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‘CELTIC HAVE BEEN FOUND WANTING,’ ADMIT’S EX-TITLE HERO

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FORMER Celtic title hero Craig Burley reckons Neil Lennon will be on his way at the end of the season.

The Irishman was given a vote of confidence by the Hoops hierarchy last month after winning only two games in 10 outings.

Lennon received the green light to continue until the completion of a campaign that promised so much before a ball was kicked, but has imploded with massive repercussions awaiting several individuals in the summer.

In the midst of the Covid controversy, the champions are struggling to stay on track for the historic tenth successive title and are currently 21 points off the pace at the top of the Premiership although they have three matches in hand.

Burley was one of the key men for the Hoops when they derailed Rangers’ quest for 10 in a row. The former Chelsea star and Champions League winner Paul Lambert provided a midfield masterclass while Henrik Larsson scored the goals as Wim Jansen’s men lifted the championship 23 years ago.

However, the 49-year-old former Scotland international, who is now a media pundit in Connecticut, believes the current side have failed to meet the stern challenge from Ibrox this time around.

Burley, speaking to the Daily Record, said: “The club have been accused of resting on its laurels and I’m guessing at the end of the season there will be a managerial change.

“But I don’t know if there will be a change of stewardship above that level. You can win all the titles you want when nobody is putting you under pressure, but the first year that Rangers have upped their game, and the points will tell you that, Celtic have been found wanting.

“That’s why I take all the glory, glory stuff like the quadruple treble with a pinch of salt. Yes, they still had to win them, but how were they going to handle a serious challenge?

“I would rather have won the title in 1997/98, against the backdrop we were dealing with and doing it on the last day of the season, than win titles when everybody else was imploding.”

Burley was also part of the Celtic squad that failed spectacularly in 1999/2000 when club idol Kenny Dalglish returned to Parkhead along with rookie boss John Barnes.

It ended with Burley leaving two months before the managerial novice was sacked in the February following the Scottish Cup humiliation from Inverness Caley Thistle.

Director of Football Dalglish took over in the dug-out and the team limped in 21 points adrift of their Ibrox rivals after a season to forget. Martin O’Neill arrived in the summer of 2000 and turned things are in sensational style with a domestic clean sweep in his first year.

Under Barnes, the Hoops had accumulated 40 points from their first 20 games and they suffered the ignominy of the defeat from Highland opposition.

Coincidentally, under Lennon, it’s 43 points from their first 20 league games and a home Cup loss to Ross County when the side’s proud run of unbeaten domestic Cup fixtures came to an embarrassing halt at the 36th hurdle.

Burley said: “I still keep in touch with things. I was reading pieces online the other day and there’s a lot of interesting stuff going on.

“The comparison with the team I played in that year is being talked about and I get that. All I can say is I don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors at Celtic Park these days.

“But some of the stuff that was happening back then – the politics – played a huge part in how the season unfolded.

“Kenny had come back to the club and appointed John Barnes, with Terry McDermott beside him. It was very political – some were getting new contracts, others weren’t getting new contracts and there were divisions, without doubt.

“One of the reasons I left was the politics and that’s why that whole regime unravelled from top to bottom. I left in December and it got even worse.

“The team certainly had the potential to do well, but it wasn’t a happy camp.

“People like Eyal Berkovic, and one or two others – I’d describe them as selfish, whereas the team of 18 months earlier was built on unity. That was part of the issue. The dressing room wasn’t as united as it could have been.

“Allan MacDonald had come in as chief executive earlier that year and was trying to shift people like me, so they could sign guys like Rafael Scheidt.

“Certain people wanted to move me on, anyway, and that’s fine. Players come and go.

“But Celtic paid more than £5million for Scheidt, which back in the day was a huge fee, so there was a concerted effort to get finance in to pay for that.

“They knew they could get money for me. They could’ve got money for other people, but they didn’t want to sell some of the others. So, I was let go and, to be honest, I was happy to go because I wanted away from some of the stuff.

“In hindsight, I maybe rushed into the move to Derby and that wasn’t my best decision because I could have gone elsewhere.

“But I got a good offer from Jim Smith and Celtic were delighted with the fee, so that was part of their plan.

“I don’t think anything would have been said if the player coming in had been a success.

“But for that kind of money, Celtic didn’t get anything back. I don’t know how many games that fella played, but it wasn’t many. In Brazil at the time, they were giving players a few international caps so they could be flogged for huge fees to European clubs and that’s what happened with Scheidt.”

Burley added: “There were other things, though. The juggling act between Berkovic and Lubo Moravcik was a difficult one.

“Barnesy is on record as saying that if he’d known how good Moravcik was, he wouldn’t have signed Berkovic.

“But he spent nearly £6million on him and that gave him a huge problem because Lubo was so talented he couldn’t be left out.

“And if he left Berkovic out, he knew he’d have a problem in the dressing room because he was kind of that way inclined. All of a sudden, you’ve got a side with two very similar players being shoehorned into a team.

“That is fine when you’re beating the cannon fodder, but when playing in Europe and against the top Scottish sides, it was a problem.

“The chemistry and balance in that squad wasn’t very good and that was the difference. It wasn’t a lack of talent.

“You have to look at what you’re up against sometimes and when you look back at the standard of opposition that season, Rangers were strong.

“It was Dick Advocaat’s second season and he had brought world-class players like Arthur Numan and Giovanni van Bronckhorst from Holland. Stefan Klos in goal, Porrini came from Juventus.
“So did Celtic fail that year? Yes but as it unravelled you have to look at the benchmark and Rangers were an extremely strong benchmark.”

Gavin Strachan will again be in charge of the team when they face Livingston at Parkhead on Sunday as the champions continue their pursuit of crucial points.

The first-team coach, who was in charge with Neil Lennon and his No.2 John Kennedy self-isolating, came within a couple of minutes of celebrating a debut dug-out win with the team leading through David Turnbull’s free-kick against Hibs on Monday night.

However, a stoppage-time leveller from Kevin Nisbet ruined the evening and Celtic will be hoping for a change of fortune when they take on the in-form West Lothian outfit at the weekend with another patched-up team while 13 players continue their 10-day quarantine period.

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