FORMER Celtic striker Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink believes Neil Lennon has a footballer’s “addiction” to winning that not even the absence of Rangers from the Clydesdale Bank Premier League can weaken.
The Parkhead club’s traditional rivals re-emerged in the Irn-Bru Third Division at the start of the season after their descent into administration and liquidation.
Without the usual championship challenge from Ibrox, Celtic have coasted through the league campaign with the occasional bump and are 15 points clear of Motherwell with five games remaining.
Lennon’s side, who also reached the last 16 of the Champions League, are likely to clinch the title when they host Inverness in the first game of the post-split fixtures, and may even have claimed the trophy before then if the Steelmen slip up at Dundee United two days earlier.
Speaking in Glasgow yesterday ahead of Celtic’s William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final clash with Dundee United on Sunday, Vennegoor of Hesselink, who won two SPL titles, a Scottish Cup and a League Cup in his three years at Parkhead between 2006 and 2009, spoke about his former team-mate Lennon’s desire to win, regardless of circumstances.
“If you look how he [Lennon] did in the Champions League and in the league, he is doing his job really well,” the former Netherlands international said.
“Sometimes you have slip-ups but they are 15 points clear so that says enough.
“I know Lenny a little bit and he will want to win the cup and get the double.
“As a footballer, there is a competitiveness, you want to win. It is like an addiction and if you win prizes you want to do it over and over. I think that is in the mind of Lenny and hopefully in the minds of a lot of players.”
Vennegoor of Hesselink, however, admits the SPL table looks unrecognisable this season without Rangers and with Inverness and Ross County in the top six and Hibernian, Hearts and Aberdeen in the bottom six.
“I was reading the paper this morning and normally the table has Celtic, Rangers, Hearts, Hibs and now it is the other way round,” said the Dutchman, who since retiring as a player last year has occupied himself with occasional scouting and media work.
“It is massive difference from only three or four years ago and also a bit of a shame because you want a good league with a lot of competitiveness.
“I was an analyst on the Celtic versus Inverness game in February and Inverness were pushing for second place. Celtic played their fringe players and Inverness were played off the park.
“That’s not to talk badly about Inverness but it is a shame. As a footballer, you want to win it by a mile but sometimes it is also about the competitiveness, that is why fans come to the stadium.
“As a fan you always want to win but sometimes the nicest game is a last-minute winner so it is a shame that is not really there.
“The semi-final is really important because that is where they can get their satisfaction from too, getting the double and getting that on your CV. I played football for 18 years and I was quite lucky to win some prizes but only won two doubles in my career.”
Vennegoor of Hesselink revealed his indelible Celtic links mean he has been quizzed about the demise of Rangers back in his homeland. He said: “It is a big issue. People refer to me as a Celtic player, not a PSV or Twente player, so my time here had a big impact.
“They [people in the Netherlands] know that Rangers went down and the Old Firm is a match that you miss.
“Everybody in Europe or maybe even the world talked about the derby and it’s not there. I think it is painful because as a footballer you want those intensity games but it is not there and that is a shame.”