Note this article first appeared on Celticunderground.net earlier this year
It’s hard to imagine what it must be like to be Neil Lennon and come through everything that he has endured since he took charge of the Celtic first team one hundred games ago. I can’t imagine what it’s like to receive bomb threats in the post, have your family living under constant threat and have round-the-clock security as part of your daily routine.
In addition to that, and even more insidiously perhaps, there is the relentless media strategy, apparent to all who want to see it, to portray you in words and imagery as a figure of hate. A concerted strategy with one goal: to drive you, and ideally the team that you manage along with you, out of Scottish football once and for all. But this ‘unrepentant taig’ has not gone away and has already shown himself to be easily the best and most accomplished manager currently in Scottish football.
I don’t intend to cover the one hundred games match by match, but I would venture the broad statement that Neil Lennon has grown both as a person and tactically as a manager during the course of his tenure at Celtic Park.
He seems to have developed a confidence in his own decisions that wasn’t always there in the early games. That confidence has been apparent in his team selections, except perhaps in the area of the back four where injuries have played a large part in his revisions, and has recently been seen in the confident manner of the team’s performances.
Neil Lennon seems to have learned to handle himself better as a person and to have shown a great deal of self-control in the face of provocation. While everyone was screaming in the last derby game that McCulloch intended to go over the ball when he put Beram Kayal out of football for several months, Neil Lennon quietly and professionally took the incident as part of the game and stoically moved on.
Only on Saturday at Celtic Park amid the howls of protest by 50,000 fans at a referee and officials conducting themselves in a blatantly unprofessional way, Neil Lennon graciously accepted the reality of the situation, praised the professionalism of his own team and enjoyed the victory for what it was: a magnificent triumph over adversity.
The Neil Lennon of last season would have been seething with indignation. For this you have to admire the man even more than the manager.
The Century Bhoy is managing the media much better than he once did too. You can see in his eyes that he barely tolerates large swathes of the Scottish press pack, a bit like you and me in other words. In recent months he has begun to play and toy with them on a regular basis and, as a monolithic and gullible rabble of barely literate drones, they have all too easily fallen into his easily laid traps.
Lennon’s ‘if I had to put a price on Gary Hooper’s head then it would be £35million’ quip was breathtaking in its audacity and was quickly spewed forth again by slow witted hacks looking for an angle. Indeed the way that Neil Lennon and the entire club have conducted themselves in the media during the recent transfer window has been a credit to the man and to the traditions of the club. Something that cannot be said of other, much smaller, Glasgow clubs.
The manager has continued to listen to good counsel when it comes to new players and I am still looking forward to the day when twin wingbacks Izaguirre and Rustig take their place in a future Lennon lineup.
As Neil Lennon the man has grown, Neil Lennon the manager has grown immeasurably too. Not only his decisions but his decision making processes seem to have improved over the past one hundred games. He now seems more ready and more able to rethink his decisions and, as he’s been winning rather a lot of games recently, his decisions have more often than not been right.
Many questioned his faith and confidence in Brown and Samaras, for example. Yet his confidence has been shown to be have been well founded during some very tough, must-win games. And his confidence in his team has lead to confident players delivering results when it matters.
Landmark moments have been many in the past one hundred games. The 2-2 ten man fight back at Ibrox last season. The roller coaster 3-3 fight back at Kilmarnock when Stokes showed his passion and determination and Neil himself held firm.
However it has been the two victories over Hearts this season that have really been pivotal and shown that Neil’s own confidence in the spine of his team Forster, Wanyama, Brown and Samaras to name only a few, has helped the team to develop and grow in self belief.
That probably the most impressive performance was last week’s 4-0 overpowering of Hearts at Tynecastle where Neil was attacked by a Hearts fan only last year, shows how the man and the team have faced difficult opposition and circumstances and overcome them. A great victory for the man and for his team.
In a matter of days two Rangers fans will go on trial for the attempted murder of the Celtic manager. With the extinction of Rangers a possibility you can be sure that the media and others will use this as an excuse to drag up the ‘he brings it on himself’ stories and put pressure once again on the manager and his family.
However Neil Lennon has grown in stature during the past one hundred games. He has learned and achieved a great deal both personally and professionally. I have a feeling our Century Bhoy will be the Celtic manager for a long time yet, and after all ‘this is just the beginning.’