BERTIE AULD has advised Neil Lennon to ignore any possibility of a move to England, insisting he has yet to complete his education as Celtic manager.
Lennon is potentially 90 minutes away from winning the domestic double as SPL champions Celtic count down to the Scottish Cup final against Hibs at Hampden in nine days’ time.
In a season which has also seen Celtic reach the last 16 of the Champions League, it has earned Lennon plenty of plaudits as well as seeing him linked with a variety of managerial positions south of the border.
But Celtic legend Auld believes Lennon has plenty of room for improvement in his current role, expressing his disappointment at the number of matches the team has lost domestically this season despite the absence of Rangers from the top flight.
“Neil Lennon is just a young boy and has a lot to learn,” said the 75-year-old Lisbon Lion as he assessed the situation of the 41-year-old Celtic manager.
“I think he has done a good job. He has done extremely well since taking charge. But I have to say I am disappointed that we have dropped 35 points in the league this season. Celtic have got a squad of players which should have run away with the league but didn’t really.
“We are 13 points clear at the top with one game left, but it was disappointing to see us lose to the teams that we did. So, as I say, I think Neil still has a wee bit to learn. I think he needs to bring in at least three new quality players to improve the squad this summer.
“He needs a creative player and he also needs more experienced players. The young players at the club have done well but they would learn more from being alongside experienced players.
“Whether he is allowed to bring in another couple of players, I couldn’t tell you, but I do know that everybody in the stands will tell you we need another two or three quality players. I also think we need someone who is going to entertain the supporters.
“Celtic Park holds 60,000 people and there are 40,000 season ticket holders, but at some games there were only around 40,000 in the ground. I think it was because while we were winning some of those games, we were not entertaining.
“As far as Neil is concerned, I’d be very surprised if he left this summer. I don’t know what he is thinking, of course, but he has got a great job at Celtic and there are still plenty of challenges for him here.
“None of the clubs he is being linked with right now, whether it is Everton, Stoke City or Leicester City, can touch Celtic as a football club.
“It won’t be the same for him at any other club. What he has to do is look into himself and ask if any of those jobs is better than the one he has now. I honestly believe that even Everton doesn’t touch Celtic.”
Auld was speaking at the launch of a new book, Celtic: The Awakening, which examines the background to the club’s transformation in the 1960s from domestic also-rans to European champions.
As well as becoming a Lisbon Lion during that remarkable era, Auld won three Scottish Cup winners’ medals. He is keenly looking forward to next week’s Hampden showpiece which brings back personal memories of the last match of his playing career. Auld appeared as a substitute for Hibs in the 1972 Scottish Cup final, in which Eddie Turnbull’s highly-regarded side was overwhelmed 6-1 by a rampant Celtic outfit.
Auld, who later became manager of Hibs, expects a far more closely contested affair this time around.
“I think it’s going to be an entertaining final,” he said. “Celtic will need every one of their players to turn up on the day. It’s no good just six or seven of them turning it on. Hibs will be a very committed side on the day, having been hurt so badly by losing to Hearts in the final last year.
“The manager Pat Fenlon got his bum felt against Hearts last year. It must have been humiliating for him. He will be bleeding inwardly. But he has turned it around this season.
“They have got one of the best goalscorers in the country in Leigh Griffiths and he can hurt Celtic. It doesn’t matter where he is on the pitch, he has tremendous confidence in his own ability. If you are one of the other ten men in the Hibs team, it must give you a boost to know what Griffiths can do.
“For Celtic, these games can often seem like just another cup final. When I played for Celtic, Hampden was like a training ground for us, we played there so often! But for the opposition, it can sometimes mean more. It’s very surprising for me that Hibs have gone so long without winning the Scottish Cup, especially when you think of the great sides they had in the past. Back in the 1970s, guys like Alex Edwards, Alan Gordon, Jimmy O’Rourke and Alex Cropley were as good as anyone around.
“For that ’72 final, I had scored in a league win for Hibs against Rangers at Ibrox the previous week and Eddie Turnbull decided to put me on the bench at Hampden. There was only one substitute in those days.
“The first half was great, really exciting, and at just 2-1 down the Hibs boys still felt there was a chance. But Celtic ran all over the top of us in the second half. They just turned us over.
“I knew it was going to be my last match as a player, because I’d accepted an offer from Eddie Turnbull to join his coaching staff for the next season. He was a magnificent coach. I was fortunate to play under Jock Stein, who was a genius, but Eddie was outstanding.
“Playing under him for that last season of my career was a delight. If you couldn’t learn something from Eddie Turnbull, then there was something wrong with you.
“You shouldn’t have been in the game in the first place. He played a major role in me going on to become a coach and manager.”
• Celtic: The Awakening, by Alex Gordon, Mainstream Publishing, £16.99.