The Celtic manager, Neil Lennon, has castigated an “absolute barrage of hypocrisy” he believes is attached to criticism of his club’s ill-fated training trip to Dubai. Lennon has refused to admit the camp was an error in contrast to the comments made by Celtic’s chief executive, Peter Lawwell, last week.
Celtic have been subjected to disapproving tone – largely from their own supporters – after heading to Dubai in the immediate aftermath of a 2 January defeat to Rangers. After the centre-back Christopher Jullien tested positive for Covid-19 a further 13 players and three coaches – including Lennon – were placed into isolation. Celtic duly stuttered to home draws against Hibernian and Livingston.
“We’ve been held to a far higher standard than any other club,” Lennon said. “Protocols at different clubs are inconsistent. As soon as Celtic are deemed to do something wrong, bang, you’re all wanting blood, it’s absolutely scandalous. The fallout from this has been way too much.
“It is not a stag do, it isn’t an ‘18-30’ even though it has been portrayed like that. Aston Villa have shut down, Raith Rovers. They haven’t travelled anywhere.”
Celtic have now confirmed that a second player, who was already in isolation, has returned a positive test. A visibly riled Lennon, though, was unrepentant as he returned to work on Monday. The manager appeared to take aim at the Scottish government’s close contacts protocols.
“My apology is to the fans because 13 players and three staff had to isolate for 10 days, which is ludicrous,” Lennon said. “I’m not apologising for anything else. I’m not apologising for going out there and training for a week. I’m not apologising for the players having a day off.
“The whole squad is negative bar two players. I think that is remarkable and I think it totally blows out of the water the way the training camp has been portrayed by certain quarters of the media, by certain pundits and by certain government officials as well.”
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has been among those to publicly raise questions about Celtic’s behaviour. Photos emerged of Lennon and his captain, Scott Brown, sitting by a hotel swimming pool.
“We did not abuse any privilege,” Lennon added. “We did the right things. We were absolutely, totally professional. We had a little drink in the afternoon on a day off, completely allowed, no law breaking, yet we come back to this barrage of absolute hypocrisy. We’ve come back, we’ve been absolutely decimated by these rules. It seems political.”
Lennon took a thinly-veiled swipe at the treatment of Scotland’s players as the celebrated qualifying for the European Championships, and the shamed MP Margaret Ferrier. “It’s not as if they were doing a conga in the dressing room, dancing to Baccara or travelling up and down on a train journey from London to Glasgow with Covid,” he said.
With Celtic 21 points behind Rangers – Lennon’s team do hold three games in hand – there has been widespread speculation about the manager’s future. Eddie Howe has been linked with taking charge at Celtic but there has been no indication the former Bournemouth manager would have an interest in moving to Scottish football.