At this difficult period in his career, MARTIN O’NEILL’s public support for his friend and former player Neil Lennon may be a source of support for the present Celtic manager, but it is a lesson from O’Neill’s history that gives Lennon the greatest inspiration.
Lennon is old enough to know that if the results at Celtic do not change soon, his reputation as a club hero will not prevent him from being sacked. But he also knows from his own experience and that of O’Neill that it is always possible to turn around even the bleakest of circumstances.
Lennon said, “Martin O’Neill has had a huge impact on my career and my life,” At Leicester, I recall his early days. We lost to Sheffield United at home and the Leicester fans spilled onto the Filbert Street pitch.
“They’ve been asking for a manager upgrade. That was what Martin had to go through, but he stayed solid. We stayed unbeaten for nine or ten games, eventually got promoted, and for the next five or so years, he became one of the Premier League’s best managers.
“At various stages of his managerial career, he’s been through that. It’s not easy, but you have to remain solid. I take a lot of strength from it.
As an individual, as a player and as a manager, Martin knows me. He has confidence in me. When I played for him, he believed in me and he knew exactly what I was going through.
“He wouldn’t say anything publicly that he didn’t mean. It’s been brilliant to have his support, but it’s also great to talk to him privately about things.”
The instability in Lennon’s career, which has also influenced his personal life, has been well known and, during this tumultuous era of his second spell at Celtic, has helped him keep his head above water.
“Every player or manager goes through a difficult period in their career,” he said. I have been through even worse, to varying degrees, than this.
I must keep my head calm and have a sense of perspective.
After the game in Prague, I spoke to the players and frankly explained the situation to them. We are all together and very united. We are not pleased with the state of things and we are disappointed with the fans. The players feel that and want to do it right.
“In my second season at Bolton, I went through a very tough time. When the club went into receivership, it was mostly for financial purposes.
Although parts of the stadium, the parking lot and the training ground were sold, it was all about keeping a team together. It was a very difficult time.
As a player, there were always bad times here, and there were also bad times in Crewe during my childhood.
I was maybe 19 or 20 years old and went through a time of loss of form and loss of trust. It took a couple of different people’s words and things started up again. I never looked back after that.
“It’s a tough situation for a club of this size and in terms of the expectations we’ve set over the years.
“But it’s nothing we can’t turn around.”
From having a psychologist come in to speak to them to building a lounge at Lennoxtown to tackle the fragmented atmosphere on the training field created by the constraints placed by the coronavirus, Lennon says he leaves no stone unturned in solving the psychological difficulties he feels are affecting his men at this time.
“I think it’s confidence more than anything,” he said. Since we live in abnormal times, life on the training field and our pregame rituals are different.
It can be hard, particularly for new boys. They were really looking forward to coming to the club, but the squad is separated into separate locker rooms and is on the training field the only time they see each other.
Some go home to an empty house then. They’d think they’d be able to socialize, eat in restaurants, and meet in cafes with their friends.
“It wasn’t necessary. That’s the only reason we’ve had a bad run, I’m not saying.
“Eight of the team that played in Rome [in the win over Lazio]played [on Thursday]night. They did fantastically, but they lack a bit of belief and a bit of confidence at the moment. “I’m sure it’s going to come back. They must play their way through that.
In all due respect to Ross County, when they play in the Be Be, they have a great opportunity to do just that tomorrow at Celtic Park.