After the tragedy in Europe on Thursday night, it’s clear that something in Celtic has to shift.
I’m still not completely sure that he should be the manager, but it would be difficult to argue with two wins in nine games if it were, and Neil Lennon would know that.
If Celtic wishes to help him, then both at Lennoxtown and Celtic Park, something has to change because they will not continue to train and play the same way and expect results to change. There has been a lot written about my comments about what is and isn’t happening at training this week, and I will do my best to clarify it in my column as someone who has Foundation English.
As a player, I love practicing. I think that’s where the team spirit is created, and that’s where some of my best memories come from. The training ground is a magical spot, whether it’s Charlie Mulgrew hitting Danny McGrain flush from 50 yards on the back of the nut, with Danny not knowing whether it was Pancake Tuesday or Sheffield Wednesday, or Paolo Di Canio and a youth team player having a personal duel where they continuously hit each other in a small-sided game for 20 minutes. Maybe I loved it so much because I was what you would call a TGI (training ground international). I could have played for Italy because of my sensational talent – and very handsome Italian ancestors – if I could carry my form during the weekend into a game on the weekend in front of no fans.
In the short time he was at Celtic, I really enjoyed Neil Lennon’s coaching. As an entity and a manager, it mirrored itself and was solely focused on how his teams played. Tough, competitive, challenging, without room for sloppiness or laziness. In training, those two things were not tolerated and you were easily pointed out (regardless of who you were) if it happened once too often.
This created an atmosphere where, from the first minute to the last, everyone had to be absolutely on their game. The fact that it was simple and enjoyable was also a major element of that. That’s the side of him that people don’t see, and they kept the guys laughing with their one-liners and fast wit alongside his team in the background. “It’s a ball, not a bomb!” a player who was panicking under pressure was one of my favorite exclamations.
No fancy exercises or messages were open, just a clear understanding of what he needed from you and the team. For the first time, his Celtic team was so good because from Monday to Friday they created an atmosphere and rivalry, and I just hope that’s still possible because I think the message on the training ground is the most important thing when it comes to winning Saturday games.
I don’t see it when I look at his squad now. That’s what makes me think that something has changed Monday through Friday since his first tenure. People say I’m too loyal to him, but that’s just because I know the influence he can have on players, and when I give away a sloppy pass on Saturday, I always hear his voice in my head and my high expectations come from guys like him. When I try to get my fat butt between the ball and the opponent in a close midfield, I still always use the little pointers he gave me.
Don’t tell me that there’s no idea about tactics and form for a guy who beat the best Barcelona team ever and many others in Europe. When it came to being hard to beat and having results against great teams on this stage, he was one of the best. That is why this season’s results and outcomes make me wonder what’s going on. His record was not only in terms of outcomes, but also in terms of player development. Under Lennon’s leadership, you can’t say Victor Wanyama and Virgil van Dijk didn’t get better. Now everybody is attached to fancy workouts and a certain theory, and if that’s your belief, that’s good, but that doesn’t mean that’s the only way to do it. Man City would win every trophy every year if that were the only way, but they don’t because there is more than one way of practicing and playing the game. The most important thing is that it is the way of the manager, which is preached every day.
And that’s my point: only because Brendan Rodgers (who at his last style of play and training worked for him) had a certain style of play and training