Scottish Daily Mail
Refusing to bow to the lynch mob is admirable... but heaven help Celtic if Lennon can’t repay debt
CELTIC’S Green Brigade ultras have always harboured a misplaced sense of their own importance. And when eight of their finest pitched up in hoods and face masks at Parkhead the other day, they might have been doing their bit for the fight against coronavirus.
However, they were doing nothing to hurry along the exit of Neil Lennon as manager.
More porous defending as seen in Prague on Thursday will leave the Celtic board with no choice.
But kowtowing to a posse of pygmies with a spray can and a bedsheet would make them look as weak as the back four at corners.
No one disputes the right of supporters to be bloody furious. An 8-2 aggregate defeat to a bang average Sparta Prague team was an embarrassment for a club of Celtic’s size and budget.
To ship four goals to a team with a fraction of their wage bill was bad enough once. To do so twice will strike many as more stark evidence of a season unravelling fast — and grounds for instant dismissal.
Lennon has tried everything in the manager’s handbook and looks like a man running out of ideas. He has gone with different players and formations. He has utilised the carrot in the dressing room and the stick in the media. Whatever he tries, the outcome never changes.
Every game brings more calamitous defending from meatand- drink crosses. And even Shane Duffy can’t cop the flak for what transpired the other night.
Fans have no doubt over who to blame. But the issues ailing Celtic run deeper than the occupant of the manager’s office. The club look stale, tired, and in need of fresh ideas from top to bottom.
The obsession with ten in a row has become a ruinous affair. The sooner this meaningless parochial fixation ends, the sooner they can abandon the short-term thinking which brokered Lennon’s return in the first place — and start thinking like a club with European horizons.
This season, they’ve barely passed muster as Europa League cannon fodder.
Why this should be poses a problem for the club hierarchy.
Twelve months ago, eight of the starting line-up in Prague topped their group after conquering
Lazio in Rome. Goalkeeper Fraser Forster was outstanding that night and his loss has wounded the manager so badly that fans now want him thrown to the lions.
Banner-waving stunts from the Green Brigade won’t cut much mustard in the boardroom.
But the Celtic board can’t ignore the growing discontent of a decent, respectful majority for ever.
For many, keeping the faith becomes a little harder with every passing week.
In the midst of a world pandemic, football clubs need the loyalty and money of fans. Now, more than ever, alienating season-ticket holders is a risky business model.
A s hel l - s hocked Lennon emerged f rom a post- match Prague inquest to admit he is scratching his head over how to steady the ship.
And, for the punters, that might be the most worrying aspect of all. It feels like they’re watching the same X-rated movie on Celtic TV every week. If the manager doesn’t know how to fix things, they’re doomed to spend the coming weeks watching Nightmare BeforeChristmas on a loop.
With home games against Ross County, St Johnstone and Kilmarnock approaching, directors hope Lennon can use the coming weeks to find the answers. With top-class, out-of-work managers hardly forming an orderly queue down Celtic Way, they’re stuck with the devil they know.
The trouble i s, the Europa League isn’t done yet. An away trip to Milan followed by a dead rubber against Lille holds all the appeal of a train trip to London in the company of Margaret Ferrier.
In a surreal paradox, an era of unparalleled domestic dominance could still be prolonged by a 12th successive trophy in the Scottish Cup final with Hearts on December 20.
A quadruple Treble really should be regarded as a rare and treasured achievement. And the current manager has earned the right to finish what he started.
But the only history Celtic supporters covet now is the tenth straight title they have come to r egard as t heir r i ghtful inheritance. And, with Rangers surging 11 points clear in the Premiership, it’s slipping through their fingers.
On one hand, the dogged refusal of Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell to sack a club legend on the whim of an acne- scarred a nonymous l y nch mob is admirable. On the other, it represents a high-stakes gamble. And heaven help them if Neil Lennon can’t repay the debt.