NEIL LENNON was always conscious that the path to the “ten” would never be easy. He certainly didn’t expect a group of fans to call for his sacking in order for Celtic to hit the goal.
But yesterday, when the Green Brigade called for their boss to be fired after Celtic dropped 11 points behind Rangers at the top of the Premier League at the weekend, despite playing two games less than their big rivals, that is the scenario Lennon faced.
Lennon, who since returning to the Celtic bench has won every possible award, felt hurt by the timing and sentiment. He doesn’t dispute that the season hasn’t gone as far as he or the fans would like, but he dismisses the suggestion that it was as terrible as it was made out to be. Or that it is irretrievable under his control in every way.
The encouragement of Dermot Desmond, majority shareholder of the club, and Peter Lawwell, chief executive, helps him retain his perspective, and he has urged fans who have called for his dismissal to do something similar.
‘I don’t feel stressed at all,’ said Lennon. Nor do I feel like I need to be under pressure.
“This season, we lost one game in the league. This calendar year, we’ve only lost one game at home. So, I think we’ve been pretty good overall.
We are in another final. Sadly, this season had to overlap with it, and we didn’t get a chance to enjoy last season’s fruits.
“We’ll take on another one once that’s out of the way and try to get another triple if we can. That never moves.
I don’t know if it can’t be seen by [the fans]or if they don’t want it to be seen. I see it. And that’s where you maintain a sense of perspective.
Every day, I talk to Peter and I talk to Dermot once or twice a week. We’re all in the same fight, clearly.
We know that we’re a little inconsistent. But we believe strongly that we’re going to have a run and play the kind of soccer we know we can.
Fans want what I’m going to want. I want the same thing they’re going to want. I can understand there’s a sense of frustration – this season there’s a lot of frustration because they can’t see the team at the games.
They are all entitled to their views. But we’ve had a better start to the season as far as I’m concerned than we’ve had in past seasons. We’re lagging a little behind, but there’s still a long way to go.
“I have a lot of confidence in what I’m doing, what my team is doing behind the scenes, and certainly what the players will do in the future.”
It was no surprise that Lennon came out of the corner he was painted into, but his declaration that he is loving the new situation at Celtic definitely raised an eyebrow. But maybe Lennon feels most at ease in such combative moments.
And indeed, he questioned whether the fact that some of the fans of the club are unaware of such moments of hardship could not be behind the current uproar around both Celtic’s and his own place.
“Look, I’ve been in worse situations, much worse situations in my career as a manager and also in my own soccer career,” he said.
Maybe some fans or players have never been through a true ordeal like that before.
But it’s my responsibility to inspire the players, and I think they’re going to carry on with good form and momentum.
“But as a coach, there are always obstacles you have to face. It can’t always be a paradise of roses.
You have to go through some adversity occasionally. You have to look at the viewpoint as well. We’ve won nine times, drawn three times and lost once. We missed dumb penalties in the three draws that cost us six points. If we turn that off, we’re going to be there or thereabouts.
And we still have games up our sleeves that we’re sure not to win, but that we’re able to win, and then the deficit isn’t as wide as it seems on paper.
The truth is that we were a little inconsistent, but that’s no different from any other season.
Right now, our rivals are doing really well and we need to focus on it, remain solid and come out on top. A lot of soccer is ahead of us.
I think it’s just a sign of the times. Either a one-week wonder or a one-week catastrophe. With all the medicine, you’re either a one-week wonder or a one-week disaster.