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Celtic's delay is a real mystery

In the 1980s, we were introduced to the mishap-littered life of Lt Frank Drebin, the wonderfully po-faced detective, who sparked accidental chaos wherever he ventured in the comedy programme Police Squad.

One of the episodes of the short-lived TV series - prior to the production of the Naked Gun films - was entitled 'The Butler Did It'. The twist in the tale was that there was no twist. The butler really did commit the crime, which required an interminable time to solve.

Many Celtic supporters could have been forgiven for recalling Drebin when their club's officials finally got round to announcing that, following weeks of ploughing up blind alleys, and pursuing ill-advised leads, Neil Lennon was confirmed as the Parkhead manager.

Stuart Baxter will act in an advisory capacity, while retaining his position as head coach of Finland, and a trio of Lennon's former team-mates, Johan Mjallby, Alan Thompson and Garry Parker, have been lured to add ballast in the back room.

Quite why this process should have dragged on for so long remains a mystery to tax the powers of a greater gumshoe than poor old Drebin. After all, Lennon's record since he inherited a train wreck of a team from Tony Mowbray was almost exemplary, as he instilled fresh impetus to his squad, and enjoyed an 100% record in the SPL, even if the battle with Rangers had effectively been lost before he took the reins.

In his favour, Lennon is an intelligent fellow, whose belligerent approach on the field in his playing days masked an instinct for cerebral conversation and lateral thinking off it. He has always been a favourite of the Celtic faithful, who has never offered anything less than whole-hearted commitment to the cause and, at 38, he is not about to copy Graeme Souness and attempt to combine the roles of player and manager, which occasionally transformed the Rangers man into a ticking timebomb of insanity in the late 1980s.

So why has there been such procrastination from the Celtic board members? Why the pronouncements from the chief executive, Peter Lawwell, that the identity of the new manager would be "worth the wait"? In one sense, there was no need for Celtic to rush the appointment, considering the folly of their previous hiring of Mowbray, and the fact is that Lennon has ample time in the next few weeks, while the rest of the planet's gaze is on events at the World Cup in South Africa, to bolster his squad and repair some of the damage wrought by his predecessor's scorched-earth policy in the transfer market.

But, all the same, Lennon wouldn't be human if he wasn't nursing a degree of private resentment at the fashion in which his employers have gone about their business. In the past month, at one time or another, a veritable litany of old-stagers, from Giovanni Trapattoni and Guus Hiddink to Wim Jansen and Steve McLaren, have been linked to a variety of nebulous roles at Celtic, whether as an "advisor", "mentor" or "director of football". No doubt the likes of Lawwell will argue that they were simply striving to carry out due diligence on the candidates, Lennon included, and that they had a duty to ensure that past mistakes weren't replicated.

Yet, from this perspective, it simply appears that the board were looking for a bigger name or a person with more experience to pick up the reins and then, only once they realised belatedly that managing Celtic no longer possessed the mystique it once did, they funked the decision to grant Lennon sole responsibility for steering their club forward, preferring instead the notion of recruiting somebody such as Baxter, to pull the strings behind the scenes.

It smacks of indecision and of trusting in the dubious wisdom of the proverb "Two (or four) heads are better than one", and has created a system where Lennon will always be wondering where he stands in the hierarchy. Baxter, after all, is a man with more clubs than Tiger Woods on his CV, without having enjoyed the success of a Jose Mourinho or Sir Alex Ferguson at any of them.

If Celtic start well in their SPL campaign, surely Lennon should be granted the opportunity to kick on. But if they struggle, how will he and Baxter react to the challenge of preventing Walter Smith's last bow from becoming a triumphal march?

Ultimately, the one person who emerges from this imbroglio is Lennon himself. Many other people in his situation would have gone bleating to the tabloids, venting their frustrations, and threatening to walk out in a huff. On the contrary, the 38 year-old has exhibited a quiet dignity and composure in a swirl of speculation and gossip.

He has deserved better from those in the boardroom. Whatever honeyed words Celtic employ in the days ahead, Lennon was entitled to an earlier vote of confidence from the men upstairs. The overriding impression is that they are so determined to avoid the flak that they ended up straying down a cul de sac of vulnerability. They might have ended up reaching the right conclusion. But their evasiveness leaves them open to the charge that they were looking for somebody better than Lennon and couldn't find him.


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