Neil Lennon: Going to Hibs is not a backward step for me

Neil Lennon poses in the main stand at Easter Road after the former Celtic and Bolton manager was officially unveiled as the Leith clubs new head coach. Picture: Neil Hanna
Neil Lennon poses in the main stand at Easter Road after the former Celtic and Bolton manager was officially unveiled as the Leith clubs new head coach. Picture: Neil Hanna
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It may be a road less travelled on the career path of anyone who has managed Celtic but Neil Lennon has no doubts he is heading in the right direction with his decision to take charge of Hibs.

Of his predecessors as Celtic boss, only Jimmy McStay and Davie Hay went on to manage other Scottish clubs after 
leaving the Glasgow giants.

Lennon would certainly not have envisaged such a quick return to Scottish football when he chose to leave it behind two years ago, 
departing Celtic for what proved to be an ill-fated tenure at financially troubled Bolton Wanderers.

But regardless of Hibs’ 
current status as a Championship club, there is no sense in Lennon’s mind of making a back-to-front career move as he succeeds Alan Stubbs at Easter Road.

“Listen, if you got offered the Celtic job, would you take it?,” he said. “I was 38 when I got offered it. There was no way I was going to turn it down and maybe not get offered it again.

“So we made the most of what we had at Celtic.

“Four years later, we had championships, cups. We sold players for millions that we bought for next to nothing. We made a real success of 
that which sometimes gets overlooked.

“There’s an expectation at Celtic but there’s an expectation here at Hibs too. People think it’s easy, but it’s not.

“My whole focus now is Hibs. I love Celtic and always will but I’m now at Hibs and I’ll do all I can to win football games for Hibs whether that’s against Celtic, Rangers, Hearts or 
Brechin City. This is my job now and my whole focus is now on Hibernian.

“It just feels like a good fit for me. It’s not something I’ve rushed into. I knew Alan was leaving and I thought there was a good opportunity here. It’s a big city club with a great stadium.

“Obviously we’re in the Championship and we need to negotiate that, but there’s huge potential here.

“The infrastructure is all in place and there’s a good core of players. I want to get us up as quick as possible.

“I didn’t have any misgivings about coming back, none at all. I’m looking forward to it. I had a great time in Scottish football, as player, coach and manager, for the most part of 15 years.

“I had a good time in England as well, regardless of the way things went at Bolton.

“But I look around here and think ‘this is good’. It’s going to be competitive. We are up there to be shot at.

“But Scotland is home for me. I don’t need to move my family around. It’s a challenge I am looking forward to.

“Of course there is the thought about staying in 
England. But this is a big club.

“Stubbsy has gone to Rotherham but Hibs are a bigger club than Rotherham. Yes, it’s England and the Championship, where there is more money swilling around. But Hibs are the bigger club.

“I want to make this club big again. Hibs should be a top four Premiership club. In my time in Scottish football, Motherwell finished second. Inverness and Ross County are among the clubs that have been in the top six. St Johnstone have consistently been third or fourth in the last couple of seasons.

“I certainly feel I can take Hibs to that level. It is going to take a bit of time. A bit of patience is going to be required. It’s not going to happen overnight but that’s the plan.”

For that plan to come to fruition, Lennon intends to hold on to the services of key players such as John McGinn and Jason Cummings.

“I want to keep them and, if I can, build a team around them,” he added.

“The core of the team is good. I just need to add a few bits and pieces. But I want to keep those two. Jason had a great season last year, he’s a goalscorer, they’re hard to find. John was capped by Scotland from the Championship, that’s fantastic. Then he helps Hibs win the Scottish Cup as well.

“He can be really proud of the season he’s had and I 
want them all to improve on it, build on it.

“The club will do everything they can to keep them here and so will I. The club have already made that pretty clear to the players and their representatives as well.”

Lennon would be interested in signing Hibs’ Scottish Cup match winner Anthony Stokes, released this week by Celtic, and midfielder Liam Henderson who was also on loan at Easter Road from the Scottish champions last season. But he fears both players may be beyond his grasp for different reasons.

“Stokesy has been released and Liam is still a Celtic 
player,” he said. “He’ll want to impress Brendan Rodgers
and I’m sure Brendan will want to have a good look 
at Liam.

“So it might be difficult. I don’t want to talk about players at other clubs at the minute. I want to bring in quality players that will suit the league and have the 
temperament we want here. Those two appeal but I 
doubt we could do Stokesy financially.”

Lennon is ready to embrace the demand upon him to deliver promotion at his first attempt and will draw upon the pressure he experienced at Celtic where only first place is ever regarded as good enough.

“When you are manager of Celtic, you need to win the league every year,” he added. “At Hibs we need to get promotion, either by winning the league or going through the play-offs. We need to get there by hook or by crook.

“It will be a dogfight. I don’t think we are the favourites.

“Last season we finished third and we saw the quality of Falkirk.

“With Dundee United coming down, they will still have good players to compete at this level.”