Lennon pays tribute to former coaches
Neil Lennon is emerging from the shadows of Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan. Celtic’s manager paid tribute to two of his predecessors in the immediate aftermath of Wednesday night’s win over Spartak Moscow.
O’Neill never garnered 10 points from a Champions League group, nor led Celtic to the last 16, despite the resources at his disposal. Lennon has achieved both feats in this early phase of his managerial career - and without spending vast sums.
Strachan did guide Celtic to the knockout stage and has been a positive influence on Lennon’s coaching development. At the age of just 41, Lennon shows continued gratitude towards his tutors whom he is making considerable strides towards emulating.
“I want to,” said Lennon when asked about following in the footsteps of O’Neill and Strachan. “They were big role models for me, they had a huge influence. Particularly Martin, who I spent 10 years under, but Gordon was really good for me as well.
“I just want to try and emulate them in the way they would have wanted it to happen. I’m sure the two of them are absolutely delighted for me and if it hadn’t been for those two, this would never have been a possibility.
“You are judged as a Celtic manager by what you do in Europe. To have this on my CV so early in my career is marvellous, honestly. It means a hell of a lot to me.”
It seems logical the Celtic manager, like his players, will receive admiring glances. At the top level, financial context is vital; as Chelsea and Manchester City tumbled out of the Champions League, Celtic progressed.
“I think this might change the opinion or the view of Scottish teams – particularly Celtic,” Lennon added. “We’ve come out of a group where people gave us absolutely no chance. Some people were saying we wouldn’t even get a point. But we’ve qualified with 10 points, we have beaten Barcelona and the qualification justifies beating Barcelona.”
Even within Group G, an inexperienced Celtic team are due immense praise for securing a higher points tally than Benfica and free-spending Spartak.
It is generally lost on outsiders that the intense demands placed on managers in either half of the Old Firm – namely by those who depict every match as a must-win and every defeat as a crisis – are not replicated in many other cities. Managing Celtic is a highly pressurised business, one which some – Tony Mowbray being a prime example – have been unable to handle. Lennon has done that, and recovered from troubled times little over a year ago.
The role of the Celtic manager in recruiting personnel, notably Gary Hooper after he was identified as a key signing target by Lennon when at Scunthorpe United, should also not be understated. Evidence suggests Lennon knows how to find players who will perform in a highly-scrutinised environment, and need not spend bundles of cash when doing so.
“I have no doubt teams will be sniffing,” said Lennon when asked about Hooper and Victor Wanyama, who is also courted. “But maybe reaching the last 16 will persuade them all now to stay for a little bit longer.
“I don’t want to change it too much. I don’t want to spend mega money on one player because that will only disrupt the spirit here.”
The curious aspect about a figure such as Lennon, when appointed by a club with which he is so attached – and where he is lauded – is that issues of ambition are ignored. Just as Lennon would not want to sign players who had aspirations only at Celtic, the Northern Irishman must have hopes of working in the upper echelons of the game. Success in the Champions League renders that as a legitimate debate, and rightly or wrongly resonates far more than even consistent domestic success in Scotland would.
Celtic offers appreciation, a regular opportunity for silverware, similarly routine participation in Europe and a home atmosphere which is seldom beaten when at its peak. Yet there is also the danger of a lack of professional fulfilment and frustration as mediocre coaches are afforded opportunities on the glamour platform of the English Premier League. It is also true that managers should move when their stock is high, rather than flirt with the danger of stagnation.
Lennon will ponder such matters before this season ends. For now, he is entitled to take satisfaction from both his own emergence as a fine manager and a Champions League triumph which has placed Celtic back at the forefront of the European football debate.