Andy Walker believes an absence of “succession planning” at Celtic has led to a bloated squad and a 19-point deficit on Rangers that leaves their quest for a 10th straight Scottish premiership title in tatters.
Celtic host Hibernian on Monday night, live on Sky Sports, knowing they can ill afford to drop any more points if they are to retain any hope of catching their fierce rivals.
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But Walker believes the race is up, and the club will already be planning a rebuild from the start of the 2021/22 campaign under new management.
“I don’t think Neil Lennon is going to be there next season,” he told the Scottish Football Podcast. “It looks as though he will serve out the rest of this season.
“I’ve been very critical of the Celtic board and their approach – I don’t think there’s been any succession planning. When you have a manager like Brendan Rodgers, that relationship with the board didn’t end well as Rodgers was critical. The Celtic board hate criticism and they were delighted when he left to go to Leicester.
“They were delighted to get £9m in compensation. What they should have recognised was that he was a great manager and that he had improved players who were already at the club.
“They should’ve looked to get the next Brendan Rodgers, the younger version, in much the same way that they scour the rest of Europe for players who don’t go straight to the Premier League in England.
“Celtic should be targeting a young coach who has a proven track record of improving players. That is the way a lot of supporters would prefer they went about their business. The sooner they get someone in to do that, the better because there are a lot of changes needed in the Celtic squad.
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“Now that the 10 has gone, I feel Celtic need to be thinking of a complete restructure. I know that there’s a whole committee involved in the buying of players, but I would prefer whoever is on this committee that brings players in… I would prefer that they knew who the next manager was.
“Champions League football is so important and that is where Celtic need to be aiming to get to every season. There’s no reason why they can’t do it. Lennon will be there until the end of the season and then there will be a change.
“The squad will be drastically changed by the time next season kicks off so I’m not sure it makes a great deal of sense this month to keep spending under a manager that everyone seems to accept won’t be there from the start of next season.”
Boyd: Rangers showed sign of champions
Rangers moved 19 points clear at the top of the Scottish Premiership despite not having a shot on target during their 1-0 victory over Celtic at Ibrox on Sunday.
Callum McGregor’s own goal shortly after Nir Bitton was dismissed compounded another miserable afternoon for Neil Lennon, and the Scottish Football Podcast panel reflected on the result and what it could mean for both sides heading into the remainder of the season.
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Kris Boyd said: “I’ve heard a lot of Celtic people say they made Rangers look ordinary, but what champions do is win games. They may not play well but being dominated and still winning doesn’t make you an average team.
“The last four games, Rangers haven’t been at their best and there was the potential for them to drop points, but take 12 points from 12. It’s not been great, but that’s what champions in the making do if they’re going to win a league. They find a way to win.”
Walker added: “When you go back a year and Celtic won the Scottish League Cup after an amazing performance from Fraser Forster… Rangers battered them on that occasion but couldn’t score. It was pretty much the same for the best part of an hour but for Celtic last weekend.
“I totally disagreed with Neil Lennon on the straight red card – I thought it was the right call. If you look at it again, if Bitton doesn’t bring Alfredo Morelos down, he’s running into the box and he’s taking a one-touch effort at goal. Rangers rode their luck at times but that’s what you do when you’ve got a strong mentality. I feel the gap is too big now, and there’s no way back for Celtic.”
Can Celtic begin recovery against Hibs?
Celtic still have three games in hand over Rangers, and can bounce back against Hibernian on Monday, live on Sky Sports.
Lennon’s side are unbeaten in their past six meetings with the Edinburgh club, lasting suffering defeat when the Celtic boss was in the opposite dug-out in December 2018.
Vasilis Barkas has struggled since joining for £5m from AEK Athens last summer, with the Greece goalkeeper criticised in some quarters for his role in Rangers’ fortuitous winner.
Walker said: “The truth is you won’t find a single Celtic supporter that rates Barkas yet. They’re used to Fraser Forster and Craig Gordon – goalkeepers who make big saves at crucial times. We’re in January and Celtic have used three goalkeepers.
“In one sense I feel for Barkas. We’re in a terrible global pandemic and he’s come in from a foreign country. I don’t know what his family situation is but it cannot be easy adapting to a new club at these times. He’s having to be at home most of the time so it’s difficult for anyone in those circumstances.
“But Celtic have made a mistake in the goalkeeping department. They should’ve retained Craig Gordon in this season of all seasons when you knew what was at stake. It was crucial for Celtic to have a goalkeeper who you knew could handle the big occasion.
“Celtic saw fit to let Gordon go. You’re now looking at the fact that the title has gone and you’re looking at the Celtic’s bloated squad and there’s not a chance they’re going to bring in another goalkeeper. From a business point of view, it just wouldn’t make sense.
“You’ve got a £5m signing in Barkas and a young lad in Conor Hazard who got all the plaudits in the Scottish Cup final for saving a couple of penalties in the shootout but his general performance was poor.
“I can understand Barkas was given the nod for the Old Firm and I think he’ll be the Celtic goalkeeper for the foreseeable future unless he’s going to make mistake after mistake. There’s no point buying another one in this transfer window.”
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