Is Neil Lennon getting the Bhoys back together?


For most football fans, the Celtic match of recent times that springs to mind is their heroic victory over Barcelona back in 2012. Back then, as it is now, Neil Lennon at the helm, in what was his first crack at the Champions League group stages. 

On this now infamous November night, Victor Wanyama headed in the opening goal before Tony Watt scored what turned out to be the winner. 

Since then, Lennon won two leagues and one Scottish cup, before leaving the club for spells at Bolton and Hibs. However, after re-taking temporary charge of Celtic in February this year, he was given the permanent role once more. Despite leading the club to the “treble treble” during this short spell, performances since his predecessor Brendan Rodgers’ departure hadn’t convinced fans that the appointment represented any real progression for the club. 

They would be hard pressed to complain at this season’s league campaign so far: five wins from five, including an away derby win. Where it counts though for Hoops fans, is in Europe. Celtic failed even to reach the Champions League play-off round, losing a remarkable second-leg to Romanian side CFR Cluj, a game where they were twice in the position to progress. Instead, they enter the Europa League group stage, where they face a challenging trio including their Champions league victors Cluj.

With disappointment still looming over failure to reach the groups of Europe’s premier competition for the second year running, it seems Lennon may think a hit of nostalgia will tide fans over. During the manager’s first spell, Englishman Fraser Forster was a mainstay between the sticks, and was key to victory over the Catalan giants. He left for Premier League Southampton in 2014, the same year that Lennon departed.

After a positive start to life in the top division, Forster fell out of favour, but last month returned to Celtic Park on loan for the remainder of the season. Asked about the transfer, Lennon seemed keen to remind of Forster’s former glories, highlighting the “wonderful time” the player had in his first spell. Besides his reputation, Forster does seem to be an astute signing at 31. He’s started each of the league games since his transfer, conceding just once.

Lennon isn’t finished there. The Northern-Irishman confirmed that there was interest from the club in the summer for their former midfielder Victor Wanyama. Like Forster, the Kenyan signed for Southampton, and became the Premier League’s first player from his nation.

Three years down the line, he moved to Tottenham, but now finds his chances in the starting eleven hampered by new signings Tanguy Ndombele and Giovani Lo Celso. While a move didn’t materialise before the deadline, Lennon hinted that his team may return for the player in the January window.

If two of the old guard isn’t enough, it may not be hard for Lennon to tempt more of his former players back to the club. Joe Ledley partnered Wanyama in midfield in the Barcelona win, before moving to Crystal Palace and, in 2017, to Derby. He has been without a club since January, when his contract was terminated by mutual consent.

He has since stressed that he is “nowhere near ready to retire” at 32, and pointed to the gap between his Palace and Derby spells, in which he kept in good physical and mental condition. This is, after all, a player part of Wales’ shock Euros run just three years ago.

One man who missed out on the Barca match was Gary Hooper, a prolific striker during his time in Glasgow, with more than a goal every two games. He was left out not for poor form – there was talk of an England call up in fact – but due to a hamstring problem.

He never lived up to these heady heights in England, playing for Norwich and then Sheffield Wednesday. Hooper was released at the end of the 2018/19 season, and is now a free agent. While goal scoring isn’t the area in most need of improvement, it would be hard for Celtic fans to turn down a player with such a proven record.

The real hero on 7th of November 2012 was Tony Watt, whose surname prompted endless headline wordplay in the morning papers. Unfortunately, nothing in his career to date has come close to that legendary night. In the seven years since, Watt has featured for no less than nine clubs, five of which on permanent deals.

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Photo: Actionplus

He had previously only played in the UK and Belgium, but this summer saw the striker sign for CSKA Sofia, titans of the Bulgarian efbet League. Watt is still only 25, but it would take quite a change of fortunes for him to return to Celtic Park in the future.

Nostalgic signings may appease some of the fanbase, but the truth is that, despite domestic dominance, such memorable European nights seem a long way away. Celtic’s Europa League opponents Lazio, Rennes and Cluj were all winners of a domestic cup last season, so provide serious competition.

Results from the first matchday – a draw for Lennon’s men in France and a shock win for Cluj over Lazio – suggest that any two of the four could move forward. Brendan Rodger’s side reached the round of 32 in his last attempt, before losing to Zenit over two legs. Going one better would assure many that Lennon’s appointment wasn’t a step back. At the very least, fans will be looking for Romanian revenge.


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