Neil Lennon insists he will always remain a Celtic supporter despite the acrimonious split with the Hoops support that has finally pushed him out the Parkhead exit.
The Northern Irishman – a servant to the club for more than 15 years as a player, captain, coach and then twice as manager – has faced a wave of criticism and abuse over the last six months as the club’s 10-in-a-row dream crumbled.
The campaign to oust him has now succeeded, with Celtic announcing to the stock exchange shortly after 7am that the 49-year-old has resigned.
Assistant manager John Kennedy will take over as caretaker boss as the Parkhead hierarchy begin their hunt for a replacement.
Former Bournemouth boss Eddie Howe and Scotland manager Steve Clarke have emerged as the early favourites.
The fallout from Celtic’s remarkable fall from grace has boiled and bubbled for weeks.
Fans clashed with police outside Celtic Park’s front door as they protested November’s Betfred Cup defeat to Ross County, while social media and radio phone-ins have been filled with demands for the manager to go.
For many, today’s news has come months too late, with all hope of rescuing their title dreams gone and the horror prospect of bitter rivals Rangers now winning their first league crown in a decade on Celtic’s home turf when they meet on March 21 now close to becoming a reality.
It ends a remarkable relationship between a fanbase that once declared ‘We are all Neil Lennon’ in response to death threats aimed at the former Leicester midfielder.
But for all the bitterness of these past few days, Lennon insists he will always have Celtic in his heart.
“We have experienced a difficult season due to so many factors and, of course, it is very frustrating and disappointing that we have not been able to hit the same heights as we did previously,” he said in a statement.
“I have always given my best to the club and have been proud to deliver silverware to the Celtic supporters. The club will always be part of me. I will always be a Celtic supporter myself and I will always want the best for Celtic.
“I would like to thank so many people at the club who have given me so much and I would also like to thank my family for their love and support. I wish the Celtic supporters, players, staff and directors nothing but success for the future.”
Lennon returned to the club for a second stint in charge after Brendan Rodgers left to take over at Leicester in February 2019.
He succeeded in holding off the threat from Steven Gerrard’s new-look Rangers and guided the club through to a ninth successive title and the quadruple treble.
But despite racking up 21 trophies as player and manager at Celtic, it was not enough to protect him from the flak that has been fired at him as Celtic’s form evaporated.
Having previously refused to quit, he has now been forced to stand aside after Sunday’s defeat to Ross County left the reigning champions 18 points adrift of their Ibrox foes.
Chief executive Peter Lawwell has also decided to walk away at the end of the season after being targeted by furious fans, meaning it will likely be down to incoming Parkhead supremo Dominic McKay to lead the search for a new boss.
However, with the club set to push through a re-organisation of its behind-the-scenes set-up, that appointment may have to wait until a new director of football is appointed.
Announcing Lennon’s departure, Celtic said in a statement: “Neil has served the club with distinction as both player and manager, delivering numerous successes, most recently completing the domestic treble in December.
“In his second period as Celtic manager, he has achieved five trophy successes, to add to his three League titles and two Scottish Cup victories in his first period as manager.”
Lawwell added: “Neil has always been and will always be a true Celtic man and someone I will always hold in the highest regard.
“I have watched Neil fight many battles over many years, on and off the field, with a courage and tenacity few could match. Even this season, he has fought so hard and worked tirelessly to turn things around.
“While this season has not progressed as we would have liked, it cannot diminish the character or integrity of a man who has given the club so much.
“Personally, it is a sad day for me to see Neil leave the club. Neil is a man of quality and decency, he is someone who will always be part of the fabric of Celtic and someone who will always be welcomed at Celtic Park.
Celtic’s principal shareholder Dermot Desmond added: “Neil is a Celtic legend both as a player and manager. He has given so much to the club, and with his success over the last number of years – including winning a treble in his own right – he will be very difficult to replace.
“We thank Neil sincerely for all he has done for the club and we wish him every success going forward.”