CELTIC first-team coach Danny McGrain believes Everton’s consistent failure to qualify for the Champions League could be the decisive factor in persuading Neil Lennon to turn down any approach from the Merseyside club.
Lennon has been installed as one of the favourites by bookmakers to replace David Moyes as Everton manager this summer following the Scot’s departure to take charge of Manchester United.
The Celtic manager has already stated he is unsure where his future lies and that he will consider his situation after the Scottish Cup Final against Hibs at Hampden on 26 May.
But McGrain, a member of Lennon’s backroom team at the Scottish champions, is optimistic that the lure of another shot at the Champions League in the wake of this season’s success in reaching the last 16 will convince the Northern Irishman to stay.
“There is no Champions League football at Everton and I think Lenny wants to go as far or further with Celtic in the tournament next season,” said McGrain. “Everton are not as big as Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal or even Spurs. Would Neil want to be pursuing the top clubs in England, or would he rather be at the top of the league in Scotland, winning the title and getting into the Champions League?
“Celtic are a big club. I know we are a big club in a small goldfish bowl, but we are a big club. I think Neil would find it hard to walk away from us and I just hope he doesn’t go.”
McGrain sat alongside Lennon at the PFA Scotland awards dinner in Glasgow on Sunday night and was dismayed to see him miss out on the award for Manager of the Year to Queen of the South boss Allan Johnston.
“I was disappointed for him,” added McGrain. “I’m sure he must have been disappointed not to get Manager of the Year from the PFA. It’s just not right.
“The guy at Queen of the South has done a great job, but if it had been any team in England who beat Barcelona in the Champions League this season, the manager would have got a knighthood for it. Neil didn’t even get the PFA award. He has got to be the manager of the year.”
McGrain, who played under iconic Celtic manager Jock Stein, believes Lennon possesses a rare talent which is helping him carve out a burgeoning reputation in his current role. “He’s got a burning desire,” said McGrain. “Every manager wants to win but Lenny has a driving desire and professionalism which he puts through to the players. The players feed off it because it just exudes from him.
“In his team talks and in the way he talks to the media, he is distinct and straight to the point. He is also very enthusiastic with the players. He is very intelligent in terms of cutting up teams and changing the team, making quick decisions during games. I don’t think he has had the credit he deserves this season.”
McGrain also feels recognition of Lennon should come in the form of induction to the Scottish Football Hall of Fame, whose search for 2013 entrants the former Scotland right-back launched at Hampden yesterday. “Neil was a very good player here for Celtic before becoming a successful manager,” added McGrain. “He made what he did look as if it was easy to do. But I try and do the Neil Lennon role in charity games now and I just can’t do it – although I play at the pace he played at!
“It’s like Rafa Nadal in tennis or Rory McIlroy in golf – they make it look so easy, even though we all know it isn’t. Lenny did a great job for Celtic under Martin O’Neill that way.
“I wouldn’t be against Neil being in the Hall of Fame. He deserves to have his name up there – when you look at names like Maurice Johnston! But, yes, he’s got to be in there. I also feel Eddie Gray, a brilliant player at Leeds, should be in there. Steve Chalmers, who of course scored the winner for Celtic in the 1967 European Cup final, is another candidate, as are both Jimmy Millar and Ralph Brand who were great Rangers players in the 1960s.”
McGrain, meanwhile, confirmed that Celtic are currently running the rule over French defender Steven Mouyokolo. The 26-year-old is a free agent after being released by Wolves in January.
“He is here until the end of the week,” said McGrain. “He doesn’t look strong, but he is tall with a good physique. He’s not a Bobo Balde type. He is quite mobile. He took part in a good session this morning but that’s only his second day with us. He looked okay but we haven’t had a game situation yet where he will be defending corners and free kicks.”