It WAS four months ago today that Neil Lennon announced he was stepping down as Celtic manager. He could surely never have imagined that he would still be ‘between jobs’ at this stage of the season.
When Lennon left the Scottish champions on 22 May, he would have been full of both anticipation and expectation of an exciting new challenge in English football. If not in the Premier League, then certainly with an ambitious Championship club. He has been disabused of that notion on a startlingly consistent basis.
Four top-flight vacancies in England have been filled without Lennon even getting a sniff of them since he went onto the job market – at West Bromwich Albion, Tottenham, Southampton and Crystal Palace.
In the Championship, seven clubs have changed their managers in the same period – Blackpool, Nottingham Forest, Brighton, Charlton, Leeds United (twice), Huddersfield Town and Watford.
Lennon’s name regularly makes its way onto the bookmakers’ lists for every post which becomes available but so far any money punted on him has failed to deliver a return.
Speaking at the weekend, Lennon expressed his interest in the latest vacancies in England’s second tier at Fulham and Cardiff City. Yet caretaker boss Kit Symons appears to be in pole position for the Craven Cottage vacancy, while Cardiff look to have switched their sights from Dundee manager Paul Hartley to Russell Slade at Leyton Orient.
With the greatest of respect to both Hartley and Slade, it must be a source of genuine concern – if not outright alarm – to Lennon that he is not being considered ahead of them, even allowing for the unpredictable manner in which Cardiff are run under eccentric owner Vincent Tan.
As the caption underneath his name during his appearance on Match of the Day on Saturday night reminded us, Lennon won five major honours during his four years as Celtic manager. It begs the obvious question of just how devalued a currency success at the top level in Scottish football is in the wider managerial picture.
Lennon’s struggle to find a suitable job south of the Border may be down to the drastically-diminished status of Scottish football overall, rather than to any deeply analysed judgement of his own capabilities.
There was a time when the serial collection of trophies in charge of either Celtic of Rangers was a passport into English football for any manager. Even in relatively recent Old Firm history, it was a fairly regular career path.
Jock Stein was regularly coveted by the biggest English clubs of all during his all-conquering time at Celtic, albeit his eventual stint at Leeds United was brief and unfulfilling, while Billy McNeill enjoyed a stature which earned him spells in charge of Manchester City and Aston Villa.
Two of Lennon’s predecessors and mentors at Celtic, Martin O’Neill and Gordon Strachan, also had little difficulty in finding work in England after calling time on their respective tenures at Parkhead. Perhaps the crucial difference in their cases, however, was that they had both already forged respected managerial reputations in the English top flight prior to their stints at Celtic and could trade on those.
But O’Neill’s relatively underwhelming reigns at Aston Villa and Sunderland on his return to England, along with Strachan’s self-confessed abject failure at Middlesbrough, have perhaps had a negative influence on how much credibility a successful Celtic manager is given among the English football fraternity.
Lennon has remained a highly visible presence during what is proving a lengthier managerial sabbatical than he would have wished. To the surprise of no-one in the media who dealt with him during his time in Scotland, he is proving to be an excellent pundit on both radio and television.
Analytical, articulate, intelligent and never a proponent of the cliche, the 43-year-old has been a hugely welcome addition to the Match of the Day stable. But while offering his opinion on the game could comfortably sustain him for the foreseeable future, Lennon will certainly not be content to remain on a sofa in a television studio. Those closest to him confirm he is itching to get back onto a training ground and into a technical area to prove the ability which saw him guide Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League just two years ago can be translated into further notable achievements as a manager in England.
But unless Fulham and Cardiff City suddenly turn their attentions in his direction, that ambition seems no closer to being fulfilled any time soon. Placing his situation into even sharper perspective is that managers of either lengthy and/or recent English Premier League experience – including David Moyes, Tony Pulis, Chris Hughton, Steve Clarke and Tim Sherwood – are also on the lookout for a fresh opportunity.
It is a sobering state of affairs not just for Lennon himself, but for Scottish football in general. Seldom, if ever, has winning trophies in Scotland counted for so little elsewhere.