Paul McStay’s appearance on Sunday at Celtic Park – where the former captain will present the championship trophy to his current successor, Scott Brown – should be a salutary reminder to the club’s newest generation of supporters that glory has to be earned, not bestowed, according to Neil Lennon.
McStay, now 54 and living in Sydney, was nicknamed “Maestro” during a 16-year career in the east end of Glasgow that saw him make 678 appearances, second only to another captain and one-club man, Billy McNeill, who died last month.
A cultivated and unhurried midfielder, McStay scored 72 goals and won three league medals, four in the Scottish Cup and one Scottish League Cup honour with Celtic. Like McNeill, however, McStay had to endure long and barren passages, in his case a total of six seasons with no reward.
In contrast, Brown – who has made 523 appearances for Celtic – has won nine titles and been on the winning side in four Scottish Cup finals and five in the Scottish League Cup. Brown will accept the championship trophy from McStay before Sunday’s final league game at home to Hearts and, if he is part of a winning team against the same opposition in the Scottish Cup final at Hampden Park on May 25, will have skippered the club to an unprecedented third successive domestic treble.
Lennon, though, has been the target for persistent sniping from a section of the Celtic support who regard the team’s performances as below par and who are not favourably disposed to his continued employment after his contract runs out at the end of the month. The critics, of course, were fuelled by the 2-0 defeat by Rangers at Ibrox last Sunday and a performance Lennon admitted was as poor as the team has produced this season.
He nevertheless called for the campaign to be put in an appropriate perspective. “The players had the handbrake on, there’s no question about that,” he said.
“Psychologically, we weren’t there. We did an analysis of the game and it lasted three minutes. We just showed them the first three minutes because that’s the reason we lost the game.
“I can understand it, a little bit. I’ve been there as a champion and lost and in my first year as interim manager, Rangers came to Celtic Park, we beat them 2-1 but they had won the title.
“Maybe it’s because Brendan [Rodgers] has left and I’ve come in that we’re getting analysed to death from game to game. The league was done a week earlier. We won the league comfortably but I read we’d stuttered over the line, which is complete nonsense.”
Celtic’s eighth successive title was secured against a background of speculation about possible successors, including Rafa Benitez, Jose Mourinho, Claudio Ranieri and Slaven Bilic. Asked if he believed that younger Celtic fans had become spoiled by continual success and that social media played its part in the disenchantment, Lennon said: “Absolutely spot on. It’s the new age, the new breed.
“I’ve been here since 2000 and we’ve won 14 league titles and I’ve been involved in 10 whether it be as a player, coach or manager. We won them all comfortably.
“I lost four and they all went to the last day, so there’s no reason for me to sit here – or anyone else for that matter – and think that I can’t do the job because the evidence is there that I quite plainly can. But if there are doubts, they are the ones with the doubts, not me.
“There is a new breed of fan on social networks, it’s not the real world. It’s not my world. I deal in the real world and theirs is a knee-jerk world of unrealistic expectations.”
Having earlier told broadcast media that such demands were a sign of “immaturity”, Lennon was promptly a target for further criticism, with one podcaster calling his comments “clumsy” and “highly patronising”, adding that the split among supporters on the issue was not specific to one generation.
When it was suggested that he could see Celtic to a third treble and not keep his job, Lennon agreed. “Yeah, absolutely. It’s the fans’ club, it’s not mine,” he said.
“This is the world we’re living in. Barcelona could win the double but a lot of their fans are calling for Ernesto Valverde’s head because they got knocked out of the semi-finals of the Champions League.
“Expectations, whatever you want to call it, are sometimes unrealistic. But it’s the modern-day fan. It’s fast food – they want the next thing very quickly and it’s not the real world. They want the glamour name, a lot of them. Whether that would guarantee success is another matter.”
And, in characteristically combative fashion, Lennon brought his argument to a climax by aiming a barb at Celtic’s arch-foes on the other side of the city. “Rangers brought in a big name this year,” he said. “They’ve got no trophies to show for it – so it doesn’t guarantee it.”