Celtic must rebuild both on and off the park

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THE departure of Neil Lennon from Celtic has provided a further and final sign that not all was well with Celtic this season.

In fact, very little—if anything—was as should be expected. The manager has departed, the CEO is on his final lap and the utter dominance and imperiousness which characterised the last decade is gone.

Celtic, then, are a much-changed club as eyes turn already to next season. The achievements of Neil Lennon at Celtic can never be taken away from him and are rightly recognised. 21 honours as both player and manager places him in select company in the club’s history. But just as those glories cannot be separated from him, neither can the failures of this season. In a high stakes game Celtic, and Lennon, brought very little to the table, and the opportunities to change and the ambition to see Celtic make a proper fist of their shot at history were, respectively, missed and missing.

As the support demanded change, both board and manager dug their heels in and bought time for themselves in the forlorn hope that stability could cure problems which are more likely to have been the result of stagnation and familiarity.

Why no change was made remains a mystery and the decision for the manager to go down with a stinking ship rather than rolling the dice to attempt to rejuvenate the form, instincts and desire of a playing squad—who have performed shamefully—has ultimately proved to be the wrong one.

What faces Celtic now is the choice between an emergency rebuild or a slower and more considered change in the club’s approach and functions that will allow rivals to capitalise in the mean time.

Errors and engagement
It is galling for any supporter to consider just how Celtic came to find themselves in this position, but given the task that lies ahead the focus must move from the post-mortem and quickly turn to the future.

Already fans organisations are beginning to flex their muscles and push for greater representation for supporters, which can only be a good thing, while the arrival of a new CEO in Dominic McKay heralds a new era even before supporters are presented with his priorities. Given his rugby background, fan engagement must surely be something which he recognises the value of and, should he step forward on this basis, there will be no shortage of opinions for him to canvas.

In a hectic season limited by restrictions and government interference due to Covid-19, the erection of fences at Celtic Park which were instantly converted into a platform for protests through the only means available must be established as the low point for the support in their engagement with the club. Such a position should never be entered again—even in the midst of an emergency—and providing channels for fans and their representatives is one way to ensure that. The hope that this situation is looked back on as an aberration is surely a confident one.

Scotland’s shame still lingers
There is much about this season which supporters will want to forget, from the pig-headed decisions at board level to the dreary form of the playing squad and the inability of the coaching staff get a tune out of a players who were habitual winners.

One thing cannot be forgotten in the review of this season, however, and that is the departure of a manager who truly suffered for his association with Celtic. The mess which he oversaw and was unable to change as his side lurched from one disaster to another has rightly called time on his second spell as Celtic manager, but it would be wrong not to pay tribute to his strength while facing racism, bigotry, assaults, threats and even attempts on his life in a campaign of hatred, which lasted as long as his involvement with the club. For a man to be subject to that level of bile—even reaching the level of bullets and viable explosives being sent to him—over such a long period of time will forever be a black mark on our society, and the inability of authorities to recognise it and deal with it makes a mockery of Scottish football’s continued self-congratulatory opposition to racism through the Black Lives Matter protests.

Neil Lennon is in the headlines for failing to manage a squad of professional footballers, yet others who have turned a blind eye to his habitual mistreatment, abuse and targeting, remain safely out of the glare of a society who will be happy to put their heads in the sand on the issue once more.

Better times will hopefully lie ahead for both Celtic and Neil Lennon, but after this season those futures can only be apart.

dan@theirishvoice.com

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