club sold good players like Hooper and Wanyama without adequately replacing them. He was deflated by Celtic’s seeming lack of ambition. Striker Georgios Samaras hinted at the time that decisions about who went and who arrived weren’t always the Manager’s….
“I cannot lie to the people. I had a chat with the manager. He would have loved me to stay at the club. But me and the gaffer, we don’t make the decisions – there are people above us who make the decisions and they never approached me.”
But Lennon is perhaps arriving at Celtic at a good time. Few Celtic Managers have arrived with the club so far ahead in the league and so financially robust. He has a good squad to work with and has learned on his travels that to be successful in professional sport takes steely determination and organisation. He will be tested with trips to Edinburgh coming up which won’t be easy bit he’ll relish the challenge.
There is much anger at the way Brendan Rodgers exited the club he professed to love but I’m philosophical about such things. He’s an ambitious guy who brought us great success and left the club in a better position than when he found it. Finances will always constrain Scottish clubs from reaching the highest level in Europe but then for all their money, Leicester will never have a history like Celtic.
When all is said and done though, players come and go, Managers too but the supporters remain constant. We’re in it for life and as Tommy Burns said, ‘they’re there and they’re always there’ and as long as that remains the case Celtic will be fine. There is much to play for this season and it all begins tomorrow night. Once the whistle goes and the match begins so too will a new era for the club. The Rodgers era is over and by God it was good but all things come to an end. It’s up to Neil Lennon now to drive us on to more success.
The King is dead, long live the King!