It’s a strange sort of interview with Neil Lennon. He’s obviously attempting to outline the underlying reasons why this has turned into a season to forget for Celtic and talks about the human aspect of his players and staff going through the lockdown while trying to cope with the intense pressures of a league campaign that Celtic themselves were as ‘guilty’ as the support in over-hyping.
He talks of door-step visits to players’ houses, on the day when Hatem Elhamed has agreed his move back to Israel to be re-united with his wife and young son (who quit Scottish lockdown life last year) and talks about Shane Duffy being in a similar position to Hatem, being left in the house on his own as his family have remained in England. Is it a coincidence that both these players have been stand-out under-performers this season on the park? Probably not.
There’s some underlying bitterness too, with Lennon starting to think about digging up this who he feels let down by and he’s probably referring to his former Celtic teammates – Hartson, Petrov and Sutton when he accusing them of click-baiting, the days an lazy excuse to criticise anyone making a point in the media that you don’t agree with.
The support’s reaction to the poor results is hinted at several times as a case of the problems, certainly adding to it and with guys like Shane Duffy ‘home-alone’ then there’s going to be more time to look at social media, blogs and newspaper articles to see what’s been said. It appears that Lennon has been doing this himself and being the kind of guy that he is, there’s scores to settle, now, soon or further down the line.
“It’s been very difficult. I’ve been to players’ houses. Not inside obviously, but outside chatting to them and their partners. I’ve just been trying to support and encourage them. This is not exclusive to us. Everybody is going through the same thing,” the Celtic manager told the Mainstream Media, as reported by Scottish Sun. The only Celtic Fans media regularly invited to these media briefings this season has been The Cynic and they have apparently fallen foul of crossing a line regarding the criticism directed at a manager, who appears to be reading most things that are being posted.
“Maybe they don’t have the demands we had coming into such a significant season. Obviously the stress around the support coming into the season has exaggerated that,” Lennon said and there’s the first mention of the support’s influenceon what’s happened this season.
“It’s not just about the football, it’s also about health and wellbeing. I think it’s very important for a manager to stay on top of that, particularly in the modern game, and in a season as abnormal as this.
“The visits were something I felt were required at the time with the level of abuse, criticism, whatever you want to call it. They are human beings at the end of the day. They have come up here in good faith. It is obviously not the picture they expected,” he continued, with reference number two re the support.
“By everyone’s predictions we were hoping that your freedoms, restaurants, cafes would be open and all the stuff players do in their social lives. We hoped there would be supporters back in the stadium. That’s been a huge loss for us and with the significance of the season, it’s been a shame.
“I think I have a duty of care to the players to offer them support, to tell them they are not on their own and we all go through phases like this. But I still think the criticism has far outweighed anything I have come across in my career.” There’s the third dig.
The conversation turned to the Republic of Ireland captain Shane Duffy, on a season-long loan from Brighton who has struggled to make any kind of positive impact at Celtic. “I think he’s just found it difficult to settle,” Lennon admitted.
“He’s up here on his own. Life away from the training ground is difficult for them all but especially the guys who are on their own. He will be the first to admit he hasn’t been as good or as consistent as he can be.
“He will be massively disappointed with that because of the way he feels about the club. But there is still time for him to find his best form between now and the end of the season.
“He’s been very self- analytical — to his detriment — and very hard on himself. He’s been getting a chorus of criticism from all and sundry. When you go home to an empty house that can be difficult to deal with. But we give him all the support we can and hopefully we will start seeing the best of him soon.” Dig number four.
“I think it’s a sign of the times. We live in a time where it isn’t objective anymore, it’s more personal. I think that people don’t see you, or choose not to see you, as a human being. The criticism and the abuse is a lot harsher,” Lennon said, dropping number five in while he’s at it.
“Sometimes I think I’m boring when I’m doing press interviews because people just analyse everything you say. I’ve seen it with other people, looking to court public opinion, get more followers, more clickbait, that kind of stuff.
“These people have sold their souls a little bit and I’m quite happy with the way I’ve dealt with things. My conscience is completely clear in terms of how I have gone about my work.” Petrov, Hartson and Sutton getting it now.
It’s not only been difficult for the Celtic players or management. It’s been tough on everyone, including the Celtic support and the former players – now pundits – like for instance Chris Sutton who lost his dad. There’s a decent article on Celtic Underground that gives a supporter’s take on what’s gone wrong this season and while we shouldn’t discount anything Neil Lennon says here, it’s worth adding the points made in the Celtic Underground article to the manager’s reasons to get a clearer picture. We’ll do our own summary of the season’s failings in due course.