We have covered extensively what the Celtic PLC Board have had to say at today’s AGM but we shouldn’t overlook what the manager Neil Lennon was saying. He certainly put up an emotional defence of why he should remain in charge of the team and tried to outline some of the reasons for the form slump that had the majority of fans calling for him to be sacked.
Despite that pressure the Board stood firm behind their man and for that Lennon remains grateful. Recent results have seen the team return to winning ways, with the 3-2 win over Lille followed by a 2-0 win over Kilmarnock yesterday. However the remainder of the season really has to be just about perfect if the Ten is going to happen. It’s a tough challenge but one Lennon is prepared to face.
He started by looking ahead to the Scottish Cup Final on Sunday and you can watch the video of this interview on the official Celticfc.com website.
Neil Lennon on Scottish Cup Final v Hearts
“It’s unprecedented. To be talking about trying to win a fourth treble in consecutive seasons is monumental and I think it’ll mean so much to the players. From my own personal point of view it would mean a hell of a lot because we put a lot of work into it last season even though it’s now overlapping into this season.
“Since 2000 we’ve won four trebles, it’s incredible, and this could be the fifth. I don’t think we’ll ever see the likes of it again. So it’s one to look forward to, I think the players are very much motivated for and hopefully we can come away with another really important piece of silverware to bring home for the club and the supporters.”
Neil Lennon on getting fans back into games
“I think from our point of view we’ve missed the fans as much as any other club in Europe. The players have really found it difficult, empty stadiums is not normal and I think it’s affects them subconsciously at times.
“We don’t have that rawness in the atmosphere, that electricity. It’s been really difficult for them to adapt to the empty stadium and we know that most times it’s full whether we’re home or away. It’s been difficult circumstances for everyone, not just in sport, but hopefully we’re seeing the turning of the corner with this and we’ll get the supporters back in soon.”
Neil Lennon on turning round the season
“It means everything to me. My own personal pride, the reputation of the club, the reputation of the players. It’s been difficult but you’re starting to see signs of things really improving. There have been situations where we’ve lost players to Covid, there’s been anxiety with the players I think.
“There’s been no respite for them this season in terms of the pressure being on in every game and I think they’ve felt that where some of them have probably been trying too hard and they’re over-thinking their play a little bit. Sometimes there’s just an overall fatigue where they look leggy and that just comes from the mental pressure they’re feeling rather than anything physical.
“We look at the physical data, it’s pretty similar to where we were last year in terms of performances they’re probably just a little bit antsy in the final third. Once we get over that we’ll be absolutely fine.”
Neil Lennon on relying on his experience to get through this tough period
“I’ve been saying to the players that I’ve been in this situation before as a manager. The Lille game was the ninth anniversary of us playing against Hearts when Fraser Forster saved a penalty and we could have been 10 or 11 points behind our rivals at that stage of the season.
“We turned it around that season, so there’s evidence that we can do it and the players need to buy into that and understand that. I think that’s a huge motivation for them going forward.
“We can’t affect other results, what we need to do is find that little bit of swagger that we had because it’s been apparent we haven’t had that from last year where we were rampant. We need to pick that up, have a little bit of belief in ourselves and chase it down. I think that’s very, very exciting for the club and the group of players and it would be an amazing achievement if we could do that.
“But we can’t worry about what other teams are doing we have to chip away and chip away, keep the Ws in the results bracket every week.”
Neil Lennon on why he’s still the right man to manage Celtic
“I believe, and I’ve proven I can do it. Out of the nine I’ve contributed to five of them and no-one wants it more than myself. I can’t project that sort of desperation to the players, it has to be calm and be consistent. You have to do it bit-by-bit.
“You can’t look too far ahead and we have to play in the present but my record speaks for itself when it comes to winning championships whether it be as a player or a manager. I’ve won 10 in my time here as a player and manager and there are not many who’ve done that before. I firmly believe with the backroom staff and our training protocols and policies it’s a winning way and we’ll find that way.”
Neil Lennon on supporting Celtic and the importance of succeeding
“You’re right, I have been a Celtic all my life. And I’ll be a Celtic fan for the rest of my life. This means more to me than any other thing apart from my family. I’ve been a part of the club here, on and off, for 20 years. I haven’t done it all myself, I’ve played with good players and worked with good managers, I’ve worked with great coaches and I’ve had great players underneath me.
“It’s been a concerted effort and I’ve also got a great CEO in Peter Lawwell who’s brought mighty success to the club. We want me, we’re hungry, we just need to transmit that on to the pitch and bring that to the supporters. I think the fans see that every now and again we’re going to have a little struggle and it’s important we get their support through thick and thin. I’ve no doubt or belief we’ll come out of this stronger than ever.”
Neil Lennon on the reasons for the recent form slump?
“This is all new, I’ve never managed through a pandemic before and the players haven’t played through one. It’s been bit-by-bit. I don’t think we’ve had a lot of luck, things have gone against us whether it be Covid, players missing, restrictions on their life away from the training ground that they find difficult.
“Other clubs have maybe dealt with that a little bit better but we’re talking about eight weeks where it’s not been great but the results haven’t always merited the performances. We were outstanding, I felt, in the San Siro. I thought against Sparta Prague for 35 minutes away from home we were in total control. We just didn’t get the goal we deserved.
“So there have been fine lines we haven’t crossed, hopefully with the Lille result that’s a turning point. It was a really good result on the back of a really good performance, a lot of zest and energy, a lot of will to win and desire. That’s what we want from the players and hopefully that will give them the little ignition, the little spark, to go on the winning run we know they’re capable of.”