Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Smith sends clear message to Whyte
Walter Smith finished his final season in charge at Rangers in fitting style by sealing a third successive SPL title. A Kyle Lafferty treble inspired the Gers to a 5-1 victory over Kilmarnock at Rugby Park in the final day shootout and while Celtic won 4-0 at home to Motherwell it wasn't enough as they were made to pay a heavy price for their shock loss at Inverness Caley Thistle.
It marks the end of a turbulent Scottish league campaign with the Neil Lennon saga dominating headlines and almost overshadowing Smith's stunning treble achievement. There's a huge question mark hanging over Lennon's position as Celtic fear for the safety of their high profile manager.
However, former Scotland boss Smith has detached himself in trademark style from the furore and as he concentrates on a future away from the game he had a poignant message for the new club owner Craig Whyte. He's urging Whyte to invest heavily in fresh talent to give his long-term lieutenant and successor Ally McCoist hope for the future.
"The players deserve an enormous amount of credit for the way they've handled the situation this season," Smith said. "But unless there is significant investment then the team will stagnate. They just can't continue to do what they have been doing.
"That is regardless of if I was the manager or anybody else. Next season will be a problem. Hopefully that will be looked at by the owners. But I don't think the new owner would have bought the club unless he was happy to put money into the team. He's also aware that if they don't get that they won't continue the success they've had."
While the identity of the next Rangers gaffer is clear for next season there's more than a hint of confusion on the green side of Glasgow about who could lead their title charge.
Lennon has confirmed he thought about quitting Celtic after being targeted by bomb maniacs in what's been a traumatic period for the Northern Irishman. However, he insists he could never walk out on his players even though he still doesn't know if he'll be at the Parkhead helm next season.
The latest Lennon flashpoint saw him attacked on the touchline at Tynecastle in a recent fixture with Hearts as fears continue to grow for his own safety.
"It wasn't difficult for me to get over what happened in the Hearts match. I'm not happy that my personal safety was under threat," Lennon said. "I'm astonished when people say I bring it on myself. It tells me a lot about those people who are saying things. It tells me what their mindset is like and what their views are.
"It's not a slight on me. It's a slight on them. I don't like finishing second in anything and the priority was the championship. I would like to congratulate Rangers and Walter. He's been a tremendous ambassador for the game in Scotland.
"The board haven't started talks with me. They won't do that until the end of the season. I'm hopeful I'll be here but they might not want me. The remit was to win the title and we've not done that. I don't want it to be sympathy though. If they give me a contract I want them to want me because they think I'm the right person to take the club forward."
Celtic have a repeat fixture against Motherwell to play before their season comes to an end in their Scottish Cup final clash at Hampden on Saturday. With the memories of losing to Ross County in last season's semi-final still vivid there's a lot at stake for Lennon and his Bhoys.
A stirring display and convincing win could secure Lennon's future although Well boss Stuart McCall is also aiming for retribution himself after being forced to field a patched-up side at Parkhead.
"I'm not claiming to be a tactical genius or wizard but I'm sure Neil realises that wasn't our strongest side at the weekend," McCall said. "We had a couple of niggles so it was pointless taking any risks. I'm pleased we came out virtually unscathed but it'll be different personnel and hopefully a different performance at Hampden.
"Hopefully it's a game Scottish football remembers and we put on a really good spectacle and we come out as winners in the final."