Celtic: Neil Lennon's successes will live on once anger over the ending subsides

By Tom EnglishBBC Scotland
Neil Lennon
Neil Lennon won domestic trebles as a player and manager at Celtic

There was a certain symmetry to the endgame, Neil Lennon's last tumult as Celtic manager coming against the same club as his first, almost 11 years apart.

When Celtic lost to Ross County in the 2010 Scottish Cup semi-final, Lennon lacerated his players for going out of the competition "with a whimper" - a fair description of their defeat to the same opposition on Sunday. A whimper too far.

Like air leaving a balloon, the fury surrounding Lennon's management at Celtic will now deflate and, in the hearts and minds of most Celtic fans, the process of restoring him to beloved character status will surely begin.

For some, with a full grasp of the epic scale of his time at the club as player and manager, it will be almost immediate. For others, angry and bitter that he didn't leave earlier in a bid to save their precious 10, it may take a while. Nearly everybody will get there in the end. Lennon's years demand it.

Of course, it went horribly wrong in a season when it absolutely had to go historically right, but time will pass and Lennon's status as a Celtic icon will return.

Regardless of the desperate disfigurement of the current campaign - the chaos, the confusion, the apparent indifference of some players, the obvious poor signings of others, the cringe-making news conferences and the relentless excuse-making and victimhood - Lennon's legacy is not just about the last seven months.

It's not just about Ferencvaros and Sparta Prague and their collapses in Europe. Not just about County and Rangers, and Celtic's eye-watering vulnerability in Scotland. Not just about Vasilis Barkas, the £5m goalkeeper who doesn't stop shots and Patryk Klimala, the £3.5m striker who doesn't score goals.

That's only part of the tale - the dramatic and unexpected plot twist at the end of one of the domestic game's most engrossing stories.

'Unfair revisionism about Lennon's reign'

Lennon did what he said he would do when taking over from Tony Mowbray, he brought back the noise after everything had gone deathly quiet at Celtic Park.

There's been an unfair revisionism about his reign among some in the club's support, an unwillingness to give him proper credit, a mean-spiritedness amid the maelstrom of these troubled months.

Celtic won buckets of titles under Lennon, they signed some players who went on to become superstars, they won the kind of games in Europe that are miles beyond them now. There has been a great unravelling, but the good times were extremely good.

Celtic supporters will have to wait an awfully long time before anything rivals their victory over Barcelona, not just in terms of the quality of performance that made it possible but the quality of atmosphere, which was extraordinary.

As an occasion - noise and colour and drama - that night could go toe-to-toe with any other event in another sport in the intervening years. The ringing in the ears lasted for days. That was on Lennon's watch.

In frighteningly hot company, Lennon is in the pantheon in the Celtic trophy stakes and out on his own as the one person in the club's history who has completed domestic trebles as player and manager. That stays. Nobody can take that away from him. Long after the calamity that is Shane Duffy is forgotten, that mantle will remain.

What's happened this season - the full meltdown - will pass, but some of the things that Lennon and his teams achieved will be talked about when none of us are alive to hear the conversations.

'It has been Scottish football's own Shakespearean tragedy'

Watch Lennon's last post-match interview as Celtic manager

What makes the Lennon years so compelling is not just the football; it's the poison attached to the football, or attached to the people who abused him for his nationality and his religion.

There has never been a more persecuted character in the Scottish game and you hope nobody will ever have to deal with the bigotry that he has to live with for the longest time.

Bullets in the post, attacks on the touchline, assaults on the streets, graffiti on walls - it's been horrific. Part of the sadness in Lennon's demise at Celtic comes from the fact that some fans who once declared that he would never walk alone then went for him when results really turned bad this season.

Among those who tore into him on social media - their only opportunity to vent given that the stadium gates have been shut - there were no allowances for what he'd done for the club, no special status. Inevitable, of course, given how awful the results were, but bleak none the less.

When a viable parcel bomb with his name on the package was intercepted at a sorting office coming up for 10 years ago, there was a candlelight vigil for the manager outside Celtic Park. When they lost a Cup tie to Ross County in November there were ugly scenes not far from where the vigil had taken place.

From 'We Are All Neil Lennon...' to 'Neil Lennon, get tae...'. It was Scottish football's own take on a Shakespearean tragedy.

'Dithering over McKay will make little sense'

This season has now claimed Peter Lawwell, the totemic chief executive, and Lennon, the once heroic character. Big figures at the club are being knocked over like skittles.

There is a world of decision-making to be done. A new manager, new assistants, a new sporting director, perhaps a reinvention of the scouting operation, a definite rebuilding of the team and an urgent requirement to reconnect with the fans.

Right now, Dominic McKay, the incoming CEO, is busying himself with rugby matters. He has Pro14 negotiations to conduct, he has Rainbow Cup schedules to arrange, he has corporate responsibilities to perform before his deal with Scottish Rugby comes to an end on the last day of June.

Celtic fans don't give a toss about such things, and nor should they. Rainbow Cup? What's that? If he is to be the key decision maker then they'll surely want McKay in the door a lot sooner than the first week in July. Why wait? What would be the point?

The club dithered terribly in their inaction over Lennon's situation long after his reign had careered beyond the point of no return.

There would have been a huge sense of loyalty to him from Lawwell, Dermot Desmond and the rest of the board but that loyalty became misplaced and self-defeating many months ago. The continuation of the relationship only become more damaging. Dithering again with McKay and delaying the rebuilding process would make little sense.

Lennon, the Celtic colossus, has gone, but the problems the club is facing don't go with him. They remain in many forms and it's renewal they're after, they better get to work.

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