Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes the pressure is off his players as the club seeks to win a historic tenth consecutive Scottish league title.
The Parkhead side have now won nine championships in a row after the Scottish Professional Football League ratified a decision to bring a premature end to the 2019-20 campaign.
Lennon told STV News this year’s title triumph is the “best of the lot” and one that means a lot to the club as a whole.
“I think the pressure is off now, I think they’ve matched nine and now you can really look forward to trying to do something very, very special, which no other club has done. I think that’s a great motivation for the players,” he said.
“I can safely say we’re going for ten now. When we won eight everyone was talking about ten, we had to win nine, we’ve done that and it’s been a magnificent effort and now we can sort of hopefully look back on this season and build on it for next season.
“We’re improving all the time – in terms of goals scored, in terms of points racked up, so while other teams were getting better around us, we were getting better as well and we look to achieve that again next year.
“Supporters of a certain vintage will remember the first nine-in-a-row, you know for them to see this again is absolutely fantastic and on behalf of the background staff I want to congratulate the players on a brilliant performance again,”Neil Lennon, Celtic Manager
“Supporters of a certain vintage will remember the first nine-in-a-row, you know for them to see this again is absolutely fantastic and on behalf of the background staff I want to congratulate the players on a brilliant performance again.”
Celtic held a 13-point lead over rivals Rangers when the league was suspended in March. A points-per-game basis was used to determine the final league positions.
This is the second time that Celtic have won nine-consecutive titles in a row – having already achieved the feat from 1965 to 1974.
Lennon said: “I’m not going to compare myself to Mr (Jock) Stein but also I want to pay tribute to Ronnie (Deila) and Brendan (Rodgers) as well, who had a huge part in this and I was lucky enough to get the chance again to manage the club and take it on to get nine (titles).
“It’s a marvellous day for me personally but more than anything the background team have done a sterling job and the players have been so consistent and they really smashed it, particularly the second half of the season.”
The unanimous agreement among Premiership clubs that the top flight can’t be completed means that Rangers have finished runners-up, with Motherwell third and Aberdeen in fourth – the final European qualification spot.
Hearts have been relegated with eight games left to play and now face the prospect of Championship football when football resumes.
And Lennon says he has sympathy with Hearts and the other clubs in Scotland who have been relegated following the SPFL resolution to end the league season early amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“I have sympathy for all those clubs (who were relegated). Any proposals…this seemed to be the best outcome and all the member clubs have voted for this so I have a lot of sympathy for those clubs but someone has to win and sometimes someone has to lose,” he added.
As well as nine titles in a row, the awarding of the Premiership trophy means that Celtic are also still on course to win a quadruple treble.
They are in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup, which are set to be played at a later date, and they won last year’s League Cup, defeating Rangers 1-0 in the final at Hampden.
“What can we do? For me, from a footballing point of view, our players were the ones who lost out the most – the opportunity to win the league in front of the supporters, you know, we’re also in the semi-final of the (Scottish) cup having already won the League Cup, so there is nothing we could have done about it,” Lennon said.
“To win it in this way, you know, it’s not ideal but we’re worthy champions. We were coursing ahead and looking really strong at the time.
“They will all individually be celebrating at home and I imagine the players will be in touch with each other either via Zoom or some sort, you know, the club will do things through the communications and PR department and we will celebrate – I think it is something to savour, it is something to remember and it is something to be very proud of.”.