“Bottom line is that is Celtic have regressed this season under Neil. Badly,” Chris Sutton’s verdict

Neil Lennon had to go. There was no other way this situation could end,” Chris Sutton stated in his column in Daily Record this morning. “However, hopefully, he now gets the respect he deserves for being a Celtic legend.”

News broke last night via a leak, followed by a confirmation that the leak was undeniable and was officially confirmed in a short statement by Celtic PLC to the London Stock Exchange this morning noting that Neil Lennon had resigned as manager of Celtic with immediate effect. There was an agreement, therefore no need for a sacking.

Sutton, like Lennon’s former teammates John Hartson and Stan Petrov had already called time on their pal’s time as Celtic manager amid a dreadful run of results in what has become a season to forget as quickly as possible for the Celtic family. “Whatever you think of what has happened this season, don’t forget what has gone before,” Sutton reminds us today.

“This has been a sad end to his second managerial stint and it’s not the way it was supposed to finish. Neil has been a magnificent servant to the club and he was going to go down in history as the man who led the club to the Ten.

“The wheels have blown off spectacularly and there have been so many factors which have contributed to that.

“Listen, I’m not going to sit here and change my feelings on the situation. I’ve said for months that it was over and none of that gave me any pleasure. Neil is a friend and a former team-mate and it was tough to tell the truth of what was unfolding,” Sutton added.

“But the bottom line is that is Celtic have regressed this season under Neil. Badly,” the former Celtic striker stated and it is hard to argue with that, although there are many factors that need to be considered as to why that happened and also plenty of others who must shoulder their own share of the blame and that includes his coaching staff, those running the club and the highly paid football players, many of whom don’t want to play For Celtic but are happy enough banking their huge salaries.

(Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

“They have regressed and there has been so many things done wrong and so many bad decisions that it became impossible to defend him anymore even if you were his biggest fan,” Sutton stated and he is bang on here. Neil Lennon had his detractors from the moment Peter Lawwell organised his return after outing Brendan Rodgers from the job – that was the man would would have delivered the Ten. He last managed a Celtic side 2 years ago today incidentally.

“Celtic have been shocking this season. He had a go at people who called it a disaster season, but what else would you call it? From start to finish it has been a nightmare. Players not fit returning for pre-season training, bad signings, bad play,” Sutton continued.

“The European exit was an absolute disaster and that was down to bad preparation. That is down to Neil. Losing out in the Champions League qualifiers to Ferencvaros was a calamity and it was not the first time after Cluj and Copenhagen,” he added and again it is hard to argue with a single word of that. One point worth making is that the focus on winning the Ten was probably something we were all guilty of – we should have been ensuring that our European ambitions were being met. After beating Lazio in Rome it has all gone horribly wrong.

“Then the league started and things got no better. The performances were dire long before the results turned sour and what has happened was coming for ages beforehand. Players let him down at a key time. But so many other things were wrong that he did it was not true. Some of the team selections were baffling. Some of the tactical stuff was dreadful.The team has been drifting for months and this is all on his watch,” was Sutton verdict. One by one just about every Celtic fan agreed with this and that it was not working. The last two being Peter Lawwell (the man who put the post Brendan Rodgers football operation together) and Dermot Desmond.

“Players may have not wanted to be there and that hasn’t helped. There were some who thought they should have had transfers last summer and they were kept by the club and they didn’t help him. But he has been unable to get the best out of them and that has been inescapable,” Sutton continued. Slightly inaccurate here, Celtic were willing to sell Odsonne Edouard and would have bitten anyone’s hand off for a bid for Olivier Ntcham. However the interest in Edouard failed to materialise anywhere near the level that Celtic were looking at – due to Covid – and the player’s disappointment has been all too obvious this season, especially in the first half of the season where he went from talisman to taking the Colin Nish.

“Neil knows the game. He’s not daft. I played alongside him for a long time and I know that he is fully aware of what is required to be a Celtic player and his team have not done it. It’s down to them as well. Many of the players are the same ones with which he managed to win nine and they have killed him this season.”

They have killed him this season – let those words sink in.

Sutton continues, now looking at the recruitment and the structure. “The recruitment team have also killed him. Some of the signings have been nowhere near it. Vasilis Barkas. Albian Ajeti. £10 million on two guys who can’t get into the team,” he added. Had the required bid been received for Edouard (similar situation to Tierney’s £25m move to Arsenal) then Ivan Toney would have been signed for around £10m and Albian Ajeti would have probably ended up at West Brom. Or we could have kept Gordon or brought in David Marshall on a free and used that cash buy Toney, who wanted to come to Celtic.

“I wondered for long spells how much of that was down to him. I never felt he was able to get his own people into the building after he returned when Brendan Rodgers quit. It was almost like he’d come back with orders not to be himself. And not to have his own people,” remarks Sutton. Bang on the money. Make no mistake this is a Peter Lawwell production, Celtic’s de facto Director of Football.

“Where were the Johan Mjalllbys or Garry Parkers to tell him what was what? Who was signing the players for him? It was a job impossible to turn down, yet from the outside it looked like a club dictating to a boss from the outset as opposed to the other way around,” Chris Sutton stated. And that is also the reason why the club did not or could not remove him from post last year, despite the personal anguish and stress that he must have endured seeing the unprecedented levels of personal attacks directed at him from Celtic supporters.

Sutton’s damning verdict continued. “Big game players have not responded within the Covid and empty stadiums, but that’s no excuse. His decision making at times this season has been miles off and you carry the can as boss. That’s the bottom line. The stuff after Ross County the other night just summed it up. Asked about the set pieces, he said he couldn’t change it. Is that not what a training ground is for?

“Neil has not become a bad manager overnight. He has not gone from a treble winner to a clown in the space of a year, so something has not been right. Whatever it is, though, he wasn’t saving it. When the fans pitched up outside the stadium and started throwing fences and abuse after they lost to Ross County in the Betfred Cup, it was over.

“It had come on the back of the league campaign falling apart and the back to back spankings from Sparta Prague. These were embarrassing defeats and damaging to the club in terms of their European reputation.”

Well said Chris Sutton.

About Author

The Celtic Star founder and editor, who has edited numerous Celtic books over the past decade or so including several from Lisbon Lions, Willie Wallace, Tommy Gemmell and Jim Craig. Earliest Celtic memories include a win over East Fife at Celtic Park and the 4-1 League Cup loss to Partick Thistle as a 6 year old. Best game? Easy 4-2, 1979 when Ten Men Won the League. Email editor@thecelticstar.co.uk

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