It was probably the worst-kept secret in Scottish football that Neil Lennon wouldn’t be in charge of Celtic next season.
The silence from club owner Dermott Desmond and former chief executive Peter Lawwell over recent weeks had been deafening when it came to Lennon’s future. That only heightened the expectation that he didn’t have a future as the manager of Celtic.
Based on that alone, it felt like Neil had been hung out to dry by the powers that be as he clearly looked isolated and was fighting a losing battle. The lack of leadership when the criticism was coming from all angles was evident. I couldn’t help but feel for Lennon on a personal level.
He continually faced up in interviews and was bombarded with the same questions regarding the long-term plan of the club and assurances over his own position, yet he wasn’t able to give any update.
It was finally confirmed on Wednesday morning that he had resigned from his post and his long association with his boyhood club was over.
There are many supporters who are elated at the news because, clearly, the finger is being pointed at Lennon for the club’s failings in what was one of the most important seasons in its history. Emotions are high and the fact that the team have failed miserably to chase down a history-making 10th successive title sparked a lot of anger.
I genuinely hope time will be a healer between Neil and the supporters, whereby they can fully appreciate his contribution over the past 20 years as player, coach and manager.
He is the only man to have won a treble with Celtic as player and manager. That statistic alone surely carries plenty of credibility.
Lennon has fought many battles on and off the pitch, with his love of Celtic clear to see. His main fault was loyalty to the club he has supported all his life. It’s something that others who held the same position haven’t always adhered to.
It has been said if he felt so much for Celtic, he would have walked away long before he did, which I totally disagree with because it was his dream job and, deep down, he will have believed he could have turned the situation around.
He may have been way off the mark, but that’s the character of Lennon. He never gives up, so the senior executives really should have ended it for him a long time ago.
I understand managers can’t live off their past for ever, particularly at a club like Celtic, with the demands so high. You are judged on the here and now, which simply wasn’t good enough. Neil had underperformed in his role, as had his players, so he’s accountable for that which ultimately cost him his job.
It’s been one disaster after another this season at the club, from an early and unexpected Champions League exit to Ferencvaros, to defeat in the two Old Firm games, the Dubai debacle and, finally, losing to bottom-of-the-table Ross County last Sunday night. That has all led to Celtic trailing Rangers by 18 points, which many view as wholly unacceptable for a squad with as much talent as they have. It’s hard to disagree.
As much as Neil has taken the brunt of it, some players should be having sleepless nights for the part they’ve played in it all.
The spectacular fall from grace in such a short space of time has been incredible, considering what had gone on in the previous nine seasons and the trophy haul they amassed.
The question is, what next for Celtic?
I’ve heard people say recently “Who would want the job?” I have to say that’s an utterly ridiculous comment because Celtic enjoy a great standing in not just Scottish football but in football overall. They are a club well-known around the world and are a really attractive proposition. There aren’t many clubs who can offer European football every season, coupled with the chance to challenge for major honours every season also. Celtic can do just that and a lot more.
The calibre of manager appointed will be determined by what Dermott Desmond, the major shareholder, wants and how much more he is prepared to invest from his own pocket.
The appointment of Brendan Rodgers in May 2016 made people sit up and take notice. It was a real statement of intent by the club. Brendan’s appointment united the club on and off the pitch due to his standing in the game and the aura that surrounded him.
It feels as if the club is back to that stage, with bridges needing rebuilt between supporters and the hierarchy. The start of that process is delivering a top-class and successful manager to get the fans excited.
The fans love for their club is unconditional, but there’s a sense that the next move by Desmond will be one of the most important in his tenure. There’s a clear disconnect between supporters and he’s the man who can repair the damage.
What I will say is that the new manager has a real job on his hands. The playing staff are in urgent need of major surgery and time is of the essence. There will be a big turnover of players and, with the Champions League qualifiers in mid-July, the work has to start immediately.
So, as everyone associated with Celtic looks forward to the next chapter, Neil Lennon can look back and hold his head high. He has lived his dream — not many can say that.