I doubted Neil Lennon more than once at Celtic in 2019.
I was a massive fan of the manager during his first spell at the club. The 2010/11 season in which we just missed out on league title glory stands as one of the most entertaining and unifying at Celtic in recent memory.
The way Lennon persevered through difficult circumstances on and off the pitch, including being targeted by a parcel bomb (BBC), to eventually lead us to a Scottish Cup was wonderful to see.
That led to the birth of the current run of league titles we continue to win, hopefully on our way to nine and ten in a row. Along with some magical European nights, such as against Barcelona and Spartak Moscow, it was a fantastic period.
I also thought he was the right man to guide us through a stormy spell in the wake of Brendan Rodgers’ departure.
Who else better to come in and immediately rally the Celtic dressing room and the Celtic support than our former captain and manager? He’s a man who has a genuine passion for the Hoops and not a phoney one, after all.
Still, when the treble-treble was one and Celtic announced Lennon would be appointed permanent manager, I wasn’t fully on board.
I didn’t feel the club did their due diligence in terms of scouring the world for a forward-thinking manager that could maintain the standards of Rodgers’ Premier League level coaching.
There were real concerns that in appointing Lennon we were settling for second best, that we were making a mistake that would backfire. Were there no big-name managers out there ready to take us into a new era?
I wasn’t alone either, it was a rather divisive moment for Celtic supporters. For me, that was part of the problem. When Rodgers was unveiled in 2016 it brought excitement and purpose back to the Hoops, I envisioned that evaporating and the tarpaulins quickly covering the Lisbon Lions stand once again.
The fateful August night during which we capitulated against the Romanians in the Champions League is a well-worn subject, so there’s no point in re-litigating it now.
However, it’s fair to say I felt like Lennon played a large part in the defeat. From team selection to tactics, to a team apparently devoid of motivation – it was simply awful.
This was the second moment of major doubt in Lennon. By crashing out of the money-spinning competition, was it becoming clear he might not be able to build a side capable of competing at a level we’d become accustomed to?
That’s not to say I wanted him sacked, or anything as dramatic as that, simply that it was another worrying sign that things might not be that easy for Lennon in his second spell.
I was wrong
Although I’m writing this in the wake of Thursday’s superb win against Lazio, it’s a not a knee jerk response. That result was merely a punctuation point on how I’ve been feeling about Lennon’s team for a while now.
With a ruthless attacking instinct and a formidable eleven, we’ve been outstanding in the early stages of the season.
That Cluj result has proven to be a simple, if costly, blip on our way to consistency. Only a dire off day away to Livingston stands out as particularly poor and those days are bound to happen across the course of a season.
Most of all, I’m enjoying seeing the trademark Lennon fight in this Hoops outfit. They battle and graft as much as they show flair and skill. For the perfect example of that, look to Odsonne Edouard on Thursday night. He’s a much-hyped prospect, whose game is defined by goals. However, it was his pressure, block and tenacious desire to keep the ball in play that led to our first goal against Lazio.
Even if this season does not pan out in the way we all hope, Lennon has turned me around and I now have a firm belief in the direction we are travelling in.
It’s going to take a lot for that to change. He deserves backing in the wake of any bad result or two on the horizon. While we have the right to be critical of both him and the players, hopefully, we can do so while recognising every good that’s gone before.
I love this Celtic team. They’re entertaining me massively, more than in season two and three of the Rodgers reign. If we win things along the way, what more can we ask for?