If Celtic want to replace Neil Lennon as manager they must act now – and show respect to a Parkhead great

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PREMIUM

BEING appointed Celtic manager at the end of the 2015/16 season proved no impediment to Brendan Rodgers enjoying a hugely successful debut campaign at Parkhead.

The Northern Irishman signed well by bringing in Moussa Dembele and Scott Sinclair, qualified for the Champions League group stages and then went undefeated in the League Cup, Premiership and Scottish Cup.

So if the quadruple treble winners do, as has been suggested, intend to retain the services of Neil Lennon and then bring in a replacement for hm during the summer, his successor could conceivably go on and do well both at home and abroad next term.

Yet, there are many reasons why, if parting company with Lennon is indeed the route that Celtic intend to go down, acting now will help to ensure they return to winning ways in future.

There will, too, be distinct drawbacks in waiting until the close season to make a change and a serious danger that doing so will reduce their chances of reclaiming their mantle as the dominant force in Scottish football from Rangers.

When Rodgers took over from Ronny Deila four years ago he inherited a strong squad; Craig Gordon, Mikael Lustig, Jozo Simunovic, Erik Sviatchenko, Kieran Tierney, Stuart Armstrong, Nir Bitton, Scott Brown, Callum McGregor, James Forrest, Patrick Roberts, Tom Rogic and Leigh Griffiths were already in situ.

They were all mainstays of the side that would go 47 matches undefeated on the home front and become dubbed The Invincibles.

If a new man arrives in the East End of Glasgow in May or June he could well have to find a new goalkeeper, centre backs, full-backs, midfielders, wingers and a striker. There are certain to be several departures. A significant rebuilding job will be required. 

Will Nicky Hammond, whose recruitment has come under severe scrutiny in recent months as Celtic have bombed in Europe, been knocked out of the Betfred Cup and struggled in the Premiership, still be the man overseeing incomings? Talk of a wholescale restructuring abounds.

Potentially, a new manager could be settling in at a new club in a new country looking to put together a new side with the help of a new sporting director before playing in a new league. What would his prospects of toppling Rangers off their perch be? Slim, to say the least.

There would be benefits in allowing someone to come on board, settle into his new surroundings, size up the talent available to him and assess what is required in the coming months.

There is little love for Lennon among the Celtic fanbase at the moment after a catastrophic 2020/21 campaign. With his side trailing their city rivals by 23 points there is no hope of them recovering and completing 10-In-A-Row. The fourth consecutive clean sweep of domestic silverware that he oversaw last month is a distant memory.

The Dubai debacle and his defiant public defence of it – regardless of the valid points, which have prompted the SFA and SPFL to launch a review of their protocols, he made – last week has led to him derided as a man who is out of touch with reality and out of time in his role.

But it has been forgotten or overlooked that Lennon was a victim of the coronavirus pandemic long before he was forced to self-isolate along with 13 of his players and two members of his backroom staff after returning from the warm weather training break in the United Arab Emirates.

He has lost influential players at crucial moments to Covid-19 tests, has had games cancelled and lost form and momentum as a result of both. That Rangers have avoided such complications has given them a significant advantage amid an unprecedented crisis.         

The injuries to James Forrest and Christopher Jullien have simply compounded the problems he has had to contend with.

How much say, too, did Lennon have in the players, goalkeeper Vasilis Barkas in particular, who arrived last summer and who have failed to live up to expectations or justify their multi-million pound transfer fees?

But sacking the man in charge now without having somebody lined to come in would mean that either assistant John Kennedy or first team coach Gavin Strachan would have to take over for the remaining Premiership and Scottish Cup matches.

The current incumbent is clearly a far safer pair of hands. However, if there is to be a parting of the ways further down the line it would be a disrespectful way to treat a club legend who has contributed so much to their cause in the past 20 or so years. 

Would Celtic season ticket holders accept the man who won the first five domestic competitions which his side were involved in being kept on and renew for next season? Clearly not. Financial considerations will be a factor in what happens next.

But it would be far better for both parties as well as whoever is to take over if there was a clean break and a fresh start now.

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