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WAS it a final parting shot at his detractors from a man who knew that his time was up and was determined to go out fighting? Did he just feel Celtic had been unfairly criticised over their trip to Dubai and want to set the record straight? Or was it a bit of both?
Whatever the truth of the matter, the incendiary pre-match press conference that Neil Lennon held on Monday ahead of the Premiership match against Livingston, could very well have finally, after months of turmoil, sealed his fate as manager.
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The disappointing run the Parkhead club have been on in 2021 – they have now lost one and drawn three of their league games and are 20 points behind Rangers in the top flight table – alone could bring an end to Lennon’s second spell in charge.
However, his savaging of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the Scottish government amid a hugely sensitive political climate has certainly done nothing to help his cause.
It has made it very difficult for his remaining supporters in the Celtic hierarchy to argue he deserves more time and far easier for them to dispense with his services.
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It is entirely possible that many of the points that Lennon made in his address to the media at Lennoxtown will have reflected the private views of his superiors.
Yet, to come out and voice them so publicly and so vociferously just days after chief executive Peter Lawwell had attempted to draw a line under the controversy over the warm weather training break by issuing an apology reignited the whole sorry affair at an inopportune moment.
There is the very real possibility that the Premiership and Championship could follow the lower leagues and Scottish Cup and be suspended, possibly even curtailed again, in the coming weeks in an attempt to halt the spread of Covid-19.
Professor Jason Leitch, the national clinical director, last week warned that, despite clubs embracing strict protocols well since play resumed back in August, the top two tiers were “fragile” due to the new strain of the virus.
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Will the national executive consider their case favourably after being lambasted by Lennon following a contentious trip to the United Arab Emirates that resulted in two players testing positive for Covid-19 and 13 of their team mates as well as three staff members being forced to self-isolate?
If the season isn’t completed as scheduled it will lead to all kinds of financial problems amid a major economic downturn.
Celtic have been repeatedly frustrated in their attempts to get fans back in to Parkhead during the 2020/21 campaign. The rise in coronavirus infection rates and fresh lockdown mean there is little prospect of that happening any time soon.
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But when, God willing, the current restrictions are eased later this year the Glasgow club will once again be lobbying for some socially distanced season ticket holders to be allowed through the turnstiles. Are Holyrood likely to listen to their pleas favourably in future after this episode? Relations between the two parties aren’t exactly amicable at the moment.
Lennon confirmed he had a “private conversation” with Lawwell after his broadside on Monday in an interview with BBC Radio Scotland on Wednesday night. He declined to go into details about what was said. But it is doubtful he would have been patted on the back and told ‘sock it to ‘em Lenny!’
Lennon’s press conference wasn’t the demented rant that many have portrayed it as. He was entitled to be upset about Dubai being described as “RnR” and “a jolly”. His charges trained for a week solid. He also highlighted glaring inconsistencies in the current guidelines. His concerns are shared by many of his counterparts and are now being examined by the SFA and SPFL.
Still, his words were ill-advised in the circumstances. The country is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis which is affecting the lives of millions. The trip incensed many. Delicacy, discretion and diplomacy were required, not defiance.
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When Lennon was given a second vote of confidence in eight days by the Celtic board back in December he was told his position would be reviewed “in the New Year”. His team promptly went on a six game winning run, triumphed in the rescheduled Scottish Cup final with Hearts on penalties and did the quadruple treble.
They have, though, fallen even further behind their city rivals since. The majority of the first team squad having to go into quarantine hasn’t helped. Lennon can’t, despite his insistence the decision to go abroad was his, shoulder all of the blame for that. Others at a higher level must take their share of the responsibility.
But there is no longer any sympathy or support for the manager among a disgruntled fanbase after their European humiliations, Betfred Cup exit, poor Premiership form and the Dubai debacle. Change is clearly required.
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Celtic will be asking their fans to renew their season tickets soon. They sold them out last summer even though there was no guarantee anyone would be allowed to attend matches. There is even a lengthy waiting list. But the prospect of the team completing 10-In-A-Row was a major factor in the uptake.
Celtic can’t afford to jeopardise their main source of income due to unhappiness with the individual in the dugout and direction the Parkhead club are heading. They need to offer their customers concrete evidence and genuine hope that better times lie ahead.
Lennon’s success since taking over from Brendan Rodgers back in 2019, the many issues he has had to contend with because of coronavirus and a refusal to kowtow to the baying mob that clash with police outside the stadium ensured he kept his job last year.
But the continued struggles of the Celtic side and the political storm his comments have created should see Neil Lennon depart in the days to come.