NEIL Lennon admits he would like to join what he describes as the “select band” of managers in the English Premier League one day.
But despite being installed as one of the favourites to replace David Moyes at Everton, the Celtic manager has attempted to cool talk of that day being imminent.
Before facing the media at Lennoxtown yesterday, Lennon would have no doubt in his mind what the main line of questioning would be after the odds had been slashed on a potential move to Goodison Park. He dealt with the issue with assurance and diplomacy, expressing how flattered he was to have his name mentioned in connection with the vacancy but also stressing his focus remains on the pursuit of further progress with Celtic both domestically and in Europe.
Lennon will celebrate the presentation of his third major honour in as many years as Celtic boss today when his team receive the Scottish Premier League trophy after their final home game of the season against St Johnstone. In a fortnight’s time, he is heavily fancied to secure silverware for a fourth time in the job when the champions take on Hibs at Hampden in the Scottish Cup final.
Leaving behind that kind of consistent success is something Lennon would have to seriously consider if the opportunity did come to take charge of a club like Everton which has won just one trophy in the last 25 years. Nonetheless, the lure of England’s top flight is one Lennon says remains compelling.
“It’s a select sort of band to be in,” he said. “There are only 20 managers in the Premier League. There is no doubt I would like to manage in one of the big leagues, be it the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A or the Bundesliga. But that’s for another day. I’m not getting ahead of myself here. Just because I’ve been linked with Everton, I’m not Jose Mourinho. I don’t want people jumping the gun at me. Look, we are all ambitious. We all have our personal ambitions. We all have our own personal targets to achieve. I am some of the way there.
“There has been nothing from Everton, no approaches. Roberto Martinez was favourite yesterday, it’s me today and could be someone else tomorrow. I can’t legislate for people putting money on me going elsewhere. There’s nothing in it at the minute. If there is, then I have not been approached or there’s not been any conversation with the club or my representatives. Of course is it flattering, though. Everton’s a big club, a great club. But I’ve got a job to do here at Celtic. I’ve got a cup final to play and a trophy presentation tomorrow. I’ve got plans to make for the qualifiers in the summer. But, yes, it’s flattering to be linked with a job like that.”
Lennon is scheduled to meet with Celtic’s major shareholder Dermot Desmond at the end of the season to discuss future plans for the club. Whatever size of budget he is given this summer, Lennon knows it will still pale in comparison with even the lowest-ranked English Premier League outfits.
“We are going into the market with clubs half the size of us, or even a third the size of us,” he said. “And yet we can’t compete with them. That’s the reality of it. Does it make you fed up? Sometimes. Does it give you a challenge? Yes, it does.
“You have to look elsewhere, bring these little gems in that are under the radar, polish them off and get them out on the pitch to see if they can progress the club. There is always that apathy and indifference towards the Scottish game from down south. It’s frustrating and it’s all down to finances as much as anything else. You have to try and nullify that by doing as well as you can in the Champions League every year, by trying to make the group stages at least. I think we turned a lot of heads this year.”
Regardless of his own unquestionable affection for Celtic, Lennon says most managers would find it difficult to resist the chance of working with greater resources in a higher profile environment. “I think we would all want that,” he added. “It’s why Davie is leaving Everton to take over at Manchester United. It’s the natural progression if you are sought after or if you are perceived to be a good manager, I suppose. It’s like footballers who go from one club to the next. Why do you want to go and play for Manchester United? Because you have the chance of winning things, it’s the same with managers.
“That is unless someone has a foundation in place and he wants to really build – Davie built the club for ten years at Everton, Fergie for 26 at United, Arsene Wenger has been at Arsenal for 16 or 17 years, Alan Pardew has an eight-year contract at Newcastle.
“There are clubs who are willing to be patient and let managers build the club from scratch and work their way up, whereas some managers such as a Mourinho like to go where they feel the money is and they can be succesful. Other managers are quite happy to build clubs and take their time over a seven or eight year period, but you need the patience of board and supporters to go with that.”
The question Lennon may have to wrestle with is whether the financial limitations Celtic face within the current environment of Scottish football also represent a barrier to his own ambitions. Will there come a point when he feels he has achieved as much as he can at the club? “Possibly, but the landscape around the club might change in the next five or six years,” he replied. “You never know. This club is huge, it’s got so much potential and we are barely tapping into that at the moment.”
As the guessing game over Moyes’ successor at Everton continues, Lennon is thrilled to see the Scot earn the kind of plum job which had eluded him for so long. “I’ve met Davie a few times and like him a lot,” added Lennon. “I’m delighted for him, because for a while it looked as though he was going to be overlooked for one of the big jobs in England. It’s spectacular for him and I agree with the sentiments of most people in the game that he is the right man for the job.”