Pressley defends Celtic boss' controversial loyalty verdict

By Euan Davidson

December 17, 2020

The former Celtic, Hearts and Scotland defender Steven Pressley has talked about the pressure on Neil Lennon as well as his decision to stay loyal to his players.

Pressley is uniquely attuned to both sets of supporters ahead of Sunday’s Scottish Cup Final. With Celtic attempting their 12th consecutive domestic trophy win, Hearts will be looking to stop the run.

The Elgin-born former centre-back knows all about pressure. As a player, he played in 3 Scottish Cup finals, for Rangers, Hearts and then Celtic.

He also knows about board unrest, having been part of the Riccarton Three (Edinburgh Evening News).

Speaking to the Daily Record, Pressley said:

“Neil will know he has to win this trophy. And I feel Neil is the type of character that, yes he would show loyalty, but not to the point where it would affect results.”

Pressley at Celtic / (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Loyalty, but not at a cost

Pressley spoke about Neil’s relationship with managers during his playing days, and understanding the limits of loyalty. Lennon claimed on Sunday that he would stick by the players who got him to the Scottish Cup final (Glasgow Live). That didn’t go down well with many Celtic fans, who don’t want a winning team changed.

“I don’t think you can build relationships in management in terms of your players and creating a culture without the loyalty.

“It’s impossible. It’s one of the things that your players would expect from you.

“If they are going to give you their lot, they expect it back, so it’s an impossible situation not to show loyalty.”

Pressley continued:

“Sir Alex Ferguson, the greatest manager we have seen, showed loyalty, but until it was affecting performance and outcome. Then it comes time to have a discussion.

“There comes a time when you have shown the loyalty and, if the results don’t come, then you need to make the appropriate decisions. That’s the reality of the job.”

Celtic captain Scott Brown in action against Milan / (Photo by Andrea Bruno Diodato/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

The case of our captain

However, you could argue that Lennon has struggled to make “appropriate decisions” at the right time.

The consistent faith he put in players like Scott Brown came at a cost for Celtic. With other players, change came too fast; Vasilis Barkas is unlikely to want to play for Celtic any time soon.

There’s a strange pattern to Lenny’s decision making. Even Charlie Nicholas has stuck the boot in over the manager’s reliance on the captain.

Broony has already played 1800 minutes for the Bhoys this season (Transfermarkt), while last season, the captain played 4458 minutes in all competitions. Only the younger Callum McGregor has played more for Celtic (Transfermarkt).

That’s an incredible workload for anyone.

Celtic midfielder Ismaila Soro / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Huge call ahead

Over the last two games, Ismaila Soro has impressed in Broony’s stead. The temptation for Lenny will be to recall Scott Brown but knowing he “has” to win this game, it’s a very tough call to make.

Attempting to speak objectively, it’d be hard to criticise Neil Lennon for picking Scott Brown. He’s been a constant through our domestic clean sweep of recent seasons. He deserves to start on that basis.

Yet, from a footballing perspective, Soro is undoubtedly the man in the form. When you’ve won two games on the bounce after a horrendous run, you have to stick with what’s working, no?

Whatever he chooses, Lennon won’t satisfy everyone. But then, you get a feeling that’s never bothered him.