TWENTY fateful days in August set the tone for one of the most dismal and wretched campaigns in Celtic’s recent history.
The season that had looked so promising in the summer was shredded as the team showed worrying cracks on the field and obvious fractures in the dressing room.
The first points of the new campaign had already been squandered in the second outing in a frustrating stalemate at Kilmarnock in which Boli Bolingoli made a cameo appearance. A couple of days later it was discovered the bungling Belgian had made a hush-hush trip to high-risk Spain and ignored government quaratine guidelines upon his return. The fall-out saw the champions deprived of much-needed early-season action in postponed league games against St Mirren and Aberdeen.
It took a late goal from £5million new Bhoy Albian Ajeti to secure a win at newly-promoted Dundee United in another shaky performance.
Worse was to follow.
Today, in the seventh and concluding part of CQN’s EXCLUSIVE series, we look back at the extraordinary fall-out following another massive European disappointment, the arrival of new Bhoy David Turnbull and an unexpected u-turn from manager Neil Lennon.
POINT OF ORDER…Scott Brown was shocked by Neil Lennon’s outburst.
SHELL-SHOCKED skipper Scott Brown admitted he was stunned to hear from Neil Lennon that some of his team-mates want to quit Celtic.
The Hoops boss didn’t name names in his angry aftermatch comments following the 2-1 Champions League exit from non-seeded Ferencvaros at Parkhead last night – the third time in just over a year the club have been knocked out of a European tournament in Glasgow.
Livid Lennon lashed his flops after the Hungarians were added to the Romanians of Cluj and the Danes of FC Copenhagen of dumping his team. The Irishman claimed some of his stars have been working for six months on leaving the club.
That came as a surprise to his captain and Brown said: “For me, the lads want to be here.
“I don’t know what people have said to him individually, to be perfectly honest.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if they want to be here or not, once they go on that park everyone gives 100 per cent and that’s what the gaffer demands.
“It wasn’t the best performance. We’ve dominated the ball, but we’ve not been clinical enough in front of goal and we were a little bit sloppy with the two goals.”
EURO EXIT…Vasilis Barkas sits it out as Ferencvaros claim the second and winning goal at Parkhead.
Asked if he hoped any unsettled stars would approach him in his role as club captain, Brown answered: “Yeah, definitely. I hope everyone wants to be here.
“For me, it’s a fantastic club. There’s a lot of lads that love this club who want to see us winning games and have been there throughout, winning trophies, winning trebles and we know the feeling and it means so much to us.
“But for now, if people don’t want to be here it’s hard, but it’s not up to me whether they stay or not.
“That’s for the manager and the board and that’s a discussion with the players that want to be here and the players that don’t want to be here.”
A fuming Lennon had earlier said: “There are some players who may want to leave and have made inroads into that over the last six months or so.
“So, if they don’t want to be here, we have to do something about it.
“If they are making waves to leave the club they are obviously not committed. And I want players who are committed to the club.
“I’m putting it out there because it has been bugging me for a long, long time.”
Lennon will now have to pick up his players before the visit of Motherwell on Sunday with another three precious points up for grabs in the club’s quest for 10 successive titles.
It is also hoped Odsonne Edouard, who missed the Euro downfall with a thigh injury, recovers in time to lead the attack.
HOOP HOOP HOORAY…David Turnbull arrives at Celtic – eventually.
CELTIC have completed the £3million signing of Motherwell midfielder David Turnbull – FOURTEEN months after he saw a switch to Parkhead collapse.
The champions eventually got their man this afternoon with the Scotland Under-21 international arriving from Motherwell on a four-year deal.
Turnbull’s move to Parkhead fell through after a stringent medical detected a knee problem that required surgery. The player was out until he made his comeback in February before the coronavirus pandemic put football into lockdown the following month.
The 21-year-old, who knocked back newly-promoted Norwich City in the hope of signing for the Hoops last June, said: “I’m absolutely delighted to be here, especially after what happened last year, and I’m ready to hit the ground running.
“I feel I’ve started well this season and I want to carry that on with Celtic.
“It’s great to join the biggest club in Scotland and I want to help us win more silverware in what I know is an important season for Celtic.”
Turnbull came through the ranks at Fir Park, making his debut in February 2018. He has since gone on to make 41 appearances for the club, scoring 16 goals, the most recent coming in a 2-2 draw against Livingston earlier this month.
His former Fir Park outfit are visitors to Parkhead on Premiership business on Sunday.
A MAN ALONE…Neil Lennon has plenty to ponder in the dug-out.
CELTIC boss Neil Lennon was involved in a remarkable u-turn as he spoke to the media before Sunday’s Premiership meeting with Motherwell at Parkhead.
It looks as though peace has broken out at the champions following some heated comments after the dismal 2-1 Champions League exit against Ferencvaros in midweek.
A furious Hoops gaffer told his players to get their “mentality right” after the embarrassing downfall against the unseeded Hungarians.
Lennon also revealed it was bugging him how certain players had expressed their desire to leave the club.
He fumed: “If some of you don’t want to be here, then leave, and then, you know, let us work with players who want to be here.”
But the Irishman had calmed down somewhat when he talked to reporters earlier today. He told the media: “The players have got great mentality and great experience.
“They don’t get too high when things go well or too low when they don’t. We try and keep a balance.
“The best thing they can do is get back out and play.”
Norwegian international defender Kristoffer Ajer and French midfield man Olivier Ntcham were named as possible candidates for a shift out of Parkhead.
However, Lennon denied anyone had been agitating for a move and said he would be happy if players who had asked about leaving featured for the first team again.
PAIN GAME…Kristoffer Ajer is disappointed as Celtic flounder.
He commented: “Yeah, absolutely. We want them to settle down, we want them just to do what they do best, they’re great lads.
“I understand that sometimes there can be interest, but this is a great club, we want harmony.
“I’m not saying there has been any agitation at all, but sometimes you can lose a little bit of focus.
“You just want them to get back on it and concentrate on the job that lies ahead
“So, I’ve said what I said after the game. I don’t need to elaborate on that any more.”
He added: “We have a big year ahead of us and we want (the players) all to settle down and do what’s best for the club.
“That means winning the league and trying to make the best of what’s left of the European campaign.
“We suffered a blow. One of our objectives is gone, but we’ve got plenty of others going forward and we want them all here focused on that.”
Odsonne Edouard, who missed the loss to the Hungarians with a thigh injury, is still out of the reckoning.
BANNED…Boli Bolingoli hit by five-game suspension.
BLUNDER Bhoy Boli Bolingoli has been hammered by a five-game ban following his secret trip to high-risk Spain and his flouting of government quarantine rules after his return.
Two of the matches have been suspended pending any potential future breaches.
The Belgian left-back’s Hoops career is almost certainly over after his unauthorised break at the beginning of this month with the club and boss Neil Lennon, who shelled out £3million to buy him from Vienna Rapid the previous summer, totally unaware of his bizarre actions.
The 25-year-old defender then risked exposing his team-mates and coaching staff to coronavirus following his return to training at Lennoxtown. To compound matters, the erring player came on as a late substitute in the 1-1 draw with Kilmarnock at Rugby Park.
As a consequence of his selfish and inexplicable actions, the champions had Premiership fixtures against St Mirren and Aberdeen cancelled by Holyrood chiefs.
The SFA took a dim view of his actions, hitting Bolingoli with two charges under disciplinary rules 24 and 71 – failing to follow rules and bringing the game into disrepute.
Bolingoli has now been hit with a heavy ban, having already been removed from the squad after placing the next three years of his Parkhead contract in jeopardy.
The club and the player have until October 5 to arrange a loan or permanent move in an effort to resolve the immediate situation.
* CELTIC beat Motherwell 3-0, but by the end of the year they had also been knocked out of Europe after finishing bottom of their Europa League group and they exited the Betfred League Cup in a 2-0 shocker against Ross County at Parkhead in November. The quest for the tenth consecutive championship ended in a 1-0 loss at Ibrox on January 2 and the Scottish Cup bid was derailed in Govan with a 2-0 defeat in April. Lennon departed in February and assistant John Kennedy took charge of the team for the remaining 10 games of an awful campaign. Skipper Scott Brown quit at the completion of his contract to join Aberdeen. A season that looked on the brink of glory in the summer took an unfathommable downturn – and the first tremors had been felt in 20 defining days in August.