It was another weekend to forget for Neil Lennon as Celtic slumped to their third defeat of the season, just one less than the four defeats they fell to in the whole of last season. For those who don’t know, that was enough for Rangers to lift the SPL title by a single point. There are some serious headaches around Celtic Park and it certainly isn’t down to celebrating. There’s a ten point gap between them and Rangers, talk of unrest in the dressing room and a frustration bubbling amongst the supporters.
So what is going wrong at Celtic Park? There are multiple reasons I’m sure and no doubt everyone has an opinion on how to fix it. This is mine.
Neil Lennon has a squad of fantastically talented individuals. Of that there is no doubt. Gary Hooper is the best out and out striker in the league, Baram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre were linked with Premiership clubs in the summer for a reason and in James Forrest there is a rawness that could be nurtured into something dazzling.
Celtic do seem to have a problem in defence. They have played 9 league games and already 9 different defenders have made an appearance. Obviously injury has played a part in that stat but it’s still not one that shouts consistency. In saying that, including the four conceded to Rangers, Celtic have only let in eight goals which isn’t a bad record. The troubling aspect defensively is that out of those nine defenders who have played, Lennon has signed seven of them and is clearly having second thoughts on who to play where and when. This is a glaring example of his inexperience. Most managers will admit the hardest part of the job in the early years comes in the transfer market. That is fair enough but as a club that has aspirations of trophies, titles and European football, is the correct man for the job one that doesn’t have the experience to identify players who will fit his structure and bring the instant success that is demanded of a team at Celtic’s level?
The biggest problem, though, is not the ability or the talent of the players within the Celtic squad, it’s in the type of player. Being a successful footballer involves more than the ability to play 25 yard passes with pin-point accuracy. There is something that Lionel Messi, David Beckham, Zinedine Zidane and all those in that same ilk have that sets them apart from just being talented individuals. It is the ability to work within a team, to lead when needed and be led by others, to evoke determination within yourself and within those around you, to motivate and inspire and to find that little bit extra within you when the chips are down. There is one player at the club I think embodies those traits in some way. The problem for Celtic is that he is standing on the sidelines wearing the manager’s jacket.
Neil Lennon as a player was exactly the kind of guy you wanted in a team, not because he was the most talented on the field but because of those traits he embodied as a player. What he needs to do now is let go of that time in his life. There is understandably a reluctance to let someone else in and take over the mantle that has made him such a hero amongst the supporters (in some respects it possibly saved him his job in the summer). He can’t be that man anymore, not from the sidelines . There is a reason Davie Weir is still playing at the age of 41, why Jody Morris is such an important player at the age of 32 and why John Potter is still getting a move to an SPL club at the age of 31; they provide something unique on the pitch, something that Celtic desperately need.
The fact that Celtic have had five different captains this season alone surely emphasises the point. Who in that Celtic squad, Scott Brown included, is captain material? Who can inspire the team to dig deep and graft when needed? Who can provide the catalyst to unite a group of individuals into a strong unit willing to work for each other?
I struggle to spot one in that long list of individuals that wear the Celtic hoops.