Neil Lennon has expressed dismay at the “premeditated” actions of Boli Bolingoli, after Celtic’s Belgian defender caused the postponement of three Scottish Premiership fixtures with an unauthorised trip to Spain. Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has warned the country’s football resumption will be put on hold if there are any further breaches of Covid-19 protocols, threatening to show the game “a red card”.
Bolingoli appeared from the Celtic bench for the closing minutes of Sunday’s draw at Kilmarnock. Days earlier, he had spent 24 hours in Spain without the knowledge or consent of Lennon.
With the Scottish government already irate at the actions of eight Aberdeen players, who spent time in a busy bar on 1 August, only strong representations from the football authorities prevented two full rounds of fixtures from being postponed. Instead, Aberdeen’s meeting with Hamilton on Wednesdaytonight, Celtic’s trip to St Mirren on the same evening and the match between Celtic and Aberdeen on Saturday must now be rearranged.
Lennon was scathing about the actions of the 25-year-old Bolingoli. “People may say: ‘Oh, he’s been stupid,’ but it’s not stupidity,” said the Celtic manager. “This has been premeditated. You don’t book a flight to Spain on a whim. He knew exactly what he was doing. So this has been quite calculated. It’s been total disregarding of the outcome and the risks involved, so he will be dealt with in the strongest possible way by the club.”
Lennon revealed Bolingoli had previously been spoken to by club officials about his behaviour during the pandemic. “I think it is one of the worst behaviours from an individual I have come across,” Lennon added. “Everything has been tight and everything has been strict. He had been warned previously about travelling and he blatantly disregarded my instructions and the club’s instructions. It is a complete act of selfishness.
“This is a perplexing time for us all – it has been perplexing for everyone over the last six months, whether you are in sport or not. It is so fragile and for someone to put in jeopardy everything that we have been building on and working on is disappointing, We are all desperately disappointed with him. It’s just appalling behaviour and one the club will deal with in the strongest possible way internally.”
Bolingoli and the Aberdeen contingent are likely to be investigated by the Scottish Professional Football League. Celtic’s Champions League qualifying match against KR Reykjavik, due to take place next Tuesday in Glasgow, is still expected to go ahead.
“After the Hamilton game [on 2 August] we made it clear to all of the players they couldn’t leave Glasgow as we gave them a couple of days off which they deserved,” Lennon explained. “Boli took it upon himself to go to Spain and not tell anyone and not tell anyone when he came back. Obviously, we found out about it on Monday and we were just so perplexed, but also in despair of it, really.
“Now we have had the message loud and clear from the government and the first minister. I feel for the club and everyone who has worked so hard over the lockdown to get everything in place to start football back.”
Bolingoli said: “I am guilty of a major error of judgment. I know what I did was wrong and I know that I must now deal with the consequences.” With his Celtic career all but over, it remains to be seen how the club deal with a player signed on a four-year deal last summer from Rapid Vienna, for a reported £3m.
Lennon refused to dwell on the impact to his team, who could be 11 Premiership points behind Rangers by the time they next play a domestic game. “It is disruptive,” said Lennon. “There is no question about that. But it won’t detract from what we want to do.”