Exactly 12 months ago Glasgow Celtic’s manager Brendan Rodgers informed a packed news conference in Glasgow that he was “fully concentrated” on Celtic amid speculation linking him with the then managerial vacancy at Leicester City Football Club.
Two days later he rocked the world of football and broke the hearts of hundreds of thousands who live and breathe Glasgow Celtic across Glasgow, Scotland and the world. He departed.
One of the most successful and best supported clubs in football was confronted with a manager they had grown to adore walking out of the club mid-season and with major games on the horizon.
Brendan Rodgers blotted his copy book with Celtic fans and the nature of his departure left a sour taste in the mouths of those who adorn the green and white of Celtic each week. His remarkable achievement of securing back to back domestic trebles and a first season unbeaten was slightly dimmed. But one year on I say let sleeping dogs lie. Brendan Rodgers was great for Celtic and Celtic was great for Brendan Rodgers. He secured the job at Leicester on the back of his achievements with Celtic and has steered his new team to third spot in the richest, apparently most competitive and certainly most hyped league in the world, the English Premiership.
Scottish Football Is Regularly Slated By TV Pundits in England
Some who look down their noses at Scottish Football from the gold encrusted environment of the English Premiership dismissed Rodger’s achievements as mediocre in the context of Scotland’s league and the quality of opposition. Yet that same manager is now competing for 2nd place with the billionaire backed Manchester City. Thanks for the memories Brendan but we in Glasgow now have a manager of top quality who will take our club to even greater heights. His name is Neil Lennon, Lenny to us.
On the same day, 26th February 2019, Celtic ‘reluctantly agreed’ to allow Brendan Rodgers to speak with Leicester City about the manager’s job and his inevitable departure they also announced the return of a former manager on a caretaker basis until the end of the season. It is now 12 months since Neil Lennon answered the urgent call to help out Glasgow Celtic at our time of need. For the second time in his managerial career Lenny stepped up to the plate and assumed the enormous responsibility of managing a famous club with incredible world wide support that demands success constantly. The fact Neil Lennon has stepped in to fill a vacuum at the summit of Celtic not once but twice should never be forgotten.
Neil Lennon Has Answered the Call from Celtic Twice
The circumstances of his elevation to caretaker manager the first time around in March 2010 were in sharp contrast to those of 26th February last year and it is worth refreshing some minds just how big a job he inherited in March 2010.
I recall the pain of watching Celtic surrender a one goal lead at home to Hibs on a bitterly cold night on January 27th before going on to lose 2-1. An away loss to Kilmarnock quickly followed before the result which epitomised how low we had sunk, a 4 nil mauling by St Mirren at Love Street, Paisley, on 24th March. It was an embarrassing performance and result. The job was simply too big for Tony Mowbray and in hindsight those of us calling for Lenny to be installed to the vacancy at the start of that season were right.
Lenny came in on a caretaker basis on March 27th 2010 and proceeded to inject some much needed steel and pride. If the Scottish Cup semi-final had fallen a few weeks later than April 10th we may have avoided the shock of losing 2 nil to lowly Ross County. It was only Lenny’s third game as boss and although he won his first two against Kilmarnock at home and Hibernian away that semi-final underlined the need for major change in playing personnel and attitude.
With 22 minutes left in that fateful cup semi-final our £3.8 million 28 year old French striker, Marc-Antoine Fortune, had a golden chance to level the tie but somehow managed to miss from only 4 yards out after the keeper had saved a Lee Naylor free-kick. Lenny said the team “lacked desire”. The fact less than 25,000 attended that semi-final at Hampden, and at least 7,000 of them were Ross County supporters, should illustrate how poorly we were performing that season.
Lenny Wanted to Bring Back the Thunder to Celtic Park
We won all of our remaining six league games after the semi-final defeat including at home to Rangers but it wasn’t enough to claw back the 10 points gap big Tony Mowbray’s reign had left. It was narrowed to 6 points but at the end of the season before any managerial announcement was made Lenny stated that whoever got the job faced a massive re-building operation.
Lennon did get the job and proceeded to remove 13 players from the books and bring in new faces he felt he could rely on. He said at the time of his appointment that he wanted to bring back “the thunder” to Parkhead, home of Celtic Football Club:
“I want to bring the thunder back to this stadium – I want to make it rock again“.
Lenny enjoyed significant success, winning three Scottish league championships, two Scottish Cups, qualifying for the group stage of the Champions League twice and the knockout stages once, before leaving the club in May 2014. Who could ever forget the November 2012 victory over the mighty Barcelona? Lenny certainly brought back the “thunder” and got the stadium “rocking” again.
Neil’s departure didn’t leave us in the lurch. It was well-trailed months before and it was because he didn’t feel the Board at that time matched his ambition, a point underlined by challenging transfer budgets and consistent failure to replace quality departures with quality replacements.
Remember, Neil’s eye for a player brought the likes of Virgil Van-Dyke to Celtic for only £2.6 million. He was sold on to Southampton for £13 million (now with Liverpool and considered the best defender in the world); Victor Wanyama cost £900,000 before being sold to Southampton for £12.6 million (now with Tottenham Hotspur); Fraser Forster the giant goalkeeper from Newcastle was purchased for £2 million but was again sold to Southampton for £10 million (Fraser became the England number one goalkeeper before losing his place and his now back at Celtic on loan).
Other lesser known but still notable Lennon signings included Gary Hooper, Joe Ledley, Leigh Griffiths, Emilio Izaguirre and other quality players through the door. All proved to be tremendous investments and Griffiths is still a goal scoring machine. Hooper was bought for £2.4 million before being sold for nearly £6million three years later. The idea that Amido Balde, however, was a like for like replacement for Gary Hooper is cloud cuckoo football and I am convinced such decisions were taken above Neil’s head at the time. He felt he had taken the club as far as he could and he certainly got us on the road to the Holy Grail of 10 league titles in a row, a world record if achieved.
Six Months On From Champions League Exit Celtic Are On Fire
Six months ago I watched Celtic lose 4-3 to Romanian Champions Cluj in a thrilling Champions League qualifier. Bolingoli and Julien were new season signings costing £10 million between them but they had poor games against Motherwell at Fir Park the Saturday before the game and Lenny didn’t think it was the right time to throw them into such a huge game. It was a man-management call. If they had played and underperformed it could have affected their whole season.
With 12 minutes to go in the game that night the calculated gamble of playing our midfield Duracell battery, Calum McGregor, at left back instead of in the middle of the park where he directs the game from, appeared to be paying off. We were 3-2 ahead and into the Champions League proper. Then two uncharacteristic mistakes sunk us. Scott Bain our then 1st choice goalie didn’t deal with a daily routine long distance shot properly and pushed the ball to the feet of the Cluj entre forward. He accepted the gift gratefully. Then our Captain Marvel, the heart and soul of our team, Scott Brown (Broony) handled in the box unnecessarily. The cheap penalty was converted. It was a freak result. We were the better team on the night in my opinion. We should have won the game.
What unfolded afterwards were a series of poor, ill-advised, Knee-jerk and frankly disrespectful comments as far as I was concerned. Alleged Celtic fans were calling for him to be sacked. The Lenny who had played his heart out for us, captained us with distinction and managed us with such success from 2010 to 2014 deserved some slack. A guy whose association with Celtic has led to volleys of disgusting verbal insults, actual physical assaults, real death threats and constant media side swiping and snide remarks deserved better from the Bhoys and Ghirls who love Celtic through and through.
Lenny is the Man – Back the Gaffer All the Way
Many didn’t want Lenny appointed permanent manager. They wanted ‘bigger’ names. Who exactly was never agreed on or revealed. I wanted Lenny back. He was a more mature man and definitely a better manager after his experiences at both Bolton and Hibs. For me Lenny was the man to lead us to the Ten. I produced a short video in Lenny’s defence. It was well received by some and slated by others. No problem. It had the desired effect. It rallied many behind our manager.
Last week I produced another wee video, a sort of 6 months on assessment. It is a record of distinction. Lenny has the team playing more exciting football, scoring more goals and despite facing a more competitive challenge from the big club that used to be called Rangers (they were founded in 1872 but after years a financial mismanagement and cheating died in 2012 than Brendan ever did we are well on the way to nine in a row and a quadruple Treble. It would be yet another first, a completely unprecedented achievement while playing with flair and style.
Lenny now has a higher win rate than Brendan’s team in 2018/19, scoring more goals than Brendan’s team and proceeding to European football’s latter stages unlike Brendan. We have a great chance of proceeding into the last 16 of the Europa League on Thursday night when we face Danish Champions FC Copenhagen with a 1-1 draw secured last Thursday. It is not particularly productive to compare Lenny with Brendan as they are two excellent managers in their own right but for me Neil is the real deal and deserves our 100% backing and support, ‘win, lose or draw’.
We sing about our club with pride and we should always ‘Keep The Faith’ with a man who is as big a supporter as us. Lenny is the man as far as I’m concerned. I said it six months ago and I’m even more convinced today. Here We Go 10 In A Row. #InLennyWeTrust