Lennon is yet to be handed the job on a permanent basis
LONDON: Celtic remain in a league of their own in Scotland as a 3-0 win at Aberdeen clinched an eighth consecutive Premiership title yesterday. The Hoops are now just one victory away from a third consecutive domestic treble of trophies should they defeat Hearts in the Scottish Cup final on May 25.
However, that haul of silverware belies a troubled campaign that saw manager Brendan Rodgers walk out on the club to move to Leicester and a repeated failure to make progress in Europe.
Neil Lennon returned for his second spell in charge when Rodgers suddenly upped sticks in February and has steadied the ship with an unbeaten 11-game run to extend Celtic’s eight-point lead over Rangers to 12, although Steven Gerrard’s men have a game in hand. Yet, despite the results, Celtic’s performances have not hit the heights they often did under Rodgers in the past three months with Lennon admitting his side gave him “heebee jeebees” in closing out the title.
Lennon is yet to be handed the job on a permanent basis and uncertainty surrounds not only who will be in the dugout next season, but the futures of much of a bloated squad.
“It’s been really tough, the toughest piece of management I’ve had to do,” added Lennon. “It has been difficult coming in to the club but the players helped me and I like to think I’ve helped them. It’s been really special.”
There is little time for the Celtic board to deliberate when it comes to naming a new manager or in the transfer market as the Scottish champions will again have to trawl through four qualifying rounds to make it back to the riches and glamour of the Champions League.
Failure at the third hurdle against AEK Athens last season curtailed Rodgers’s ambition for the club to kick on and saw star striker Moussa Dembele sold to Lyon on the final day of the transfer window. Lennon is the hot favourite for the role given his experience of the club and Scottish football, plus he was the last man to lead Celtic to the last 16 of the Champions League in 2013.
The recent deaths of legendary former captain Billy McNeill, who lifted the European Cup in 1967, and Stevie Chalmers, who scored the winning goal against Inter Milan in that final, have hammered home how far off Celtic seem from the European elite now compared to their glorious past.
Emulating the Lisbon Lions on the continental stage is an impossible task, but matching them domestically is Celtic’s target for next season.
McNeill and Chalmers played their part in the Celtic side that won nine titles in a row between 1965-1974, a feat that Rangers matched in the late eighties and nineties. Now nine-in-a-row beckons again for Celtic and Lennon, despite his combustible nature, is seen as the safest pair of hands to get them there.
Gerrard’s first season at Ibrox has seen steady if unspectacular progress. Rangers will finish second for the first time since the club went into liquidation in 2012 and the Gers will hope to be in a better position to push Celtic closer again next season.
However, that will depend on how willingly and wisely Celtic invest. Celtic’s most recent financial results in February showed cash reserves of £39 million ($51 million), a huge sum in the small pond of Scottish football.
Use it to good effect during a summer of transition and Celtic’s financial muscle should see them swot the competition aside again next season. – AFP