Peter Lawwell didn’t even give Neil Lennon the chance to fully absorb Celtic’s Treble Treble triumph before moving the discussion forward, offering the Northern Irishman the Hoops job on a permanent basis while he was still in the Hampden Park showers. For some fans, this news poured cold water on the celebrations.
Indeed, the Celtic support has been split by the decision to offer Lennon the Celtic job for real. Some argue that he epitomises the spirit of the East End club, answering the call when he was needed most following Brendan Rodgers’ shock exit three months from the end of the season. Lennon was the one who started the run for the fabled 10-in-a-row and, as has become a common view, he deserves the chance to finish it.
Others, however, see a regression under Lennon, even in the short time that he was in interim charge. Celtic might have crossed the line in both the Scottish Premiership and Scottish Cup with the Northern Irishman at the helm, adding to the Scottish League Cup clinched by Rodgers, but they hardly sprinted through the tape, instead staggering their way there.
Lennon is a better coach than many have given him credit for in recent weeks. Things could have spiralled out of control after Rodgers’ exit, their was still time for a title race to materialise, but Lennon made sure it didn’t. His appointment isn’t one that evokes ambition, though.
In many ways, Celtic’s decision to hand Lennon the manager’s job is similar to Scotland’s appointment of Alex McLeish last year. McLeish was, at that time, the easy option – a popular figure with the fans, the close friend of the hierarchy and out of a job. Just as McLeish and Scottish FA president Alan McRae’s relationship resulted in an ill-judged appointment, much of the Celtic support fears Peter Lawwell’s relationship with Lennon has clouded his decision-making in the same way.
Big names were linked to the Celtic job. Rafael Benitez, Roberto Martinez David Moyes and Andre Villas-Boas were all at different times favourites for the position, with some reports even claiming Jose Mourinho was offered a contract. It was never likely that Celtic would be able to lure a candidate of such pedigree, but they certainly could have shown some imagination.
Chris Hughton, for instance, might have been open to an approach from Celtic after losing his job at Brighton. Michael Kollner, the former Nurnberg manager who reportedly held talks with the Scottish champions, also would have been an interesting proposition. Lennon’s appointment, however, is decidedly uninspired.
Of course, Celtic will still be favourites in every domestic competition they enter next season, such is landscape of Scottish football right now. Lennon, however, needs to rebuild his team this summer in order to bring it in line with his own identity as a coach. As things stand, there is a disconnect between the default style of the current squad, established under Rodgers, and that of their new manager.
Should that disconnect be allowed to linger into next season, however, there is a scenario from which Lennon’s appointment jeopardises Celtic’s 10-in-a-row hopes. If this is the sort of ambition they have shown in the hiring of a manager to succeed Rodgers, the most club’s successful manager since Martin O’Neill, what hope is there that they will shoot higher in the transfer market?
Some sort of alternative universe opened up in the moments that followed Saturday’s Scottish Cup final, with the breaking of Celtic’s job offer to Lennon prompting near jubilation from some Rangers fans who had only just watched their fiercest rivals secure a treble Treble. Many Celtic fans, on the other hand, felt a degree of deflation as they watched their team hold aloft yet another trophy. This is a rivalry and a football landscape that isn’t always easy to understand.