PETER Grant has warned Neil Lennon that he would miss the “intensity” of life with Celtic if he ever chose to take up an option of managing in the English Premier League.
It is not a word which some would have used in association with Celtic’s last outing – a one-sided 2-0 win over St Mirren at Parkhead. However, Grant believes there is a “different kind of pressure” on Lennon in the absence of Rangers, with Celtic now expected to win the Scottish Premier League title by an even greater margin. They are already beginning to pull ahead at the top with Champions League football in abeyance for the time being.
Grant yesterday highlighted his own experience of swapping Celtic for Norwich City, who were then under the management of Mike Walker. The midfielder’s first match was at Stoke City and he could not comprehend the sense of elation among his team-mates as well as the manager at having earned a 1-1 draw. In his eyes, failing to win a match was nothing to be proud about. The combative Grant almost came to blows with colleagues as he struggled to adapt to the new mentality.
“The intensity of managing at Celtic or Rangers is different from anywhere else,” he says. “I have been down south for 15 years now and know that the mentality is completely different.
“Some people can understand those demands and some don’t. When I first went down to England I was going mental in the dressing-room after drawing an away game.
“There were nearly fisticuffs because the other players were singing, dancing and laughing about it. I couldn’t believe it.
“Drawing any game wasn’t acceptable to me but the manager took me aside and said that down there any point away from home is a fantastic result. I had come from a completely different background and it took me six or seven months to get used to it. When you are at Celtic or Rangers you know that winning is everything. I can remember sitting up at 5am unable to sleep because I’d played badly or we’d lost a game.”
Grant was a combative midfielder in the Lennon mould for Celtic. Like the current Celtic manager, he has also surprised many by forging a career in coaching. While both could be fractious presences on the pitch, they now distinguish themselves by thinking deeply about the game while also being able to articulate these thoughts.
Until the summer, Grant was assisting Alex McLeish at Aston Villa, while he has also managed in his own right at Norwich City. More recently, he was appointed first-team coach at Celtic, returning to the club where he made nearly 400 appearances between 1982 and 1997. However, Grant became a casualty of Tony Mowbray’s sacking as manager in 2010, with Celtic opting for a clear-out.
Lennon, then reserve team coach, stepped up to take temporary charge and after establishing himself in the role, was made permanent manager two summers ago. His achievements since then, including leading Celtic into the last 16 of the Champions League this season, have seen him become the inevitable focus of speculation linking him with clubs in the Barclays Premier League.
“At the moment, is Neil going to get a Man United or a Man City?” asked Grant, when contemplating the level of Lennon’s ambitions. “I don’t think so. So is he going to go a smaller club and make his name from there? I’m not so sure about that. Maybe the pressure and intensity involved of managing Celtic is what keeps him going.
“I found that when I was a coach [there] – people said that what I have is a gift because every day is a prisoner. There’s no second place.
“People are saying they expect Celtic to win the league by 30 points and that itself brings a new kind of intensity. As a Celtic or Rangers manager you don’t get a moment away from it. Maybe that’s the thing that does make him move out the door, who knows?
“But if an offer was to come in it would be a huge decision for him because there’s not many bigger clubs than Celtic, believe me.”
As well as delighting him because he is a fan, Grant is grateful for Celtic’s progress to the knock-out stage of the Champions League since it has helped partially restore the Scottish game’s reputation in the eyes of those looking on from south of the Border.
“People are not knocking Scottish football as much now because Celtic have got through in the Champions League,” says Grant. He describes Celtic as “a team people will want to avoid” when the draw is made on Thursday.
“Teams will know what Celtic Park is like, although seeing it from afar is completely different to playing there,” he said. “People will be thinking that if Barcelona can get beat there then so can we.”
Grant believes the players’ physical welfare could be the greatest factor in Celtic’s ability to progress deeper into the tournament. If he keeps fit, Gary Hooper is one of those he considers central to his former side’s hopes. Grant recalls the striker catching his eye prior to his move north.
Grant was on the coaching staff at West Bromwich Albion and Hooper had already alerted teams to his prowess in front of goal while playing for Scunthorpe United – although he was not Grant’s preferred choice at the time.