Friday 9 December 2016

Defining season should make or break Lennon's reputation

Celtic's patience has its limits so it's the title or bust for their manager, says Ewan Murray

Published 24/07/2011 | 05:00

In a city where first is everything and second routinely has no value, Celtic broke with tradition by taking solace from finishing as the Scottish Premier League's runners-up in May.

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There is no question that the personal turmoil endured by Neil Lennon intensified the bond between the Northern Irish manager and the Celtic support. In a football sense, and despite not pipping Rangers to the title, it was encouraging that Celtic's improvement under Lennon's management was generally appreciated and accepted.

The latter sentiment is not timeless, however, as Celtic managers of the past have readily discovered.

This season, Lennon's prime aim is the return of tangible -- and the main -- reward for his already considerable efforts. Celtic's board of directors will hope they can finally bank on that.

Rangers' claiming of three Scottish Premier League flags in succession owes plenty to the ability of their former manager Walter Smith and a squad who have routinely not received the credit they have been due. Still, and last season's epic race aside, the overriding sense that Celtic have let their city rivals off the hook since 2007 remains. Rangers subsequently benefited from European revenue which was vital to them continuing merely a reasonable working relationship with bankers.

Celtic, who endured no such difficulties -- essentially due to a more prudent long-term approach -- have thus far failed to convert a stable off-field structure into the championship-winning success which should have followed. It falls to Lennon to end that run, one which proves sound fiscal structures and trophy wins will not always walk hand in hand.

Lennon's quiet summer hints at his content state of mind. Vital to Celtic during a brief Scottish close season has been the retention of key players, Beram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre among them, rather than the strong supplementation of the squad, which Ally McCoist has sought at Rangers. Nonetheless, Celtic start the league campaign at Easter Road today without a goalkeeper whom Lennon would regard as a long-term first pick.

Lukasz Zaluska will be Celtic's 'keeper until a replacement is found for Fraser Forster -- who returned to Newcastle United at the end of a loan spell -- but there is no doubt Lennon would prefer an alternative to the Pole.

It would seem remiss if Celtic, who have placed their faith in the manager and his transfer plans, do not spend the money required to put in place the solid backbone to a team who have plenty of attacking vim. Lennon would also like to sign a striker before the end of August, a matter which should become less problematic as clubs in England seek to shed excess weight as the transfer window edges shut.

Lennon could not have hand-picked better opponents against which to lead his side out today. Hibernian's summer has been one of discontent, with Colin Calderwood shuffling uncomfortably, and unimpressively, amid interest in the manager from Nottingham Forest and Birmingham City. As both clubs eyed Calderwood for their coaching teams, it was damning that he refused to state his commitment to his current club in the manner supporters would expect.

The Hibs chairman Rod Petrie, in unsuccessfully seeking to put the issue to bed, issued the kind of statement for which Vladimir Romanov, the outspoken owner of Edinburgh's other footballing half, would have received ridicule. Needlessly, Petrie had a pop at Calderwood's predecessor into the bargain.

Some Hibs players think their manager wants to leave and the fans, who have never fully embraced him, would be far from upset by his departure.

Put together, such matters hardly suggest Calderwood and Hibs will have a long-term relationship. For a club of such stature, this has been an unedifying affair. And not one that points to a strong opening to the SPL.

Celtic have loftier aspirations. Yet that has been the case for four years; Lennon's standing as a manager depends on the following through of early promise.

Observer

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