Tommy Johnson claims Celtic return was turned down; Lennon wanted him in

By David Walton

February 16, 2021

Former Celtic striker Tommy Johnson has claimed that he was close to returning to the club last year only for it to be blocked by the club hierarchy.

The Celtic board has come under severe criticism this year for the results on the pitch and refusal to remove Neil Lennon from his post. However, it’s clear they haven’t agreed with everything the boss has tried to put into place.

A year-and-a-half ago, Nick Hammond was appointed as the club’s Head of Football Operations. It’s been his job ever since to source talent and provide Lennon with key additions to his squad. He’s since come under immense scrutiny for the raft of failed summer signings that haven’t worked out this term.

And the set-up could’ve perhaps been so different. Johnson, currently a scout with Blackpool, claims he was wanted by Lennon last year. However, in the end, the “powers that be” overruled the idea.

Speaking on the Celtic Huddle Podcast today, Johnson said: “There have been rumours and in the past. I did actually go up and meet Peter Lawwell twice when Lenny wanted to bring us in last year. The powers that be decided not to. Everybody knows once you’ve played for Celtic and how much it means to you, and Neil had asked me to come in.

“Nick was in the process of coming in full-time and I think a couple of weeks later he was appointed.

I was all for coming up and helping Neil but it didn’t materialise. Lennon wanted us in to help out with recruitment, someone around him who he could talk to. You need, as a manager, someone you can talk to on a personal basis. The powers that be decided against it.”

Tommy Johnson snub not a good look for the Celtic board

Lennon has been caught bang to rights for his errors this season. There is no excuse for the absolute disaster that has been season 2020/21. However, not being allowed his own backroom staff has certainly handicapped him.

It’s always important for the manager to be able to have faces around him he can trust. We all respect John Kennedy, Lennon’s assistant manager, but the current boss was stuck with him. He didn’t have the power to appoint a new man for the role after Brendan Rodgers and Chris Davies departed.

The same goes for Gavin Strachan. He hasn’t once worked with Lennon in the past. There was absolutely no previous relationship there, yet the son of former Celtic manager Gordon was appointed from Peterborough and made a first-team coach.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon / (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)

Lennon has maintained in the past that he’s known Hammond for a long time. That’s fair enough, but it’s clear he wanted another man he could trust alongside him. Blackpool scout Johnson appeared to be one of those identified.

There’s no flat-out mention of Lawwell from Johnson when it comes to why he wasn’t appointed. He doesn’t mention the individual that decided to pull the trigger on the move. But whoever it was, it’s just another error given what’s happened since then.

Hopefully, if it was indeed Lawwell who turned this down, incoming Chief Executive Dominic McKay will allow any new manager more flexibility in who he works alongside.

In other news, the Celtic boss has offered some words of comfort for an English Championship star.