NEIL Lennon was six years old when Craig Brown took up his first managerial post.
As 72-year-old Brown yesterday announced that Aberdeen this season would represent his last tour-of-touchline-duty before retirement, the Celtic manager described the former Scotland manager’s services to coaching as an inspiration to him.
“What he has had in the game is what I want – longevity,” the 41-year-old said. “He’s a great guy and a great football man and I think he’ll be a loss to the management fraternity here in Scotland. Whenever I have come up against him, he has always been fantastic after games.”
Lennon, who will lead his side at Celtic Park tomorrow, has learned from the eight years in charge of Scotland that will define the coaching career of Brown. Between 1993 and 2001 the Scot led the country to two major championships – with the Euro 96 and France 98 qualifications the last occasions the nation has competed in the finals of the European Championships and World Cup respectively.
“He lectured on a few courses that I went on and it was interesting to see how he approached international games,” Lennon said. “The World Cup and European Championships were very interesting, to see how he approached those finals and the England playoff double-header in 1999, where Scotland were unfortunate not to take it all the way. Craig, especially when you think about recent managers, has had fantastic success at international level with Scotland. Maybe he’s not had the credit that is due to him. But he might get it now.”
Brown’s final coaching post before taking up a non-executive position on the Aberdeen post will not garner him any great plaudits now or in the future. Lennon maintains he has “improved” the Pittodrie side in two-and-a-half years, but his surprise at the ninth place they are struggling to climb above can be read as an indictment.
“It’s very difficult to go from second bottom to second in the SPL in just a year or two, but to make the top six may be viewed as a disappointment by some because I felt they would be up their challenging us. There has been an inconsistency about Aberdeen over the years and a mentality that they have not overcome yet.”
Asked if he could see himself still being a manager at 72, Lennon praised those who have shown an appetite to be dealing with the dunts in their dotage. Equally, when looking to his own future, he talked of being “institutionalised”.
“If I’m still in the game then, I’ll be doing very well,” he said. “There are some who keep going: look at Giovanni Trapattoni, Sir Alex Ferguson and Bobby Robson. But those are very few and far between. You have to have a love for the game and have passion, as well as a thick skin. What I like about these guys is that they have had huge disappointments in their career and have bounced back and used adversity to their strength.
“I don’t know about having a need to manage, but I want to; it’s a real desire. I love football. There are days when you hate the job, but they are few and far between. It’s the only thing I have known, all my life I’ve loved football and that’s why I want to stay in it as long as possible. I can’t imagine being in the garden. I can’t imagine not being in football.
“It is very addictive and it is sometimes it is not good for health, not good for your state of mind. Why do we do it? We do it because we do not know anything else. Honestly, that is the real reason why. I was speaking to people about [Pep] Guardiola. He wanted to take a year out and then about November he was ringing his advisers say: ‘Get me a job.’ There are times when you need a break. There are times when you need to take a step away. [But with me] I go away for a break, but after a day you think: ‘I’m bored. I wanted to get back to my work.’ It is very rarely that you can switch off.”
Lennon’s players seem to be switching off all too readily on domestic assignments of late. The Irishman accused some of them of being permanently switched off to giving their all for Celtic in playing as if they “had been tapped up” by other clubs in last Saturday 3-2 defeat away to Ross County. He accepted it was a “concern” if players now wanted to move on post-Champions League, but that those unnamed individuals he accused of having their minds “elsewhere” had reassured him.
“I have had it out with a couple of them,” he said. “I have put my point across and they have certainly said I have nothing to worry about on that score. I expect to see a vast improvement over the next few games.
“We know what we have to do now to win the title and I imagine that if we win the next three games that would almost guarantee the title, regardless of what other people do.”