Friday, May 14, 2010

The Lennon conundrum

Old tribal instincts die hard.

Earlier in the week it suddenly looked like there might be a chance of a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition.

Just as suddenly John Reid materialised on the news channels, ensconced in Westminster and on a mission.

Clearly he was finding a marriage of inconvenience with Nick Clegg hard to stomach. More than that, the thought of Alex Salmond playing the Camilla Parker Bowles to Clegg’s Diana went against every belief he’d ever held in that big old head of this.

This episode illustrated two things.

Firstly it confirmed that, whatever else awaits the country, the “new politics” of enforced consensus was beyond the ken of a man who has always mistaken his pretend hard man persona as a refined mastery of the political arts.

And secondly it proved that Celtic’s ongoing search for a new manager has not yet reached the stage where, as Chairman, Reid needs to be actively involved.

I’d say that leaves Neil Lennon as the Gordon Brown of the saga. Still in post, still theoretically in with a shout at holding on but, more realistically, faced with the realisation that this is not his time.

I don’t know what discussions are taking place within Celtic at the moment. More importantly I’ve got no idea of the thought processes of a certain Irish millionaire.

But whatever Dermot Desmond and his acolytes are planning, I’m increasingly drawn to the conclusion that it’s going to involve a firm handshake and a “thanks, but no thanks” for everyone’s favourite baccy chewing former midfielder.

Why?

Ross County game aside (although that remains, in my view, a big consideration) Lennon has done well. He transformed Tony Mowbray’s collection of losers into a team that could win games, albeit at the fag end of a season that had already slipped out of reach.

If Mowbray had moved Lennon to a more central coaching role earlier things might have been different. Celtic could have regained some equilibrium, at least made a show of the title fight, be looking forward to a Scottish Cup final and Mowbray might still be in place.

A longer, more successful Mowbray reign, would have helped Lennon’s cause. More experience, either inside or outside Celtic Park, would have made him the heir apparent.

But then if more people had voted Labour Gordon Brown would still be Prime Minister.

And, to pummel this political nonsense to death, Mowbray is the Tony Blair casting his shadow over Lennon’s Brown.

I know there are Celtic fans thinking Lennon is now the favourite because his end of season run gives legitimacy to the fact that he’s the cheapest candidate.

That’s fair enough, but it’s only partly true. There is no doubt that the Celtic board have had their hands burnt by the expense of luring Mowbray then getting rid of him, of his misadventures on the transfer market and the last ditch gamble of paying Robbie Keane’s weekly wage.

Yet the team does need new faces and there are players that need to be shipped out. No manager can be a guaranteed success on the transfer market but there will be candidates out there that can point to previous experience of delivering value for money and success on the pitch.

At the moment Lennon can’t. I’m sure he can talk about identifying players, unearthing hidden gems. He’ll already have let the board know the players that need to be moved on, told them of the budget he’d like and the budget he could live with.

I don’t think any of it will be enough. Celtic can’t afford another season like this – another season of watching a debt ridden and constrained Rangers romp to the title, of big money flops, of a manager lost when the pressure really mounts.

If Lennon is given the job and found wanting when spending the board's cash then he is no longer the best available cheap option but another expensive mistake.

The board have a big call to make. Whatever they do will be a gamble. But they have to try and manage risk. And Lennon remains a bigger risk than a manager with more experience.

Sadly for him I think that means he is now just marking time until his replacement is appointed.

When I was writing this I asked Celtic fans on Twitter for their opinions


@atom_man: I think he will get the job. He turned around an inconsistant team. He's passionate. And we won't need to pay compensation.

@SubSceneRecords: we laughed at the thought of McCoist as Rangers manager, with Lennon as boss the joke could be on us

@SubSceneRecords:I don't think he is manager material, prob good coach but manager I doubt. We need a good experienced manager. Trappatoni?

@Tyrebhoy: if walter leaves and mccoist gets the job I think it's definately Lennons job. Neil v Ally next year would be compelling.