Lennon out. Keane says no. Who next?
The departure of Neil Lennon from the managerial position at Celtic was probably met by everyone first with a sense of surprise, then with a sense of realisation that Lennon had taken the Hoops as far as he could and now was the time for him to look for a new challenge in Football.
Having won the Scottish League at a canter for the third year in a row, many thought that the next time we’d be hearing from Lurgan-born Lennon would be once the Hoops were due to return for pre-season training ahead of a series of qualifying games for the Champions League.
Yet on 22ndMay, Lennon announced that he was leaving the Parkhead hot seat after just over four years in charge, during which he guided Celtic to three league titles and two Scottish Cups – a solid return for him.
Lennon’s tenure in charge will be defined by Celtic’s Champions League campaigns, in particular when they reached the knockout stages of the competition in the 2012/13 season, after an historic win over Barcelona 2-1 in a night to remember for Celtic fans around the world.
Whether his league title wins will be looked at with the same aplomb remains to be seen –mainly due to the financial situation Rangers found themselves in. His first title win saw Celtic beat their cross-city rivals to the trophy, but after their demotion to the fourth tier of Scottish Football, the past two title wins have been a complete procession – you can only beat the team in front of you I suppose, but without Rangers in the league, there’s a complete lack of spark within the top flight which is pretty evident to see.
The tell-tale signs that all was not well was when striker Georgios Samaras was not offered a new contract after his current deal had ended. The Greek striker had mentioned that he was not offered a new deal due to the finances at the club and this could be one of the reasons why Lennon called it a day.
With Rangers not being in the top flight, the television broadcasting deal that the Scottish FA had with Sky and BT Sport needed to be re-negotiated. Those two stations purchased the rights on the proviso that they would be able to show a minimum of four Old Firm games per season over the duration of their contract.
Take Rangers out of that equation by placing them in the four tier, then Sky and BT Sport go back to the Scottish FA to ask them why should they pay money to show Rangers v Elgin when they paid for Rangers v Celtic?
These negotiations led to the two television companies paying less for the rights to show the games. Scottish teams already get a tiny fraction of what English Premier League teams receive in television money, and now they were getting even less.
For Celtic, they’ve been supplementing this drop in finances via the Champions League –they’ve needed to. Attendances at Celtic have been down over the past three seasons, so playing and progressing in European Football’s premier competition is an absolute must – but in order to do this, you need to invest in your squad. However, you need money to do this… money which Celtic are struggling to generate.
So Neil Lennon would have been facing a possible six qualifying games to reach the Champions League group stages, where they’d then face another six games against the top teams in Europe. And he’d have to do all of this with pretty much the same squad as last season. A squad which performed pretty dismally and were knocked out easily at the end of the group stages.
Ironically, next season’s Scottish Championship League will probably a much more entertaining watch than the SPFL. Rangers secured promotion to the league months back and in the last few weeks, both Hearts and Hibernian have dropped out of the SPFL, giving the second tier of Scottish Football a really fascinating look.
So taking all of the above in, alongside the fact that Lennon has a burning desire to be a successful Manager in the Premier League, it wasn’t much of a surprise that he decided to leave.
Speaking after resigning, Lennon said that he was excited about what the future may hold for him and that he was going into the ‘unknown’, but he didn’t have another job already lined up.
“I’ve no idea where my next move will be. Everyone’s speculating about me walking from this job to another job and that’s not the case at all. We’ll see what the future brings. I’m looking forward to it. I’m going into the unknown a little bit with it but I’m very content with what we’ve achieved in the last four years,” he said.
“We’ve had a brilliant four years. It’s been success on the field. It’s been topsy-turvy off the field but it’s never been dull. It’s been a very, very exciting period in my life. I just felt the time was right now for something else. It’ll take a bit of time to digest it. I’m content with the decision.”
Lennon’s departure caught Celtic captain Scott Brown by surprise too who said he was shocked when he heard that he’d quit, but thanked him for the way he had developed him as a player over the past four years.
Brown said: “Yes, of course I was surprised. But we wish him all the best, he’s been fantastic for the club. He helped me a lot, and made me the player I am. We’re sad to see Neil go.
“Since he first came in as caretaker [in 2010], he wanted to attack and play good football, and he continued that all the way through. He’s a great manager and is going to be a hard act to follow, but I’ve got faith in whoever comes in, whoever the board picks.
“We’ve got to look forward to the Champions League qualifiers and, no matter who comes in, we’ve got to go again and try to win the league, and try to get into the Champions League again. It’s a good job for whoever comes in.”
So who next for Celtic? The bookies favourite was Ireland Assistant Manager, Roy Keane, after ex-Hoops legend Henrik Larsson ruled himself out of the job, concentrating instead on his current job as Manager of Swedish club Falkenberg.
Keane did meet with meet with Celtic majority shareholder Desmond Douglas for an informal chat about the role. We know this after it was confirmed by current Ireland manager (and former Celtic boss!) Martin O’Neill.
There was intense speculation that he was going to be announced as the new Manager prior to the Ireland squad flying out to America for their final two friendlies of the season. O’Neill was effectively giving Keane a ‘use it or lose it’ policy of deciding what he wanted to do – go to Celtic or stay with Ireland.
Keane is a boyhood Celtic fan and after leaving Manchester United, he signed for Celtic and played 13 times for them before retiring in June 2006, after which followed managerial stints in charge of Sunderland and Ipswich Town to varying degrees of success.
However, at the start of this month, that FAI announced that: “Roy Keane has confirmed he will travel to the US after deciding not to pursue talks with Celtic any further.”
After two managerial stints at Sunderland and Ipswich Town – both of which came with a varying degree of success, it seems the Keane has decided to focus his future on developing himself again and potentially looking at another opportunity closer to his base within the North West.
After the withdrawal of Keane, the current favourites with the bookies are ex-West Bromwich Albion Manager, Steve Clarke, ex-Cardiff City Manager (and former Celtic man), Malky MacKay and ex-Wigan Athletic Manager Owen Coyle.
The appointment will need to be made within the next few weeks before the squad return for pre-season training, ahead of another quest in Europe and on the domestic front for success.