This season there has been a lot of talk about Neil Lennon’s body language on the touchline. He has looked a little bit passive, no moment more so than when Ryan Christie put Celtic 3-2 in front last weekend and Lennon appeared to show no emotion. It’s something most of us have observed, myself included.
Lennon came out and said people are reading too much into it, he definitely does care as much as he used to, but that modern players don’t respond as well to that old school aggressive style for which he is famed. I take on board his point to a degree. There’s no doubt that second time around in the dugout, Lenny has been a little more measured.
However, he showed real passion still in the last season and a half. There’s a difference between passion and going over the top. For example, Lenny would be animated on the touchline in an enthusiastic and encouraging manner. When his Celtic team scored a late winner at Dundee, he ran down the touchline to the corner flag in celebration, in a scene reminiscent of the Shaktar Karagandy clash a few years ago. That’s great. It’s natural. It’s who Lennon is. On the flip side, Lennon had channeled that passion in the right way, being a little more cool under pressure in the sense that he no longer got himself sent to the stands for going mental at a refereeing decision, he didn’t boot water bottles when things went against him and he stopped reacting to abuse from the stands.
This season, he seemed a little false. Almost as if he was trying to change his personality. Modern footballers may not be able to handle a dressing down, but that doesn’t equate to not showing enthusiasm. You can be encouraging on the sidelines, shouting and expressing yourself in a positive way. Not every manager does this, but it’s what comes natural to Lenny – he is a passionate Celtic man.
Fast forward to the press conference ahead of the match against Lille and the manner in which the manager stood up for himself and his players against the media resonated with me. It wasn’t so much the words he said, as the way he said them. I saw that passion back. In truth, it had never gone, but Lennon was now being himself again and had given up on being something or someone that he is not.
This is the best Neil Lennon; a man who enthuses and has infectious desire for victory, but who has refined the rough edges when he sometimes went overboard. It’s the perfect balance. He thrives on man management and is reported to be a great motivator if the words of his former Celtic players are anything to go by.
Last night you could hear the manager barking instructions. There are obviously many other factors that created such a strong performance, but I think Lennon acting himself played a part. His style, albeit with a bit of refinement, earned him the gig as Celtic boss and it seems he is now back to doing what he does best.
Long may it continue.