It’s hard to predict the new season. We have had a few campaigns of stability, but that erupted like a dormant volcano when Brendan Rodgers decided the time was right to go back to the English Premiership.
Neil Lennon manfully stepped up to the plate and led the team to an untouchable Treble Treble. While doing this, he didn’t change much. The style of play was still slow and predictable. He did revert to the tried and trusted players. The same players who were showing signs of burnout when they clinched the Double Treble nevermind being asked to complete another 60 game season.
The credit Neil deserves for stepping into the chaos won’t be fully appreciated for years. He didn’t deserve to be appointed in the haphazard manner in which he was – In the shower after a cup final. The way the news was broken has left a bad taste in the mouth with a lot of fans. The fact that he wasn’t shiny or new or a coach the profile of Brendan Rodgers certainly didn’t help either.
I wrote when he was appointed that he may struggle to win over the support long-term and that he wasn’t a lot of fans’ first choice. There is no point in debating that. He is seen as a downgrade on what was in the dugout before. Again, no point in debating that. There is a feeling that his appointment and the players that we have lost and could lose will see us more vulnerable than previous seasons. Debatable? Extremely.
We have stood still at best. 18 months of poor planning and recruitment sees us firmly in a transition phase. Since the cup final there has been a series of bizarre decisions that give the impression that we haven’t planned for the situations we now find ourselves in. That we start the season without a recognised first-choice right-back sums up where we are and what we are looking to do is just get away with it.
Of course getting away with it depends on your rivals. All are unknown quantities with them either having a massive turnover of players or the loss of an influential manager. The press would let you believe that momentum has shifted and that we have just come to the end of a natural cycle. That could be the case and dependant on your drink of choice this a reasonable assertion.
All the focus is on us. That tells you all that you need to know. It’s all about what we do. The biggest danger to ourselves is ourselves and that has been the case since Martin O’Neill took over. Since that time there has only been one occasion when Rangers have won the league where I reckon they have had the better team (2009/10).
Most fans feel that the club could have done with a change of direction; that Rodgers’ departure and what he brought in terms of elite-level performance management should have been built on. A Director of Football was mooted but, instead, we appointed a Head of Recruitment on an eight-week contract who, to date, hasn’t brought in any players.
Lennon is unfairly seen as a throwback to a dark old age. He hasn’t got the used car salesman charm of Rodgers, or bow at the altar of Pep, but he isn’t Dave Bassett either.
The players need time to adapt. The new players he has brought in also need time to settle. The players brought in are similar to his previous signings for Celtic. He likes strong, athletic players who can get up and down the pitch, pace and a certain physicality.
That, coupled with our new style, will see us being a different proposition for the opposition and also the supporters this season. We will be less tactically tight and inventive, have more than one approach to the game, and our play to and in the final third will be quicker. Will it work?
Our previous philosophy worked well – as nine trophies out of nine testify – but over the last season or so an overly aggressive press and being well organized has seen us undone.
We may see frustrations early on. The way we bounce back from the first setback will set the tone for this new look Celtic. We won a Treble Treble and should be riding unicorns to Mars but the worry is that we may have got complacent and took our eyes off the ball.
The Celtic fans have two default settings: Highly optimistic and dismissive or pessimistic to the point of a doctor’s referral. Whatever happens, though, we are level-headed with our assessment and aren’t as knee-jerk and delusional as some. Though winning nine trophies in a row may have changed that, albeit temporarily.
Still, we have the best, most experienced and decorated manager in the league. We still have a core of experienced winners and, if we recruit well, then over 38 games we should have enough.
While appointing Lennon might seem short-sighted to some, it reflects the short term vision of most fans. We want nine-in-a-row. We want ten-in-a-row. This season, that quest is going to be chaotic, psychotic and myopic.
But five wins out of five and an all-star 7-0 league opener makes me wonder if Lennon might have been the right choice all along.
Kevin GrahamListen to the award-winning A Celtic State of Mind podcast