NEIL Lennon will play a part in identifying his successor as Celtic manager following his decision to resign from the position.
The 42-year-old announced his departure from the Scottish champions yesterday morning as he seeks a fresh challenge after just over four years in charge, which saw him deliver five major trophies and two qualifications for the Champions League group stage.
Former Celtic striker Henrik Larsson, currently head coach of Swedish top flight club Falkenbergs, was quickly installed as odds-on favourite by bookmakers to replace Lennon. Malky Mackay, another ex-Celt who has been out of work since his controversial sacking by Cardiff City in December, and former Bolton and Wigan manager Owen Coyle are also believed to be major contenders.
It is understood that Celtic have been aware of Lennon’s intention to step down for some time. He formally communicated his decision to major shareholder Dermot Desmond in Dublin earlier this week.
Lennon’s agent insists his client does not have another job lined up, although his name has been mentioned in connection with current vacancies at West Bromwich Albion and Brighton. He was also linked with the post at Norwich City but the Norfolk club announced the appointment last night of caretaker Neil Adams as permanent manager on a three-year deal.
Lennon has never made any secret of his ambition to manage in England one day. His immediate plans include a trip to the World Cup finals in Brazil, where he will be part of the BBC’s punditry team. In the meantime, he will provide his input to Celtic’s recruitment process as they seek the 17th permanent manager in the club’s 126-year history.
In a statement on the Celtic website, Lennon said: “I have supported Celtic all my life and the club will always be part of me. It was an absolute honour to play for this great club, to captain the team and of course to become Celtic manager, a position which I cherished dearly. However, I feel the time is now right to move on to a new challenge.
“Of course, I am very pleased that I will be leaving Celtic as Scottish champions and with the club in such good health. I wish the club nothing but good fortune going forward.
“I would like to send my sincere thanks and best wishes to [former No 2] Johan Mjallby and [coach] Garry Parker who have supported me magnificently, to all the players and staff at the club who I have worked with over so many years and, of course, to our magnificent supporters who have been with me through everything. I would also like to thank Dermot, Peter [Lawwell, chief executive] and the club’s board of directors for their support.
“I also want to thank my family for all they have given me. I could not have been Celtic manager for four years without their wonderful support. Serving the club was always a privilege. I have always given my best and aimed to do all I can to ensure success for Celtic, as a supporter it was all I wanted.
“I will now assist the club in appointing my successor. As ever, we will need our fans’ support and I am sure they will give the club and the new manager the same great backing which they gave to myself.” Having won 11 major honours in six and a half years as a player with Celtic, Lennon returned to the club as a coach under Gordon Strachan before replacing Tony Mowbray as manager in March 2010. He won 159 of his 227 games in charge, including 13 out of 26 in the Champions League, and claimed three league titles and two Scottish Cups.
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell said: “I would like to thank Neil for everything he has done for Celtic.
“When we appointed Neil as manager, we did so knowing exactly what the club meant to him and knowing that he would give all he had to the job. He has delivered great success to our supporters domestically and has brought us back to the table in European football.
“He will always be part of the club and we wish Neil and his family nothing but success in the future. We now embark on a new and exciting chapter for the club.
“We are sure our fans will give us their usual fantastic support as we aim to bring them more and more success and continue to make Celtic a club they can be proud of.”
Martin Reilly, Lennon’s agent, articulated the widely held view that his client had perhaps reached the end of his shelf life as Celtic manager.
“Four years is a good spell to be manager of a club like Celtic but now Neil wants to look ahead to the next chapter of his career,” said Reilly. “He has nothing lined up. He just feels now is the time to move on to the next challenge.”
Bookies’ favourite Larsson, whose popularity among Celtic supporters remains undimmed ten years after he ended his exceptional spell as a player at the club, did little to play down speculation linking him with the job.
“When I stopped playing football and went into management I knew the Celtic job was
one that I would be linked with,” said Larsson. “I have and always will have a strong affection with the club. It’s not a question whether I’d be up for it. At the moment I’m only focusing on the job at Falkenberg. I can see myself back at Celtic, whether it’s now or in the future time will tell. Let me put it this way, I always have had good contact with the people at Celtic and I continue to have good contact with the club. That’s all I’m going to say. It’s up to you to work if there’s been contact.”