The moment of clarity came to me in injury time at Easter Road, as Tom Rogic placed the ball on the edge of the box. Even if that moment had brought another fully deserved late winner, a trait that some feel is against the law of the sport, the moment of clarity was before the ball was struck, before he hit the wall, before Jozo Simunovic headed straight at the goalie and Odsonne Édouard had missed a one-on-one. It was at that point that I decided that, if Neil Lennon is our manager for next season, we should announce it. Right there and then. Press conference after the game, no matter the result.
I can no longer live in this football purgatory, which is a place populated by nearly nil-nils, the stodgy and forgettable style of play of August to December, last minute winners and high blood pressure.
I wrote previously that Brendan Rodgers was living in my head. The game at Easter Road was the game that I changed the locks and I will see him at family occasions sometime in the future once his banishment is up. Lennon, after the game, seemed like a man who has that lodger now stalking everything that he does. He admitted last week that he felt like he was driving someone else’s prestige car and that his office was now so big that it is in two postcodes. People interpreted his post-match yesterday as a Gerrardesque ‘throwing his players under a bus’ rant. It wasn’t. It was a sign of a frustrated football coach who is in an impossible situation.
He quite rightly points out that he hasn’t changed much and this is not an excuse for failure. This is just fact. Many experts who have been in more changing rooms and know the psychological makeup of players better than me have come out and said he has a squad conditioned to play a certain way, drilled to play certain patterns, used to certain training routines and days off, used to a certain style of management that has brought unprecedented success to the club, and to try and change that at the business end of the season would be disastrous.
He has changed personnel. He and the coaching staff have reverted to the players that have got us here over the previous two seasons. Players that were running on empty from August to December who then got a boost with the loan signings and the winter break but all that feel good disappeared when Rodgers left.
Lennon also seems to favour Jonny Hayes who has become a convenient scapegoat, despite his performances not meriting that tag. The players, if they were being honest, would say that they haven’t been at their consistent and relentless best since the late 2017 and that the cycle of this team is coming to an end. It happens to all best sides and is the nature of football. The state of uncertainty in the club is not helping them.
Appointing Lennon is going to be seen as a backward step. Appointing anyone bar another Rodgers level of coach, which seems unlikely from my point of view now, will be seen as this. We also have the following Alex Ferguson effect that we saw at Manchester United, the next man in the seat is on a hiding to nothing before you add the possibility of going for nine. Lennon is strong enough to take that responsibility, not many are.
The board are aware of this. They are also aware that any appointment that is not box office will see a drop in season ticket sales and match day revenue. But if Lennon is the only candidate in town they should no longer treat us with kid gloves and hope that winning another treble makes the appointment easier. The Celtic support is firing shells at each other and we are in a wasteland of opinion, burned out houses and uncertainty while pining for the Invincible, vintage Celtic, which no longer exists. Another treble isn’t going to change that.
I’m into psychogeography and record some games at Celtic Park. I feel that the noise of the stadium during a game can tell you more than any written opinion afterwards. The last game I recorded was Lennon’s first home game against Aberdeen. The game has the sound of hope and the emotion of defiance that you can feel slowly slip away into unsureness as the minutes tick down. That ninety minutes sums up what I feel now.
I feel that we could regain purpose if the club announces Lennon, if that is the plan. Then the man can walk into the dressing room, have the conversations that need to be had and look his players in the eye and see who is with him for the long haul. We can let the man be the coach and not the caretaker. This might be the boost we need to get us over the line with some style and into history.
Kevin GrahamListen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast