STANDARDS at Celtic are often mentioned by former players when discussing their current counterparts, with many such former players in recent years mentioning their shock when joining Celtic at the way in which the club is so geared towards winning and success.
This might be the result of a large and demanding fanbase, who provide the club with the revenue to place it at the top of Scottish football and constantly urge their team on to success. It is also, however, a result of the players, management and staff, who are recruited for their potential for success and winning mentality.
Peter Lawwell (above) has now called time on his part within that system for delivering success, and was given glowing reviews upon the news that he is to retire as CEO of the club from both manager Neil Lennon and captain Scott Brown. Such glowing reviews were not so forthcoming from the support, however. While there was praise to be found in the reaction to the news, it cannot be ignored that the announcement of his impending retirement from the role came at a time when a clear majority of supporters were calling form to be relieved of his duties.
This reaction is not the result of being spoiled or of finally missing out on trophies after years of dominance, it is the clear and natural fruit of a managed lowering of standards at Celtic.
On paper, yes, Celtic’s standards in recent years have been set as highly as the results which followed—a record-equalling nine consecutive league championships and an unprecedented quadruple treble. Dig a little deeper, however, and it is not so clear. In that decade Celtic have parted company with managers three times and were presented with huge decisions to make each time.
Firstly, Neil Lennon left to pursue new challenges, before the relatively unknown Ronny Deila held the position for two years until he resigned following a cup exit to second tier Rangers—in spite of delivering the championship that year—and finally Brendan Rodgers joined the club he would walk out on mid-season just two and a half years later.
Standards have fluctuated wildly in that time, with Lennon initially leaving amid suggestions that he was unhappy with the direction the club was going in. Deila’s time at Celtic came during a period of lower pressure for the Glasgow giants without a city rival in the top flight, but they were still in evidence from his resignation following a loss in the derby semi-final. The Norwegian was obviously aware that such a result was unacceptable.
In Rodgers Celtic found a man who raised the bar on the pitch and around the club, with fantastic results to follow. His own standards, however, did not prevent him from clearing out his desk and moving to the Leicester City in the heat of the battle for Celtic’s eighth championship in a row. Sadly now those raised standards look to be something of an anomaly when looked back on.
Lennon deserved and received immense credit for stepping into the breach for a second spell at a time of real crisis, with two trips to Edinburgh in two different competitions looming. Winning against both Hearts and Hibs he steadied the ship and delivered a third treble.
What followed was a huge decision by the club. With CEO Peter Lawwell claiming he had not even looked at the numerous CVs from managers eager to take on the challenge at Celtic, he offered the job to the Irishman in the Hampden dressing room and backed him as the man to keep delivering success.
A ninth consecutive title followed—along with both that season’s trophies—but with results and performances dipping dramatically throughout the early part of the 2020/21 season those same standards seemed to have disappeared. How and why such standards fall are questions well worth asking, but in a fight for record-breaking glory they matter less than a quick and decisive reaction to such a problem.
No reaction was forthcoming, and the standards at Celtic have fallen to such a degree that the form of a mid-table club in the most important season many supporters can recall is now not only deemed acceptable at Celtic but—if the comments from within the club are anything to go by—actually worthy of a spirited defence.
Capitulation and carnage
Little wonder then, that supporters are not shedding a tear at Lawwell’s departure even after those years of glory. The sad reality is that even such a storied period success on the pitch is not enough to save the reputation of someone who oversees the capitulation we have witnessed this year.
Supporters would no doubt list many more issues with how Celtic are run—with the inability to fully exploit the access to richest seams of European football which Celtic’s dominance has given them likely to be near the top too—but the carnage of this year’s campaign is at the centre of it.
The highest standards were asked of the supporters, and given. Hundreds of pounds were willingly given by each season ticket holder for an activity they cannot participate in to give Celtic the chance to top the table once more as they rose to this challenge. The demands on the players, managers and office bearers of the club have not been met.
There is only ever one end to that story in football, and though Celtic have opted to travel down the road of a long and protracted death by a thousand cuts rather than going through the pain quickly to keep their dog in the hunt, it will all come to an end soon. Legacies which once looked like bombproof tributes to the men who took Celtic to the verge of a new history now lie tattered and broken by the shambles they have overseen.
Supporters will continue their journey with the club, good times will return and, while this moment of history can never be repeated, new opportunities will arrive.
Already a new CEO waits in the wings, and the incoming Dominic McKay will no doubt be observing how quickly life at Celtic can change if bad, stupid or stubborn decisions are taken while the obvious stares you in the face. He clearly would not have risen to the position he occupied within Scottish Rugby if he lacked the powers of observation to draw the obvious conclusion from the mess of the last few months at Celtic, and it must surely colour his approach to the role.
Supporters should rightly hope that a new era can see tired and stale ideas and behaviours sidelined in favour of a better approach, but having watched the standards at Celtic plummet they must also send a message that they will set the standards at the club and all concerned with Celtic’s success should make it their priority to meet them. After this season, it seems that the supporters are the only ones at Celtic who can be trusted to maintain them.