By Ryan Fleming
New managers often make mistakes. Sometimes they are more frequent than the managers they replace. One common mistake is having a team revolution, or selling a majority and replacing those players with suitable ones that fit the role or the new playing style the new boss hopes to implement
Neil Lennon, the Celtic boss has done just that. Though, for the Northern Irishman, this tactic has for the most part seemed to work. Lennon took over for Tony Mowbray after the Hoops apathetic season was given an exclamation point – or maybe it’s sullen opposite – after lowly St. Mirren trounced Celtic, 4-0, at the end of March. With a month and a half left in Celtic’s woefully dismal season, Lennon was basically given a trial more than the task to catch Rangers, who were flirting with a double-digit point lead in the table.
Lennon won all his games as caretaker manager, except for an embarrassing 2-0 loss to Scottish First Division side Ross County in the semifinal of the Scottish Cup on April 10. Many thought the setback would not only dampen the former Celtic midfielder’s chances of becoming the new boss, but exclude him altogether from the future talks. But an impressive run to end the season where the Hoops outscored their opponents 15-5 over six games, including a 2-1 win over Rangers at Celtic Park, proved Lennon could handle the task and should be mentioned when the club decided who lead it in the future.
Fast forward to now. Lennon was handed the Celtic managerial position and immediately started to morph the Hoops into his own. He sold fan favorite goalkeeper Artur Boruc, former Celtic youth product Stephen McManus, out of favor midfielder Zheng Zhi to Guangzhou and Simon Ferry and Paul Caddis to Swindon Town. Aiden McGeady was the last to go. The Irish international signed for Spartak Moscow for around 9.5 million euro – the total amount Lennon would have at his disposal.
The new-look squad is highlighted by the addition of Mexican international Efrain Juarez, AEK Athens defender Daniel Masterovic, Cha Du-Ri from SC Freiburg and seven others – most recently goalkeeper Fraser Forster on loan from Newcastle.
Such a dramatic mix-up of players can leave a team confused, on a different page and the team’s results suffering because of it. This confusion was evident after Celtic was quickly knocked out of the Champions League qualifying round by FC Braga, a gifted, young Portuguese side.
The Hoops turned their play around quickly, though. With a 2-0 home win over FC Utrecht in the less glamorous Europa League and two league wins, notably their 4-0 lashing of St Mirren Sunday, Lennon has Celtic on the right path.
There are some question marks, however. Most notably, the strength of their goalkeeper Lukasz Zaluska.
Zaluska had been second fiddle to Boruc, but since the Polish international’s departure, compatriot Zaluska has done an serviceable job to say the least. With no real competition at the position, Lennon brought in Forster in an attempt to get the best out of Zaluska and perhaps finding a replacement in the former Norwich City keeper.
Scott Brown looks to be back to his old, get-out-of-my-way-before-I-steal-the-ball-then-run-you-over self. While Lennon has found a quality player in reasonably unknown midfielder, Beram Kayal, and 33-year-old Swede, Masterovic, taking over as leader of Celtic’s back line. Forward Georgios Samaras has played with purpose, and Lennon has taken notice in the Greek international, offering him praise, while opposing managers have done the same. Also helping Lennon’s cause has been youngster James Forrest, who has shined when given the opportunity.
Lennon appears to have his team on the right track. His captain, Brown, is dominant in the midfield, the Celtic back line looks solid with Masterovic taking charge and with Kayal and Juarez the Hoops have more playmakers in the midfield – something they have been without since the departure of Shinsuke Nakamura.
Celtic’s board took a chance on Lennon – the correct, deserved choice. In shuffling his squad, Lennon made his stamp on the team. Against Utrecht, in Holland, it’s time for Hoops themselves, to put the team’s poor road history behind them and prove to their manager and lost supporters that more golden years await.
Ryan Fleming is a contributing writer and an editor for The Soccer Guys. He cane be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com.