Celtic manager Neil Lennon has come out swinging at critics of his team’s trip to Dubai earlier this month, doubling down on his defence after another player tested positive for coronavirus.
Lennon and his team flew out to their annual warm weather training camp in the Middle East after their defeat to Rangers on 2 January, something that initially rankled with fans and pundits – who reasonably suggested a 7,000-mile return trip was ill-advised in the middle of a global pandemic.
Pictures that emerged showing Lennon and his players failing to comply with SFA social distancing regulations then sparked fury, and the situation spiralled into a full-blown scandal when Christopher Jullien – who travelled despite being out injured for the season – tested positive for the virus.
That caused Lennon, assistant manager John Kennedy, and 11 Celtic players to self-isolate after being identified as close contacts. Youth coach Gavin Strachan has since to take charge of a depleted squad, leading to dropped points against Hibs and Livingston.
But Lennon has frequently refused to accept any wrongdoing, and even after another unnamed Celtic player was found to have contracted the virus as a result of the trip, he continued his staunch defence of the Dubai chaos on Monday.
In an astonishing rant, he told reporters: “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.
“We didn’t abuse any ‘privilege’, we did the right things, we were totally professional.
“We had a little drink in the afternoon on the day of, completely allowed, no law breaking but we come back to this barrage of absolute hypocrisy.”
The ‘hypocrisy’ Lennon highlights seems a little shallow considering Celtic have avoided any form of SFA punishment for their trip abroad. That’s in stark contrast to Kilmarnock and St Mirren, who each had to rally against points deductions and substantial fines after they were found to have breached Covid rules.
His latest outburst only further alienates those in the women’s game and further down the men’s ladder in Scotland, after all football outside of the top two tiers was put on ice in the wake of the Dubai scandal.
Falkirk and Partick Thistle are among clubs to have accused governing bodies of double standards in favour of the top teams in the country – to hear Lennon claiming the exact opposite, with no basis, comes as a slap in the face.
Even some Celtic fans, who have had to watch their dwindling Ten in a Row hopes drift a little further away due to the slate of absentees, feel put out by Lennon missing the point so dramatically at a time when his team are failing to perform on the pitch.
Celtic face Hamilton on Saturday, hoping for a win that will chip away from the 21-point gap that exists between them and runaway leaders Rangers.