THE West Brom rage, gleefully reported in the press, directed towards Neil Lennon after his ‘treatment’ of Oil Burke last season masks their own failures as a club. They bought Burke from RB Lustig for £15million but were unable to get him anywhere near their team. They also sacked the manager who signed the Scotland star who incidentally got himself back into the the national side because of the match-time he received at Celtic.
Neil Lennon is blamed but Brendan Rodgers is praised, yet Rodgers knew fine well when he brought Burke up to Scotland in the January window that he’d be going in the opposite direction pretty soon afterwards.
Celtic had to replace Rodgers and most of the backroom team at short notice in February. The club turned to Neil Lennon and gave him a short-term target of seeing out the season, win the league as a priority and if you can retain the Scottish Cup then that’s ideal.
He started with two extremely tough games – away to Hearts in the league and Hibs in the Scottish Cup, and Burke started in both. Rodgers had struggled to get results at both Tynecastle and Easter Road in all of his most recent visits as Celtic manager, so Lennon winning both these games was crucial.
And he was also looking to his own future. He wanted to be the permanent Celtic manager once again and he knew he had to deliver the league and possibly the Scottish Cup if he was to get the job. He picked the teams to get that done and as we have noted on this site previously, he seemed to prefer to rely on Celtic players more than the four loanees signings brought in by the previous manager who would all be leaving in May.
So Lustig was preferred to Toljan and few if anyone would argue that that was the correct decision. Lustig scored the goal that effectively wrapped up the league flag and set up the winner in the Cup Final.
Weah was used sparingly, he got just one start at St Mirren and when he had a chance to play at Ibrox and be involved in the Cup Final, he himself decided against it. That’s commitment. Lenny sent him packing.
Even Filip Benkovic, a high class defender, was left on the bench after returning from injury, in favour of getting Jozo Simunovic used to being the first pick centre half again. He is after all a player we will rely on in the Champions League qualifiers.
Burke got his chances too, even if there was a clear policy to prefer Celtic players rather than the boys on loan. He had a glorious opportunity to tap in a winner against Livingston late in the game that would have taken away all the stresses in the latter stages of the league campaign, but missed an open goal.
Rodgers reckoned he could coach Burke into becoming a top quality player and he was probably right. However no other coach, including the ones at West Brom who paid £15million for the player, have been able to do that.
It wasn’t Neil Lennon’s priority or the reason he was given the job at Celtic on a temporary basis at the end of February. At Easter Road, in his second match in charge, Lenny was changing the formation up front continually trying to find a place where Burke would be effective. As a striker he wasn’t doing it so he spent some time on both flanks.
Pretty much after that game the Interim Celtic manager decided that he’d be using Burke as an impact player from the bench. That’s football, it’s a tough old business where results matter and Lennon was in the job to deliver results.
He did his job, can the people at West Brom really say that they did theirs as far as Oli Burke is concerned?
The player himself has spoken about wanting to sign for Celtic. There’s not been any criticism of Celtic from him and Steve Clarke, the new Scotland manager, must have seen enough of him while he was at Kilmarnock to include him in his Scotland squads. Burke scored the late winner against Cyprus a few weeks ago.
Would that have happened if he’d spent the last six months in the West Brom reserves?
Meanwhile Neil Lennon has told Mikey Johnston that he can make areal impact in the Celtic side this season but he has some key areas that he has to focus on if he’s to enjoy that kind of success.
“It’s a big season for Michael because it’s the next one,” Lenny said. “I like him. He needs to get fitter and more robust and he’s been told that. He came off in the Youth Cup Final and Scottish Cup Final with cramp,” Lenny said…continue reading this article on The Celtic Star HERE.