Celtic crashed out of Europe last week after its team of Young Bhoys were mugged by the Old Lady.We were taught a very harsh lesson in defending and finishing – something we need to work on when we’re on the biggest stage on the continent. They were beaten up and left with a black eye and a burst lip, and that can’t be denied.Yet, let’s be fair to the young team of Lions. Our possession and ability to hold on to the ball and, most importantly, win away in Europe, has catapulted the club’s reputation back into the circles of the European giants. This young team is learning to box clever but need to learn to land the knockout punch to the heavyweights.
All of this is being done under the watchful eyes of boss Neil Lennon.
My fear is that we don’t capitalise on the money made by the impending sale of Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper. That cash should be used for one purpose and one only, and it’s not to sit in the bank in case there’s a rainy day. It should be spent on strengthening the squad.. Make no mistake, friends, and face some facts. These two talented players will go. Wanyama’s stock has risen greatly, and quickly, and one only has to watch him play in the great arenas of football to see why. He, more than any other player in a Celtic shirt, looked as if he belongs there.
As for Hooper, Celtic knocked back a last minute bid of £9.5m from Norwich City. What’s more, I’m of the opinion that the vultures will be lurking and ready to swoop for Forster too and I can see a bid for Matthews coming a mile away. They all have youth on their side, and Neil Lennon has already admitted that players will be looking to “further their careers”. It saddens me that any player wants to leave a club of Celtic’s size, and even more so when the reality is what they’re really leaving for is to go to so smaller clubs in a bigger league for bigger money.
Celtic simply cannot compete in terms of finance. They can box in the same ring in Europe, they can even punch above their weight, but as we witnessed the other night, our defence had a glass jaw.
I reckon we could get around £14-15m for the two players, and possibly more. Add that to the £20M plus the Champions League generated, and I’d say Neil Lennon would have every right to be chapping Peter Lawell’s door for funds – in fact, he should be ram-raiding it with a JCB.
You see, the SPL is not enough for me. I want to be facing the Barcelona’s of this world. Frankly the atmosphere at Celtic Park on league matchdays can be as flat as a witch’s tit and every Celtic fan I know craves the big match nights at Paradise. Love it or hate it, the rivalry of Rangers is no longer there to whet our appetites.
But the most important figure behind this is Neil Lennon. Lennon, this season, has grown in stature and has a finesse and a real maturity. He’s learning from his mistakes and his answers in press conferences are measured and not knee-jerk. He still has the same passion for Celtic, and has quelled rumours about his departure. If we all believed Ray Wilkins on Sky the other night, Lennon would have been jetting to an English destination straight from Turin.
Lennon is almost unrecognisable from the man who was brought in on an interim basis to mop up the mess Mowbray left Celtic in. It was a rudderless, aimless club bereft of direction. Lennon came in and in his first season won the Scottish Cup and lost the league by 1 point, losing only 4 games on the way (less than this season). He also made it to the League Cup Final. It’s easy enough for people to forget what this man has gone through, personally, in the name of Celtic Football Club. Threats, intimidation and assaults. Tell me where else in the world this would happen?
Then in his second season he captured the championship that had cruelly eluded him in the previous season by 20 points. Of course, the Club formerly known as Rangers were docked 10 points but Celtic overturned a 15 points deficit and people can make all the excuses they like … but it was won fair and square. The club’s adventure in the Europa League was decent enough, and we again reached the League Cup Final.
This season, Celtic will win the League again despite being on the wrong end of six defeats. He will get criticism, but I do see some method in Lennon’s madness. He’s tinkered with selections, and that has cost us points, but I think he’s run the rule over who can play where and who can replace those going.
Lennon will know who’s going and will have targets. If Peter Lawwell and Dermot Desmond are smart, he’ll get weighed in with a decent transfer kitty.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that we can buy ’em young sell ’em on for huge profit. It does work to a degree but it’s a game of chance especially in Europe. Can we find another Hooper or Wanyama? Possibly. In fact, certainly. We have an excellent scouting system but I do think we need to pay that little bit more for a striker. We’ll not find one in England that’s for sure and we will not get past Juventus or teams of that calibre if pluck someone from obscurity.
The league title could be a given for a few years yet, so maintaining stability in keeping Lennon is a must. Players come and go; even the King of Kings left and we sailed on. I thought life wouldn’t go on after he left but my old man’s words of wisdom quelled my fears. He said: “I’ve seen all the greats go. Celtic as a Club always moves on. They find others and then they become greats.”
But if you look back to manager’s like Brady, Macari and Barnes, this theory may not apply as much. We cannot take it for granted that if Lennon were to go we’d replace him like-for-like or get someone better. No manager worth their salt would want to come to Scotland despite having a go at the Champions League each year. Many expect big budgets and big wages.
Lennon has put his heart and soul into Celtic and I really think the board should realise this and give him the funds to carry on his good work.
He deserves it, and so do we.
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