CHRIS SUTTON insists Peter Lawwell can leave Celtic with “his head held high” following his decision to retire from his chief executive role.

The 61-year-old Hoops supremo has been in charge since taking over from Ian McLeod in 2003, but has decided to step aside in June, as CQN reported yesterday.

Lawwell and Sutton have crossed swords in verbal jousts many times in the past, but the one-time Parkhead striker still reckons the boss should be applauded for his legacy at the club.

The former England international forward, writing in his Daily Record column, stated: “There had been plenty of talk about Peter Lawwell calling it a day this summer, even before the wheels came off this season.

“But the events of the past few months shouldn’t detract from the overall job he’s done at Celtic.

“The reaction from a section of the support has been ridiculous. This season has clouded all opinions, but Lawwell has earned the right to leave with his head held high.

“He also has to clean up some of the mess on the way out, though.

“Listen, it’s no secret I’ve not always seen eye to eye with Lawwell. I was less than pleased with the way things ended for me at Celtic and there’s certainly been no love lost over the years I have been doing this column.

“I certainly can’t be accused of being some Lawwell cheerleader, that’s for sure. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate what he has done for Celtic over his 17 years at the helm.

“The statistics speak for themselves. Celtic have won 29 trophies in his period as chief executive. They have dominated Scottish football more than any other side in history. There’s been successes in Europe, even if maybe not enough of them.

“Lawwell steered the club through the collapse of Setanta and the credit crunch while rivals Rangers went down the tubes across the city.

“The Ibrox crisis could have had a more serious knock-on effect at Parkhead as we all know how much the two clubs rely and feed off the rivalry financially.

“Lawwell led the club through that period and, through clever planning and scouting, managed to post profits while putting winning teams on the pitch.”

Sutton continued: “He hasn’t got it right all of the time. Even before this season I have constantly voiced concerns about the lack of forward planning in the January and summer transfer windows.

“Too often Celtic have gone in to Champions League qualifying campaigns missing key additions who have either arrived too late or not at all.

“It’s not just me who said it, either. It drove Brendan Rodgers crazy, as well.

“There was the Ronny Delia experiment, the failing to capitalise fully on the Champions League in the last nine years and that’s before we even get to the mess of this current campaign.

“This year has been allowed to drift out of control. The signings made in the summer came too late and were not good enough.

“A review of the management team was promised when Celtic were 13 points behind Rangers in the title race with games in hand back in December and now the gap is even wider, we are still none the wiser about what is being done about it.

“All we know is the long-term plan no longer will concern Lawwell. And that’s what I mean by tidying up the mess on his way out.

“He has to deal with the managerial situation. Dominic McKay can’t come in and the first thing he has to do is make a call on Neil Lennon.”

Sutton added: “I’m sure Lawwell would have fancied finishing at the end of this season regardless, but in his head he would have pictured signing off after the massive high of winning 10 In A Row.

“He won’t get his fairytale ending, but in time Lawwell’s legacy should remain intact.”

* DON’T miss the unbeatable match report from Celtic v St Mirren this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.

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