Neil Lennon defends overuse of clearly fatigued Celtic star

By Euan Davidson

June 12, 2021

Former Celtic manager Neil Lennon, in his column for the Times, made several very interesting points.

We say interesting; you could also use: frustrating, infuriating, vexing, maddening and so on. The ex-Bhoys boss has claimed that Ryan Christie is best as a number 10, despite repeatedly playing him as a winger.

More than that, Lennon was guilty of over-reliance on certain players. That included Callum McGregor, who played over 4,000 minutes of football last season alone. The year before, despite the season being shortened, CalMac still played over 4,000 minutes [Transfermarkt].

This was despite very clear signs of fatigue throughout 20-21. Simply put, he’s a very good footballer, but has long been expected to play every available minute. Rarely subbed off, the Scotland midfielder is usually an incredibly consistent performer, but of course, everyone has their limits.

Lennon said [The Times]:

“[The Scotland] Midfield is so strong. People talk about Callum McGregor being tired but don’t forget players all had three months out at the first lockdown. Cal won’t use fatigue as an excuse. He probably hasn’t been at his best this season but you still see he is so reliable. It will be interesting to see the dynamic of the midfield and whether Steve goes with two sitters and a ten, or one sitter and two eights.”

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The fatigue problem; a key reason Callum McGregor wasn’t himself under Neil Lennon

Again, can’t emphasise this enough: Callum McGregor played over 4,000 minutes of football in a shortened season. That’s staggering. In 19-20, McGregor played 52 times for Celtic, which is more than he did in 20-21. Lennon’s argument about having “three months out” doesn’t really hold any water.

This isn’t criticism of Neil Lennon for the sake of it; it’s a genuinely worrying sign of the culture at Celtic under the former boss. Under Rodgers, yes, certain players were relied upon a great deal, but players didn’t look as chronically over-stretched. Performances, generally speaking, weren’t as effected by stamina issues.

Celtic midfielder Callum McGregor / (Photo by Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images)

It’s disappointing to hear Lennon describe McGregor as not being at his best, when the reasons for that were so obvious. CalMac is only human; he needed to sit out the odd game, but was never afforded that opportunity. Even John Kennedy was incredibly reliant on the Scotland star, playing him 90 minutes in games that meant very little.

If anything, it’s good luck for Scotland that McGregor is fit and available. Of course, modern footballers are expected to be able to play a high volume of games at club level, but even the best players need sporadic breaks to maintain their long-term fitness.

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