Tag Archives: neil lennon

A New Niche Market for Celtic?

We have long since adjusted to the economic reality that even the top football clubs in Scotland are no longer able to attract or retain high profile players from other leagues, regardless of their history and reputation, and despite their global appeal, kept vibrantly alive through the Scottish and Irish diaspora.

Given the unimaginable riches on offer elsewhere, Scottish football clubs have had to position themselves as stepping stones to the English Premiership and beyond, or as the school of hard knocks where youth players from the English leagues might be sent to toughen up. We now take that as standard practice and have grown a bit numb to it. It no longer hurts the way it should.

As others have gone out of existence trying, Celtic’s survival instincts have sharpened sufficiently to maximise the few opportunities available to Scottish clubs, playing the market brilliantly and reaping incredible financial returns, whilst making a spirited go of the Champions League.

In a sense Celtic has mastered the niche market of unearthing relatively unknown players from foreign leagues and developing them into highly marketable products. The very same strategy may now need to be adopted with respect to recruiting a replacement for Neil Lennon.

After a good few years of managerial stability provided by Martin O’Neill, Gordon Strachan (omitting Tony Mowbray) and Neil Lennon, we may have to recognise that the manager’s position at Celtic is no longer one in pursuit of which top managers across Europe would crawl across broken glass.

It could occasionally result in failure, as it does with some of the players recruited in this way, but Celtic may need to master a new niche market – giving relatively unproven managers a unique platform to promote their abilities to clubs in more lucrative leagues elsewhere.

The seeds of this strategy have already been sewn with regards to Neil Lennon and there is no reason why the next manager should not be of the same type – someone who understands the game, knows how to get the best out of people and has something to prove. They definitely don’t need to be Celtic minded and they definitely don’t need to have a glittering track record, but they do need to have more than a bit of grit.

There is a darker reason why the market is heading in this direction. Unless there is fundamental reform across football’s governing bodies and a paradigm shift in our thinking about sport as a special type of business, small pockets of this industry will continue to attract investors with ridiculous wealth to the detriment of others, and their appeal will continue to grow as hiding places for criminality and corruption.

That is not Celtic’s immediate concern of course, but regrettably it does have an indirect impact on the business, marketing and recruitment strategies of every football club in every league, albeit in different ways. Only a few clubs will be able to make a success of it, whereas others will go bust trying. It is a very difficult balancing act to achieve and recruiting the right manager – not necessarily the big name manager – is integral to that.

Whoever is fortunate enough to be offered the manager’s post at Celtic will be fully aware that it is still a very unique opportunity in its own right, and if the club is fortunate enough to unearth the next rising star in football management, even if his appointment is not the box-office one that instantly captures the imagination, it may turn out to be another significant milestone in the club’s history.

 

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‘A Magnet for Bigots’?

You would normally expect that if someone acted in a certain way, it would be possible to give an explanation of their actions in terms of the reasons why; unfortunately this is not always the case.

There are times when we are left analysing the situation to the point where we start to lose perspective, but we continue anyway in the hope that we can eventually make some kind of explanation fit. We have all done this before.

If you were in Neil Lennon’s position, I think it would be entirely natural that you would want to understand why you have been subject to constant abuse and threatening behaviour from other individuals who know nothing about you. It is natural that sympathetic observers of this abuse would want to fathom it out too, particularly when the episodes are repulsive and unprovoked, such as the most recent one from some Aberdeen supporters.

There is a great deal of mileage in Neil Lennon’s situation for those in the media with false axes to grind, or for whom creating an impression of professional closeness to him seems to have become a bit of a fixation. Whatever the motive, stories of this sort seem to sell newspapers.

We have been told that the abuse directed at Neil Lennon might be down to his ethnicity or his religion; we have also been told that it might be down to him simply being a controversial, confrontational and combative character who happens to attract bigots. This just keeps the story going.

Whether the people in the media or the ordinary man in the street find it best to put the abuse Neil Lennon suffers down to his temperament or his teeth, the various explanations offered do very little to shed any light on what is actually going on, or therefore how to deal with it effectively. We are asking the wrong sorts of questions.

The abuse directed at Neil Lennon is completely irrational; I think we all agree about that. There is no valid reason why Neil Lennon should figure in our thinking as someone towards whom it is appropriate to be violent or threatening. This is borne out retrospectively when the abusers in question are pressed for an explanation of their behaviour. More often than not they cannot give a rational explanation, other than that they just don’t like him, or that he brings it on himself, regardless of the language they originally used to express their hatred.

It is perhaps closer to the truth to understand the majority of abuse directed at Neil Lennon as examples of unthinking hooliganism that bears striking similarities to bullying. As with targets of bullying, it would appear that Neil Lennon has tried to change his public persona to make himself less of a target. This is an indication of deep emotional intelligence on his part; it is an alertness to how other people perceive him – justified or not – and a subconscious desire to make personal changes in order that this type of behaviour towards him stops.

There are groups of people in our society who behave like thugs and bullies, and sometimes only in very specific contexts, because they have been caught up in a moment in which their ability to rationalise their behaviour has been diminished by the effects of alcohol, drugs, sporting adrenalin or basic tribal machismo. The rest of the time, and towards other people, they can be perfectly reasonable and likeable individuals.

It is too easy to read more into these situations than is warranted by the evidence, just because it happens to sell stories or suit an agenda. This is bad enough in itself. But the big problem with this is that we run the risk of being part of the bullying process itself, rather than just a horrified observer and sympathetic reporter of it.

When you try hard to find a way of rationally linking this type of behaviour to something within the victim that attracts it, there is a sense in which you are legitimising it. You are unwittingly creating the emotional space for it to continue, forcing the person being targeted to make one or more of the changes they begin to believe are necessary to neutralise the effects of these apparent reasons.

If you try to depict Neil Lennon as some kind of controversial warrior, a magnet for bigots because of his ethnicity, religious beliefs or personality, or perhaps even a potent combination of these factors in a specific place and time, you are just as guilty of keeping the tedious and regretful narrative going as the individuals are who started it.

This is not to say that we should be silent on this, not by a long shot; rather it is to say that if we remain compelled to find one or three reasons why Neil Lennon attracts this type of behaviour, we may need to think about our own contribution to the problem, however unintended this may be.

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Hooper – The Best Since Larsson?

Perhaps Gary Hooper was right to feel that he would only have a chance of being called up to the England international squad if he made his move to the English Premiership, regardless of which team he ended up with in that prestigious league.

My view is that he is unlikely to achieve that ambition with Norwich; it is more likely that he will need to work another move after this one. As Chris Sutton recently pointed out, Hooper’s excellent scoring record at Celtic was partly due to the way the team plays and the number of scoring opportunities presented to him.

To join a team that may be more regularly geared towards not conceding too many goals, rather than a team that is expected to win every game, could result in Hooper scoring considerably less for Norwich than he has done at Celtic. The upshot is that he may appear to be not quite good enough for the international squad. Time will tell.

In the meantime, Neil Lennon recently commented that Gary Hooper was the best striker at Celtic since Henrik Larsson. High praise indeed! Whilst Hooper has certainly been an excellent striker for Celtic over the past three seasons, and probably the most consistent we have had for a number of years, I am sure Lennon did not intend to suggest that Hooper was on a par with Larsson.

Perhaps if Celtic’s transfer market policy hadn’t been such as it is, Hooper may not have come to the club with the intention of working his move to the Premiership within a couple of years; and perhaps if he had stuck around at Celtic for a few more years he may have developed even further towards the level of performance Larsson achieved with ease.

After all, the Henrik Larsson who arrived at Celtic Park was nowhere near as brilliant as the Henrik Larsson who left seven years later to join Barcelona. But given Celtic’s current approach to the transfer market, and the Premiership expectations it sets in the minds of the very good players we pick up and develop to sell, it may well be that we never actually see a striker of Larsson’s calibre again.

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George Galloway’s Fears for Catholicism in an Independent Scotland

I find it difficult to understand why George Galloway’s upbringing as a Roman Catholic in Scotland has led him to fear Scottish independence.

http://www.heraldscotland.com/politics/political-news/galloway-attacked-for-snp-catholic-slur.21116305

Fair enough that Galloway opposes Scottish independence and fair enough if he wholeheartedly believes in Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom and everything that it entails.

But it just seems strange to me that he would want to construct an argument against independence on the strength of his perception that there are sufficient numbers of ‘loyalist sectarians’ in Scotland to present a danger to Scottish Catholicism, if located outside the framework of the Union.

Worse still that he felt it appropriate to draw the troubles recently faced by Neil Lennon into the equation.

Not that the latter’s experiences weren’t symptomatic of the type of religious and racial bigotries that spoil certain parts of Scottish society.

It is just that Galloway’s reason for making this particular reference looks more like a cynical attempt to plug his book on Neil Lennon, rather than a means of supporting a coherent and robust anti-independence argument.

And for Galloway to go on to mention that the SNP has an anti-Catholic mentality in its roots – referencing William Wolfe – is to ignore the clear and unambiguous support that Alex Salmond has previously given for faith schools in Scotland and their benefit to Scottish society:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/salmond-let-s-celebrate-catholic-schools-rather-than-grudgingly-accept-them-1.828354

To argue against Scotland having the autonomy to make its own decisions based on an attitude of the SNP’s Convener in the 1970’s is an absolutely pitiful attempt to divert attention away from what Scottish independence is actually about, and raise fear and consternation in the hearts and minds of Scotland’s Catholics.

Agreeing that Scotland should be an independent country is absolutely not equivalent to embracing the policies, views and attitudes of the Scottish National Party, neither currently nor historically. The SNP may not even be part of the governance of an independent Scotland. It is about embracing an opportunity to make Scotland economically stronger and socially better than it ever will be within the United Kingdom.

George Galloway has the right to express his opposition to Scottish independence. But to oppose the right of a country to regain its autonomy by stirring up fears about Scottish nationalism historically crossing over with anti-Irish Roman Catholicism is completely unfair.

Not only does it reveal his lack of faith in Scotland’s ability to build a successful, progressive and inclusive future on its own intellectual merits and using its own natural resources; it also betrays his ideological preferences for a political and economic framework that helped build the social context within which Scotland’s distinctive brand of sectarianism took root and flourished.

George Galloway warned that we should ‘be careful what we wish for’.

But perhaps he should be more forthcoming about what it is he really fears.

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What is this thing called ‘anti-football’?

People rightly consider that Celtic use an anti-football system, but Chelsea have done the same and they are now champions of Europe.”  – Xavi, Barcelona.

 

Whilst it isn’t new, the term ‘anti-football’ has been thrown around quite a bit recently.

Particularly when describing the style of play of so-called inferior teams who have somehow managed to achieve results beyond the expectations of neutral observers and at the expense of superior opposition in European competitions.

The term is normally used to criticise the style of football that apparently less well equipped teams – such as Celtic – often feel compelled to adopt to get any kind of result against stronger and more skilful teams – such as Barcelona.

Some people believe that it destroys the beautiful game. It is destructive, negative and ugly. Indeed, if you think along the same lines as Bernd Schuster you would question whether teams like Celtic should be allowed to play in the same competition as teams like Barcelona.

Yet to others, it is simply about strong and rugged defending. It is about resolutely deploying tactics to prevent significantly more powerful teams from playing their normal passing game. Aesthetically pleasing, it is not; functional, it most definitely is. But does that mean that it is not a perfectly decent style of football?

There are games in which this style of defending ought to be praised, in my opinion. There are games in which it is breath-taking to watch the level of determination, concentration and attention to detail required. Defending skilfully for ninety minutes because you need to is equally as admirable as attacking for ninety minutes because you can.

To me the term ‘anti-football’ should not refer to teams that are forced to defend for most of the game because it is the only advantage they can gain against far superior teams. Why criticise a team for working to its strengths? It seems to me that the term is used more as an excuse when the stronger team fails to defeat the weaker team, than as an accurate description of the latter’s style of play – ‘yeah, we didn’t win; but they were playing anti-football’.

There are countless better examples of what the term ‘anti-football’ should be used to describe, including teams that deliberately set out to cheat their opponents, and players who are happy to dive around all night and feign injury to get opponents booked or sent off. That is anti-football.

Supporters throwing missiles onto the field of play is anti-football. Players shouting racist abuse at each other and fans revelling in sectarian hatred is anti-football. Journalists perpetuating institutional myths and peddling economic falsehoods in the name of the greater good of the game is anti-football.

And so too is the strategy of billionaire owners who use their ridiculous wealth (or otherwise) to build fantasy teams that very quickly and unashamedly destroy the very idea of competitive sport.

The irony here is that it is usually the players and supporters of these fantasy teams who like to criticise the rugged tactics of the rest of the ordinary teams that are simply trying hard to win, against all the odds.

(I can’t wait until the next instalment of Celtic’s anti-football system in Europe, if that’s what some individuals really want to call it.)

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Learning to be Successful

Nietzsche wrote that the conditions of life might include error.

And so the enduring challenge we all face would be to find an approach to what we do that accepts error and failure as intrinsic aspects of our pursuit of perfection and success.

Whether we finally achieve perfection isn’t the real issue, because the chances are that we won’t; it is the way in which we adapt and respond to the unexpected problems along the way that marks us out as strong and successful individuals, or otherwise.

Neil Lennon has struggled at times to cope with the challenges that have come his way in his relentless pursuit of success at Celtic. He has responded poorly at times; more often than not when the issue was of lower importance.

Yet he has also responded with admirable patience and outstanding bravery in the face of some of the bigger problems, including threats to his life. This must mark him out as a stronger individual than most. It also confirms the depth of his passion and commitment to Celtic that he has come back again with renewed ambition.

His footballing ambitions probably won’t rest permanently with Celtic, however. But in the meantime, his relentless pursuit of excellence will undoubtedly drive this football club to a level it hasn’t achieved in a number of years. Along the way there will be disappointment and failure. That is part of what happens and the frustration we feel is an indication of the progress that has been made thus far.

Perhaps there are one or two players who still need to realise that their efforts have to be closer to the expectations of their manager and the supporters, even when they are struggling with the psychology of shifting between significantly different levels of competition. Their strength would be to embrace that challenge. For the time being, it is Celtic’s lot.

There are football teams in the English Premiership with endless supplies of cash. Their owners also seem to have adopted a zero tolerance approach to disappointment and failure. It probably comes with the territory. It is short-sighted. It is a failure to see that the process of building a successful team can take a long time. It is a reluctance to accept that failure will be part of that.

Celtic’s greatest successes have been achieved during periods of settled management. For anyone to respond to Celtic’s current slump in domestic form as they do in the greatest league in the world would be wrong. For Neil Lennon to react in the manner he did is unfortunate.

But there is also something admirable in his reaction. It tells us that he would walk away rather than feel that he has let the club down. The last time he reacted this way we witnessed a remarkable change in the team. Whatever went on behind closed doors, it worked. And I am sure it will work again.

The conditions of success definitely include failure. You need to learn how to be truly successful. It is never just given. When failure occurs, and if it provokes the correct response, it is simply an indication that the learning process is continuing. It is the point at which we are being shunted back in the right direction.

Sometimes it is only when we look back that we realise how important our failures actually were.

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Jumping on the ‘Bigot!’ Bandwagon

The popular misuse of a word can have a transformational effect on how we think about the situation in which it has been used.

This is particularly evident when we begin to use certain words with negative intent because we have been subconsciously prompted in that direction by those around us in the media, on social networking sites, in our homes and on the street.

It has become fairly routine in recent times to throw around words like ‘bigot’, ‘racist’ and ‘sectarian’, with the apparent goal of sensationally shaming those individuals in our society who continue to indulge in the types of behaviour the majority of us have long since departed from.

Gay rights charity Stonewall named Cardinal Keith O’Brien ‘Bigot of the Year’ at its annual awards, referring to his attack on the idea of gay marriage as a grotesque subversion of a universally accepted human right. Whilst many would feel that O’Brien’s views are offensive and out of touch with modern society, others may feel that it would be too quick and too simplistic to use the term ‘bigot’ in this context.

Whether it is correct to use the term ‘bigot’ in reference to Keith O’Brien or not, this example highlights one of the difficulties we sometimes have in not letting vogue words like ‘bigot’ lead us down blind alleyways. The risk is that we begin to use these terms far too freely, without proper regard for the subtleties of context, and subsequently read more into situations than actually exists.

Failure to recognise this means that we are less likely to recognise the flaws in our own self-approved moral judgements, or when poor decisions have been taken to prevent the feared consequences of the new perception that has emerged.

In the case of Scottish football, new legislation was passed earlier this year to tackle offensive behaviour at football matches – with the unintended consequence of also creating a great deal of confusion around the use of terms like ‘racist’ and ‘sectarian’ in connection with singing traditional folk songs and other innocent celebrations of a group’s cultural origins.

This week an image was circulated around social networking sites of Neil Lennon’s upturned Celtic FC tracksuit collar. It happened to be green, white and gold. It happened to cause a silly reaction among some individuals who were intent on interpreting it as ‘sectarian’; another completely random, incorrect and sensationalist application of the term.

The increasing unease in English football at the moment surrounds the problem of racism on the pitch and in the stands. Whilst this appears to be a genuine problem that needs to be dealt with, there is also the danger that innocent individuals will find themselves being vilified in the media for comments or gestures that may have had no such intent.

We are rapidly progressing to the point where the significance of every utterance will be debated and every gesture will be under scrutiny. And more often than not, those who point their finger are just as prone to the types of behaviour they want to publicly shame by jumping on the ‘Bigot!’ bandwagon.

There are times when society finds itself on this bandwagon without understanding how it got there. Sometimes it is simply about the misuse of language; other times it is a conveniently popular hook on which to justify the abuse of individuals whom we have grown to dislike for completely different reasons.

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Celebrating Ordinariness

Alasdair Lamont described Celtic’s performance against Benfica as ‘ordinary’:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/19662008

Ordinariness is a fuzzy concept in football. It is a matter of appreciating the shifting context.

A performance described as ordinary in one situation, may justifiably attract praise in another.

An ordinary tight rope walk is one that is performed by an accomplished artist at a low height with safety nets – but extraordinary if performed by a less experienced one; whereas you might automatically think of an extraordinary performance as one that has been performed over the Grand Canyon and include a spontaneous handstand at the half way point. But that would be an unfair comparison.

At any rate, the end result would still be the same – getting safely across the wire.

Neil Lennon was quite right to praise his team’s performance last night. It was a hard working display. Now, I am no tactician, but I thought it was organised to suit the players at his disposal and correct for the occasion against a decent European team.

Sometimes it is good to celebrate what certain others might deem ordinary. When it is an appreciation of what has been achieved under difficult circumstances, it is most definitely not an indication of ‘dipped expectations’, but an appropriate acknowledgement of effort.

And sometimes acknowledging effort is a clever way of encouraging excellence to emerge out of ordinariness.

I’m sure Martin O’Neil used that simple technique a few times in his career at Celtic, particularly when some of the great players he had at his disposal had been purchased at a time when their confidence was low.

I think there definitely are occasions when ‘being ordinary is worthy of such high praise’.

Alas, Alasdair Lamont’s article isn’t even in that category.

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Tapping Into Scottish Football’s Money Generating Emotions

The learned gentlemen of the mainstream media are particularly adept at tapping into and perpetuating money generating emotions, particularly where sporting rivalries are concerned.

Scottish football pundits and journalists have been at it for well over a century now, fully aware of the impact their carefully chosen, highly provocative, words are going to have on an audience hungry for sporting insight and commercial intelligence.

Towards the end of the nineteenth century the ‘Scottish Sport’ successfully tapped into the complex mix of potentially volatile emotions and attitudes that characterised certain communities of people in industrial working class areas in the West of Scotland.

To describe Celtic as the team of Irishmen in Glasgow that had to be matched by a Scottish champion in the late 1890’s, was to create the context for the bitter rivalry and sectarian hatred that was to follow.

Given the circumstances of the target audience, the choice of words was effectively an invitation to channel racial and religious prejudice into an otherwise friendly game of football.

And it just wouldn’t do for these clubs to continue enjoying the friendly relationship they had enjoyed in the beginning; interest would wane and there would eventually be too much money at stake. And thus it began.

As Professor Tom Devine described it:

“Celtic and Rangers had become the standard bearers of their two communities and their confrontations on the football field a noisy outlet for the bitter sectarian tensions of the west of Scotland.”

We are no further forward today.

During the past two seasons, certain journalists have appeared desperate to paint a vile picture of Neil Lennon, for example, in a vindictive attempt to hound him out of the Scottish game; in doing so, they needlessly cranked up the hostilities and forced a situation in which new, poorly written, legislation was felt necessary to handle it.

More recently, other journalists have been falling over themselves to perpetuate the myth that expelling Rangers from the first or second tier of Scottish football would have disastrous financial consequences for the entire game in Scotland.

Witness Graham Spiers’ article in the Herald this morning, which reads like a manifesto in support of Rangers’ immediate inclusion in the second tier of Scottish football, whatever shape or form that happens to take after Regan and Doncaster are finished with it:

http://www.heraldscotland.com/sport/football/separation-anxiety.18153454

The very suggestion that Celtic would sorely miss Rangers because of the money generating hostility and hatred that tarnishes this fixture, yet impacts favourably on the bottom line, looks like an irresponsible attempt to engineer a sense of regret in the hearts of Celtic fans, and a sense of commercial dread in the minds of the Celtic board.

He may claim that it is just his private hunch, but to hit the target with his carefully chosen words would be to soften the attitude towards the shorter term expulsion of Rangers from Scottish football’s top flight, if only he could coax Peter Lawwell to come out and say as much.

But putting that to one side, the very real concern is this: if the only appeal of Scottish football is a recurring spectacle built on media fuelled hatred, then restructuring the league set-up and merging the game’s governing bodies into a single unit isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference to the quality of our game.

It would be an expensive exercise, whose only real purpose would be to provide a cover story for the very short term expulsion of Rangers from the top flight in order to keep the broadcasters interested in the bitter rivalry at the heart of Scottish football.

This would be the final downfall of Scottish football. Graham Spiers is absolutely correct: it is all about money; but whilst certain Scottish football journalists would never want to admit it, it is all about self-preservation on their part, too.

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‘Nothing Strengthens Authority as much as Silence’

The perception of injustice does not entail that an injustice has actually been committed.

More often than not, we are told, it has something to do with the frame of mind of the individual concerned.

Paranoid reflection can lead to the belief that an injustice has been committed, and that it is entirely personal, when in actual fact no such injustice has occurred, and no such personal vendetta has been expressed.

On the other hand, sometimes injustices are committed, and we are encouraged by the relevant authorities not to think of them as such; we are encouraged, for obvious reasons, to think of them as honest mistakes.

It takes knowledge, experience and clarity of perception to recognise when a genuine injustice has been committed. And it takes strength of character to be able to stand up to an injustice, particularly when you know what the outcome will be…

Many people have formed the opinion that Neil Lennon’s sense of injustice is no longer grounded in reality and that he perceives injustices that simply do not exist.

Many think that his arguments with authority are rooted somewhere deep in his tortured personality, and reveal more about his own failings than they do about the corrupt practices of the people he is challenging.

And again, there are others who believe that he is absolutely right to challenge an authority that is fundamentally flawed and which has never been fit for purpose.

The great football critic, Leonardo Da Vinci, once said that ‘nothing strengthens authority as much as silence’.

But the individuals who enjoy that authority have shown their cards time and again, indicating that they must be slightly worried that nothing weakens it as much as dissent…

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