By Ryan Fleming
Before Celtic and Neil Lennon were both duly embarrassed in the team’s 2-0 loss to Hearts, where the former Hoops midfielder was ejected, Lennon couldn’t have picked a better time to speak out about the possibility of a contract extension. But now, amid the fans, the poor result and the “poppy controversy,” the possibility of Lennon becoming extended seems more laughable than probable.
“Obviously it was a bit of a gamble for the club to put me in charge with relatively little managerial experience so I am grateful to them for that,” he said to Soccernet.com. “But, as long as we keep making progress, I know when the time will come and, hopefully, they will come to me instead of me going to them.”
Lennon’s inexperience has started to show.
In the team’s 2-0 loss to Hearts, the club played the majority of the second half with only one central midfielder – basically fielding a 4-1-5, if you can believe that. After Joe Ledley’s straight red, Lennon then substituted the in-form Anthony Stokes for Niall McGinn, rather than taking off the out-of-form and out-of-place Georgios Samaras. Surely, it’s been only two minor flaws in what has to be said is a sterling league record – only losing two league games since he handled the helm of the club in a temporary position in March.
The other, certainly more emphatic blemish during Lennon’s reign would have to be the embarrassing free fall the Hoops completed during their qualifying for European play.
The Hoops lost out on Champions League money at the hands of SC Braga and were absolutely embarrassed in Holland when FC Utrecht scored four goals to advance to the Europa League.
For a team in what is considered a second-rate league by many, to miss out on both money from both European competitions, is almost unbearable and arguably more important to a club, such as Celtic and crosstown rival Rangers, than a club in the EPL or a more glamorous league. While Gers are still in the Champions League, and doing quite well, Celtic’s main goal is to become SPL champion, so they automatically qualify for the games most elite league.
It seems as if the club is still bent on trying to find talent rather than pay for it. Somewhere in the back of its mind, the unworldly acquisition of Celtic hero Henrik Larsson for a mere £650,000 or Johan Mjallby for £1.2 million or even the moderate £2.75 million for Shunsuke Nakamura, has to be proving too much to overcome. The club has yet to spend over £2.5 million for a player (Gary Hooper). It is obvious that all the blame can’t be placed on Lennon. But a strong sentiment on the club’s supporter’s boards keep coming back to “you get what you paid for.”
Now, it is unseen if that’s regarding Lennon or the players themselves. One thing is for certain, though, Lennon has yet to pick up a win when the pressure is on.
Celtic fumbled out of European competition as fast as you could construct it, fell, 2-1, to Rangers two weeks ago and with the addition of the loss to Hearts, questions have to be asked of the Northern Irishman.
“Long may it continue, I’m not expecting it to happen on a regular basis but we’ve brought Hooper and Stokes in to add goals to the club and they’ve done that so far,” Lennon said to VitalFootball talking about the 9-0 trouncing of Aberdeen.
One thing at a time, Lennon. Your club needs money. You get that when you play in Europe. SPL first, right now, you’re behind in the game, and the pressure won’t ease off.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.