Celtic familiarity breeds contempt at the top

They say that familiarity breeds contempt and Celtic have certainly been familiar with success this past few years.

On the receiving end of a 2-1 defeat at Tynecastle on 7 August 2016, a similar scoreline on 25 May 2019 meant Hearts bookended what has been a stunning period in Celtic’s history.

Yet it’s not the Jambos who seemingly finished the night in a state of angst. While, amid the delirium on the streets of Glasgow, the news filtered through that Neil Lennon was to be offered the job as Celtic manager on a full-time basis.

There’s a lot of debate over the difference between a Celtic legend and a great. Some reserve that higher accolade for those who have achieved the truly remarkable in the jersey.

For me, Lennon meets the criteria. Not so much for his excellent work on the pitch, where he helped instil a winning mentality after years of painful domination by Rangers, or his contribution as a manager where his three titles set us on the road in our current run. But for what he had to endure off it as he started off his managerial career. No one has had to put up with as much in order to serve Celtic and for that, his status is elevated.

The problem with the announcement is that many fans saw it as a cynical ploy from the board. If Peter Lawwell’s comments are to be taken at face value, then Lennon was going to get the job come what may in that final against Hearts.

Many in the support had allowed themselves to think someone of the ilk of Benitez would take over. Others maybe thought this was fanciful, but we had one superior modern coach, so why couldn’t we attract another?

There was palpable disappointment in the announcement, but that’s no reflection on Lennon’s status among the fans who had sung his name earlier in the afternoon. It would have been an act of cruelty, almost, not to give Lennon the job after he completed a treble, taking over a shellshocked club in the wake of Brendan Rodgers’ departure.

The ire was aimed at the board who seemed to have taken not only the support for a ride, but Lennon too.

Lennon seemed to have been put through an emotional wringer in the months since he took over. In his speech when Celtic celebrated winning another league, many interpreted it as that of a man who knew he was leaving.

That he wouldn’t be is obvious, with the benefit of hindsight. Why give a man a ‘trial’ after he’d already been in the role at the club? What could he tell us during that period that we didn’t already know, having watched him at close quarters and then at Hibs?

Lennon’s availability dug us out of a hole after almost our entire backroom team jumped ship at short notice. It was serendipitous for all connected with the club.

Neil Lennon has done a lot for Celtic, but his managerial career wasn’t quite on an upward trajectory after he left us previously. He is a man who not too long ago had taken a job with a Scottish Championship side, in Hibs.

His ‘crown jewels’ had been sold and hadn’t been properly replaced and he felt he’d taken the club as far as it could go. As it transpired, the club could go further, but while the last three years have brought great success, the modus operandi that frustrated Lennon before has not changed.

For that reason, sceptics in the support may suspect that Peter Lawwell, after his ego-clashing years with Brendan Rodgers, may now think he has the manager over a barrel.

Hopefully the lessons of last summer, where our biggest challenge came from within our own walls, have been learned.

If Peter Lawwell has faith that Neil Lennon is the man for the job, he has to back him, because this is not the year to be taking anything for granted.

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