CELTIC manager Neil Lennon rates his Scottish Football Writers’ Association manager of the year award for this season as a greater achievement than in 2012 – despite the absence of Rangers from the SPL.
The Northern Irishman was also delighted to be able to put aside “speculation” in a week when he has been heavily linked with the Everton job soon to be vacated by Manchester United-bound David Moyes, and focus on the substance of his award.
It is the second year in a row that Lennon has won the writers’ accolade, and the second year in a row that he has missed out on the PFA Scotland award. Allan Johnston of Queen of the South won that gong this season and Derek Adams of Ross County took it in 2012.
And Lennon is in no doubt that this year’s prize is a bit special. He said: “This one means more this year. I’m very grateful. It means a helluva lot to me personally.
“It’s obviously down to the efforts of the players and the backroom staff. It’s a huge privilege to win it again. The first one is always good. But to do it again means you are carrying on the good work and continuing the progression. It’s testament to the season we’ve had. Some other managers have produced some excellent work too, such as Stuart McCall, Derek Adams, who I voted my one and two, Allan Johnston, Terry Butcher and Jackie McNamara. Every manager is under pressure under their own terms. To get it ahead of those guys, I’m very, very proud.”
Lennon described as “very flattering” his link to the Everton job, although he has been replaced as bookies’ favourite by Cardiff City’s Malky Mackay. Even if, as seems likely, the Celtic manager is not eventually offered a post which he surely would not pass up, it suits him to be seen as an attractive proposition down south.
He is shortly due to meet Celtic’s major shareholder, Dermot Desmond, to discuss his contract status and plans for future team building.
That meeting, which is expected to take place in the week leading up to the Scottish Cup final on Sunday, 26 May, is likely to provide Lennon with the opportunity to make his case for a modified contract package. After three years in the job and currently on a one-year rolling deal believed to be worth around £800,000 with bonuses, he is understood to be seeking improved remuneration and a three-year fixed term.
The 42-year-old may also point to the fact that Rangers manager Ally McCoist is understood to be on £700,000 a year to lead a club in the Second Division. Or that Moyes was on £4 million a year with Everton, and has been given a six-year commitment at Old Trafford.
Lennon also has concerns about the ability of his current squad, whose domestic form has been patchy, to build on Champions League exploits that brought seven wins in 12 games, the scalping of Barcelona home and Spartak Moscow away and a place in the last 16 of the tournament.
The squad is likely to be diminished with the departures of Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper, although Lennon refuses to give up on persuading the English striker to sign an extension.
“I’m not saying I’m going to have a war chest but we would like to make significant inroads into improving the squad for the summer,” he said. “We’ve done well with Bosmans – [Mikael] Lustig, [Adam] Matthews, [Joe] Ledley, [Charlie] Mulgrew and [Kelvin] Wilson. They all made us better. We’ve had an extensive look at players this week and we’re waiting to hear back from agents to see if we can push the button on one or two. What I’ve been after for a while is a physical centre-forward, someone to head the ball. But they’re a dying breed. We missed out on a couple of those types in the previous couple of years, but if a club in England flash their eyes at him then you are always swimming against the tide in that aspect.”
His player search could take him in the direction of Republic of Ireland striker Kevin Doyle once more. Lennon tried to bring the 29-year-old in on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers last January. Doyle is contracted to Wolves until 2015 and understood to be earning £25,000 per week. Therein lie two potential obstacles to any move north, which Lennon says has become more attractive to “one or two” previous targets as “performances in Europe have made people sit up and take notice again”.
“Kevin is on really good money there but I would imagine there would be a few leaving Wolves. He is a player we have always liked but I am not going to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to him,” said Lennon.
The Celtic manager is a known admirer of Burnley’s Charlie Austin, but Celtic have not spent more than £3m on a player in six years. “The problem is that last year I went to watch Burnley, after I got the tip off about [Jay] Rodriguez. He ended up going to Southampton for £7m and he hadn’t played in the Premier League. We just can’t do that. I don’t know what Charlie’s valuation is. He is a player that we like but whether we can afford him or not is another matter.”