CELTIC legend Martin O’Neill has spoken about being shocked to learn that Neil Lennon was being criticised and was not a popular choice among sections of the Celtic support to replace Brendan Rodgers as permanent Celtic manager.
Rodgers drove off one night in mid-winter leaving Celtic will a skeleton backroom staff and facing two crucial matches in Edinburgh – against Hearts in the league and Hibs in the Scottish Cup in the days ahead.
Neil Lennon answered the club’s call, won both those matches – at grounds where Rodgers had a record of losing – and went on to win both competitions to complete a third consecutive treble.
And this is why Martin is somewhat bemused, amazed even that criticism was still forthcoming for Lenny.
“This idea that Neil was cheap or the board were negligent in not looking elsewhere seems exceptionally unfair,” the former Celtic manager said to Scottish Sun.
“Neil has more than proven himself to have the credentials for this job and I would have full confidence that he’ll do it justice.
“When I heard there was some criticism towards Neil getting the job, I would have to say that it truly took me aback. I’m not sure why that would be the case. I really can’t get my head around it at all because I don’t think he put a foot wrong after taking over from Brendan Rodgers,” MON said.
“If I get the chance, I watch Celtic games on television and I’m not sure that the season had been entirely fluent for the duration of the campaign, for one reason or another. So it was not a given that Neil would walk in there and get it right.
“I think you have to be really appreciative of the kind of pressure he was under in those months — all the while as he was trying to win a Treble, which is no mean feat.
“I sometimes wonder in this day and age whether there is an opinion that is as widespread as things are reported. When I watched the Scottish Cup final I heard his name sung loudly and clearly. It didn’t seem to me that there was an issue there.
“I do have cause to ponder at times whether the echo chamber of social media nowadays creates something that is not necessarily there. The thing that really makes Neil such a good manager is his strength of character.
“And for me there is an easy answer when people are asking why Celtic have given him the job for a second time — he was the outstanding candidate for it. He has the personality to drive the club forward.
“It is a huge season in terms of going for a ninth title, but he knows the club. He has dealt with pressures in that job that no one else has had to. Having the mettle to cope with the intensity of this season will be huge.”
Inevitably O’Neill was asked about the Rangers and the challenge that they will provide this season.
“That isn’t really Celtic’s problem,” he replied. “You can only beat who is put in front of you and it’s not their responsibility to do anything other than be as successful as they possibly can be.
“But over the last season I did get a sense that Rangers were getting a little bit stronger — and that’s no bad thing.
“If they get a better presence, then I actually think that will help Celtic. It pushes you, it makes you look over your shoulder and keeps you on your toes.
“I’ll say again that Celtic being the dominant force is not their fault.
“They have been a club that’s been exceptionally well run.”