In amongst the euphoria of Celtic winning a record-shattering treble treble, Neil Lennon was offered the Celtic job in rather bizarre fashion almost immediately after the final whistle. Varying reaction to this appointment from fans and media alike has created a rather uncertain vibe around Celtic Park with regards to what the future may hold for the Bhoys as they seek to equal the great 9 in a row Celtic side of 1965-1974 and close in on an unprecedented feat of 10 league titles in a row while also looking to progress further on the European front.
There are no doubts that Neil Lennon is not the finished article when looked at from a managerial perspective. However, here are a few reasons as to why he could well be the man to lead Celtic forward in their quest for added dominance in Scottish football and beyond.
One area where Neil Lennon is renowned for excelling in is his ability to be pragmatic against difficult opponents in Europe. A willingness to abandon the domestic open direct style of football played by Celtic under Lennon in his first spell in charge in favour of a more gritty, defensive style of football paid dividends for Celtic as two consecutive Champions League qualifications were delivered in season 2012/13 and 2013/14 and Europa League group stage qualification in 2011/12 although the means to this qualification were most certainly fortuitous.
With Celtic famously beating Barcelona 2-1 and finishing above Benfica and Spartak Moscow in a campaign amassing 10 points perhaps being the pinnacle of Neil Lennon’s first spell in charge of the club. Although managers Ronny Deila and then Brendan Rodgers who succeeded him tried to bring a more attacking-centric way of playing to their European exploits, this has left Celtic open and far more exposed against technically better sides and has hampered Celtic’s European fortunes as a result.
His ability to make Celtic Park a fortress on European nights is certainly something that has been missing since his departure. His home win rate in Europe from start to beginning of his time in charge of the Parkhead club totals 12 wins from 18 European games which converts to a win percentage of 67% with scalps of sides such as the infamous Barcelona side as seen above, Spartak Moscow home and away, Ajax and also positive results against sides such as Benfica, Udinese and Rennes show that there could well be benefits to having Lennon in charge on a European front.
Consistently high league points totals and frequent unbeaten runs.
One faction of Neil Lennon’s managerial exploits that perhaps sometimes gets overlooked is his ability to regularly churn out a significant total of points across a league campaign. In his four seasons full league seasons in charge at Celtic, he has managed to obtain over 90 league points on three separate occasions. His ability to go on consistent unbeaten league runs is testament to this. His most renowned coming between October 2011 and March 2012 when Celtic roared back from a 15 point deficit to Glasgow rivals Rangers to easily win their first league title in four years. Even when brought in for a second spell he managed to carry Celtic to a league and cup double with a win percentage that stands at 71.4% only losing 1 out of 14 games.
Looking at these statistics it is easy to identify that even when the performances aren’t there the results usually are and this could prove to be a valuable quality as Celtic push towards 9 and 10 in a row.
Ability to identify a player
One of the token phrases that surround Neil Lennon and his managerial qualities is his ‘ability to find a player’. Obvious examples include Virgil Van Dijk and Victor Wanyama, who are household global names within the sphere of the modern-day game. Perhaps it is easy to forget exactly just how little known these players were before they came to Celtic as they both signed for a moderate combined fee of around 3.7 million.
Further finds include Joe Ledley and Charlie Mulgrew on free transfers who both went on to be highly influential figures in Lennon’s Celtic side alongside Fraser Forster, Gary Hooper and Kris Commons. The identification and arrival of all these players on modest fees indicate how good Lennon can be at sniffing talent out effectively without significant cost.
Promotion of players such as James Forrest from the youth side also give an indication that Lennon can often be a good judge of character as far as football is concerned. Pressing concerns over Celtic’s lack of quality scouting and recruitment over the last few years can hopefully be calmed as Lennon will be eager to bolster the ranks of a depleted wilting squad and give the side the reinforcements and fresh impetus to propel Celtic towards the objective of retaining the league title for the next two years and hopefully long after.
Sean Markus Clifford