When players have chosen to move on from Celtic or agitated for a transfer in the past, I’ve often thought repent at leisure or the grass is not always greener – the usual reactions of the scolded football fan.
When Olivier Ntcham looked to be engineering his exit, or when Dedryk Boyata refused to play, as he put personal ambition above a team ethic, I placed the fault at the door of those individuals.
Even Stilyan Petrov’s exit for Aston Villa when he downed tools, I always blamed the player and never the club. And when news broke of Moussa Dembele’s training ground go slow and subsequent public spat with Rodgers, I certainly didn’t take the side of Moussa until much later on.
However, in the case of Jeremie Frimpong my first reaction yesterday when advised by our editor of his impending move to Bayer Leverkusen, was different. My first thought was ‘I don’t blame him’ and that felt strange. And this was not some apathetic shrug of the shoulders as to Celtic’s collapse this season, it ran deeper than that.
When Neil Lennon’s press conference was released soon after, and his comments appeared to be that the player was not unhappy, just ambitious, that stung. I knew then exactly why I didn’t feel let down by Jeremie Frimpong and instead I felt apologetic towards the player. It was because the truth is Celtic have let him down.
Subsequently Lennon was quoted, after talking to the written press, that he felt ‘let down’ by Jeremie Frimpong. I felt then that the manager was trying to deflect to the player. He’d let us down? Really? This kid who burst on to the scene with such promise and enthusiasm and one who has since declined like so many others in the last year, and it is him letting us down? Do me a favour.
Had Frimpong regressed and others had improved around him, or had young lads been pushing first team players but kept out by the consistent standards of their elders, I could have understood Lennon believing that with patience and application Frimpong had a Celtic future where he could develop.
However, when I can’t think of a single player who has improved in the last year, but could name over a dozen who have gone backwards, it’s not Jeremie Frimpong and a thirst for money, or being an ungrateful brat, it’s the diving for an escape hatch for a player with a hunger to prove himself and be improved, who wants to become the best he can be as quickly as possible and maximise his potential. A player who wants technical and tactical improvements on a daily basis, a personalised plan that feeds in seamlessly to everyone else’s in the squad to in turn foster a team ethic and environment of incremental improvement – and Jeremie knows he won’t get that at Celtic. That’s painful to realise and accept but it seems clear.
It also felt that the front Celtic have been putting up of late, the mask on the face of the organisation, was slipping now. While results, performances, standards and values at Celtic have been dropping, the club would have us believe the self-entitlement of the fans needed addressing.
When there were protests at Celtic Park, we were told the players didn’t realise the extent of the fans discontent, that they were even frightened by the response.
Then every time a player went in front of the press, they were conveying a message of we work hard, we back the manager and the coaching staff, all will be well if we keep plugging away, we’ve had a lot of bad luck and this Covid stuff has hit us harder than most. Yesterday showed that is a front.
With the news Jeremie Frimpong had refused offers of a new contract, and had been blown away by Bayer Leverkusen’s development plan for his career, showed we have let Jeremie Frimpong down and we haven’t even the guts to acknowledge our own failings. Instead, we deflect to the player.
This was the first tangible evidence the players are not happy, Lennon even admitted others felt the same. As such this was the first glimpse behind the curtain that there are players amongst the squad who do not feel like they can be developed at Celtic as well as they can be elsewhere.
This was the first time that rumours of discontent were replaced, where previously you had to read between the lines, where you could still have feelings of doubt as to your perception of the club, were blown away by evidence of discontent and slipping standards.
This was blatant. Players wished to leave, Frimpong is just the first and much is down to how they are being developed and the impact the club’s diminishing ambition as a European Club is having on our current players. It will also have an impact on how we go forward.
This was an indictment of the atmosphere behind the scenes, an example the standard of coaching and personal career development at Celtic nosediving. This was an example of a player where good habits prevail at clubs like Manchester City being far from prevalent at Celtic.
News of our habits will already have travelled, young players who previously saw an opportunity to showcase where they were lost in stockpiled numbers at clubs like City or Manchester United or PSG will think again – or at least the networked agent will do their thinking for them. Even those clubs themselves looking to loan young talent to Celtic based on a historical reputation for an ability to develop will have second thoughts.
As Peter Lawwell no doubt pats himself on the back for another cash injection, he may wish to consider if water can still be turned into wine at Celtic, if we can even any longer get the ingredients we need. Players are not improving; values will drop and targeted recruits will look elsewhere.
The loss of Jeremie Frimpong is far from a huge blow to Celtic FC as a singular event, what it signifies for the future is far more concerning than that.
If there is a restructure proposed it needs to be soon, players are not happy and natural talent needs nurturing. On yesterday’s evidence, and the proclamation there is more to come, that is not happening.
Celtic are not only failing today; we are in danger of that failure seeping into tomorrow. Jeremie Frimpong has realised that and is the first to jump ship. I want to be angry at him, instead I completely understand.