After nine years of undisputed success, Celtic have been brought back down to earth with a bang this season, but at least they are handling it with grace and decorum.
…wait, hang on, what did he say?!
OK, scratch all of that, because apparently Neil Lennon has lost the head again and is firing flimsy accusations of hypocrisy at anyone who will listen.
The Hoops are under fire at present, from their own fans because of their on-field performances, and from everyone else, because they flew off to Dubai at the height of a pandemic, resulting in two positive Covid tests which forced half of the first-team squad into into isolation.
Chairman Peter Lawwell issued an apology, but because there is apparently no communication between departments, Lennon went the other way. In an explosive press conference on Monday, the manager swung for everyone within arm’s length, and we’ve put some of the highlights under the microscope.
“Another player has been deemed positive, it is someone who is self-isolating. Everyone is negative bar two players. I think that is remarkable and blows out the water the way the trip has been portrayed in certain quarters of the media, by certain pundits and by certain government officials as well.”
From the off it was clear Lennon was ready for a square go, and he started to let loose after a reporter raised the issue that a second player within the Celtic squad tested positive for coronavirus.
Firstly: ‘everyone is negative…except two players.’ That’s not everyone, then, is it? It’s two players. Two people who could take seriously ill as a result of the virus, or pass it onto someone for whom it could have far more dangerous implications.
‘Remarkable’ seems to accept that it was always likely someone was going to catch Covid in Dubai.
And the ‘government officials’ he seems to be having a go at are the same government officials who signed off on an exemption back in November that allowed them to travel. Which brings us onto our second quote…
“We didn’t abuse any ‘privilege’, we did the right things, we were totally professional.”
Not only can Celtic train and play matches regularly, with a largely undisturbed routine, but they can also jet off to Dubai for a week, and then face no consequences on their return, even when a player is found to have contracted COVID-19 on the trip.
That’s basically the definition of privilege, Neil.
“We’ve been held to a higher standard than every other club, there are outbreaks all over the country.
“Aston Villa have shut down, Raith Rovers, they haven’t travelled anywhere. We could easily have stayed here and had an outbreak but because our protocols are so good we have been able to quell that.”
A ‘higher standard?’ Really? The lower leagues in Scotland have been curtailed completely, while Kilmarnock and St Mirren spent weeks appealing points deductions and fines after they were found in breach of Covid rules.
Celtic haven’t been punished at all.
He’s right that outbreaks can happen anywhere, but targeting Villa and Raith – two teams who have not taken the chance of flying 3,500 miles to a training camp – completely misses the point. He’s basically arguing that other teams have had more cases, so they should get a free hit.
As if the whole thing is a game, and not a genuine matter of life and death for thousands of people up and down the country.
“I do regret that we have lost 13 players and three very important members of staff but that was something out of our control obviously.”
I regret the consequences of the thing we chose to do, but it wasn’t our fault.
“There is a bloodlust out there for me to lose my job and there has been for quite a while, but that’s sort of the nature of being a football manager in this day and age.”
Celtic are 21 points behind Rangers (just the 12, if they win all of their games in hand) and went out of Europe with two games to spare. They went out of the Betfred Cup at the first time of asking against Ross County, and have won just 53% of their matches this season – the lowest win rate at this stage of the season since Tony Mowbray was sacked.
Of course, though, the calls for his head are the result of a discriminatory media agenda, and not just common sense.