Football/Soccer

Lennon leaves Celtic under a cloud - but after much silverware

BIG LOSS goalkeeper Fraser Forster had been key to Celtic's success in the past few years. His absence has been keenly felt this year

SOME footballers go through their careers without causing so much as a ripple. Neil Lennon is not one of them.

Since he signed for Celtic he has had confrontations and problems with other players, other managers, match officials and fans. He has been attacked in Glasgow while out for the night, assaulted by a Hearts supporter during a game and even worse, after he signed for the Hoops Lennon was told he was the target of a death threat while playing for Northern Ireland. He had to leave the ground at half time.

The Lurgan man has been in the headlines from day one of his association with Celtic. In fact every twist and turn of the pursuit of the Northern Ireland midfielder by Martin O'Neill was rarely off the back pages for months before Lennon signed on the dotted line in December 2000.

O'Neill's dogged pursuit of the player began when he took the reins at Parkhead in June that year is an indicator of how highly he regarded Lennon. That was not always a sentiment shared by all Celtic supporters. O'Neill on one occasion scolded fans for showing their displeasure at what some thought were 'negative tactics' by the player.

He could never be accused of lacking confidence. I happened to be at Celtic Park for an interview with the Lurgan man on the day it was announced Roy Keane had been signed.

I jokingly asked him what he thought of the club buying a holding midfielder and he smiled before replying 'I've got the jersey'. And his confidence was well-placed. Lennon kept the jersey until he departed after seven trophy laden years. He departed with five league medals, four Scottish Cup gongs and two for the League cup as well as a runner-up medal after the Uefa Cup final defeat by Porto in 2002-03.

He wasn't long away from Celtic Park, returning in 2010 to pick up the pieces after an unsuccessful management spell for Tony Mowbray. Lennon took up the reins to see out the season and was appointed the following term. He made wholesale changes and brought in a host of players but it paid off in the 2011-12 season when he brought the league flag back to Parkhead. He added two more titles and two Scottish Cups to his growing list of honours, not to mention some impressive performances in Europe including a victory over a mighty Barcelona.

He moved to Bolton in 2014 but was back in Glasgow within five years. Lennon's most recent dalliance came about in 2019. Just as he replaced Tony Mowbray temporarily at first, he did the same when Brendan Rodgers shocked – and angered – Hoops supporters when the Carnlough man upped sticks in the middle of the season, having won seven domestic trophies in two and a half seasons.

Lennon led the same team to the Scottish Cup and League title before winning the treble the following season. Like all good things the phenomenal run of treble trebles came to a shuddering halt with elimination from the League Cup, followed by exiting Europe and then falling so far behind Rangers as to make last year's predictions of 10 in a row a pipe dream.

The collapse has been spectacular and hard to explain. Well, not that hard. My own belief is that Celtic's problems are in one area. Defence. You might even bring that all-encompassing analysis down to one position.

Had Fraser Foster been still between the sticks it is entirely possible that Lennon's side and his future would be a whole lot more secure.

Yes the early season antics of Bolongoli left Celtic with a serious uphill climb to regain ground on Rangers. But they did it. The latest Covid controversy, the trip to Dubai however, appears to have done more damage, Just before jetting off to the sun, the Hoops had had a couple of good performances and but for Alan McGregor, probably would have beaten Steven Gerard's men instead of being on the wrong end of a 1-0 result.

Up until midweek, Lennon's men had been enjoying a mini revival but Ross County's second victory over the Hoops this season was the final nail.

Football fans are hard to please. Some, including Irish fans, will only remember that Lennon was the man in charge when Celtic blew the chance to do 10-in-a-row. Hopefully more will remember him as a player and manager who helped bring so much success to the Hoops.

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Football/Soccer