Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell leaves: what this means for Lennon and Desmond

By Euan Davidson

January 29, 2021

Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell has announced his impending retirement.

Via the Celtic FC website, Lawwell stated:

“It has been an enormous privilege to have served the Club and our supporters for more than 17 years – a wonderful honour to have been part of an institution I have loved and supported all my life.”

Fans are generally split down the middle as to Lawwell’s legacy. There are many who are excited by the change of direction. Celtic’s form and image have stagnated over the season, with the club embarrassing themselves with an ill-advised trip to Dubai. Add that to the on-field nonsense we’ve seen from the club, and it was a recipe for someone to lose their job.

However, Lawwell has presided over a period of incredible success. Celtic won 29 trophies following Lawwell’s arrival. The club is now an internationally-recognised global brand, and a profitable business with countless endorsements and sponsorships. The in-roads Lawwell made into foreign markets, including the US and Asia, were important in his early days at Celtic.

In the same statement on the club website, Dermot Desmond outlined his determination to keep Lawwell at Celtic Park. He said:

“When Peter told me he was considering retirement, I did my utmost, unsuccessfully, to dissuade him.”

Equally, Lawwell’s ties to Neil Lennon are obvious. A former captain, Lennon has been appointed twice as manager, under the auspices of Lawwell and the board.

Let’s have a look at what today’s news means for both men.

Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell and Dermot Desmond

Lawwell is a trusted confidante of Dermot Desmond’s. The Irish billionaire has enjoyed a fruitful relationship with the finance expert, with the club’s brand growing massively over the last two decades.

Desmond has generally delegated the football side of operations to Lawwell, with most successful results. It speaks volumes that the Irishman tried to persuade the CEO to stay.

First and foremost, it means that the protests against the board have been largely ignored. Desmond is already a relatively shadowy figure, and his failure to take fan discontent on board could make things tricky for his future. Ultimately, if the fans protest again, it’ll be Desmond and not Lawwell in the firing line.

Lawwell may have been shaken by how quickly his stock has fallen with fans. In truth, the CEO could well have taken the fan unrest as pressure to retire. He may feel undervalued by the supporters, and feel that enough is enough. He’ll enjoy retirement and being out of the public spotlight.

Desmond will be gutted, though. And he’s taken a gamble by appointing a man so closely associated with Rugby. There’s an established link there, with Celtic Park hosting the Guinness Pro 14 final in 2019 [SRU]. Funnily enough, the rugby final being hosted at Paradise meant that a Celtic triumph couldn’t be celebrated at the home of the club.

Outgoing Celtic CEO Peter Lawwell embraces Neil Lennon / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Neil Lennon: safe for now?

Perhaps a more pressing issue is what it means for Neil Lennon.

McKay will want to make a big impression upon arriving at Celtic. A big-name manager will do that nicely. For now, however, it looks like Lenny will be staying at the club until the summer.

With board upheaval of this nature, it’d be wild to expect anything less than hush surrounding Neil Lennon’s job. We expected news from the club imminently, but Lawwell leaving wasn’t it.

While McKay has immediately been named as Lawwell’s successor, don’t expect the management situation to follow suit. Lennon is too prideful to resign, and his direct boss is leaving the building. The club won’t change anything fast, on the playing side.

McKay, though, will need to leave his mark early on. Lennon might not be away for now, but you can bet that behind the scenes, a shortlist is being written up. For many, it’ll be far too little, too late. 10IAR is off, and the Scottish Cup is our only chance of silverware in 20-21. That’s even if the competition is played to a conclusion this season.

So, from a managerial perspective; don’t expect much. Lennon will be safe for now, and probably until the summer.