ALAN Stubbs believes that Neil Lennon’s title success with Celtic will have made people sit up and take notice in England.
The celebrations are only just beginning to die down in the east end of Glasgow following Saturday’s emphatic 6-0 win over Kilmarnock. Stubbs, who was at the game on Saturday, only played a handful of games with Lennon for Celtic. He was making a recovery from testicular cancer when Lennon joined, in December 2000.
Stubbs left for Everton later that year. “I had a year with him,” recalled Stubbs. “A year was enough, to be honest!”
The former centre-half learned very quickly that Lennon was “a winner – he was a leader and shows that as a manager now”.
Stubbs, who is now in charge of the Everton reserves team, is well placed to offer his view on whether Lennon’s achievement with Celtic has made it onto the radar in England. The manager himself suggested that the title win had allowed him to step out from behind the likes of Jock Stein and Martin O’Neill, whereas, prior to Saturday, he was just another manager with hopes and dreams of winning the title with Celtic.
“He has been successful and when you are successful everyone takes notice,” said Stubbs. “People will try to knock the title because of what Rangers are going through but even if you added those points back onto Rangers’ tally, they would still be eight points behind Celtic. That takes that argument out of the equation.
“You can’t discredit what they’ve done. They’ve won the title with five games to go. It could be a record haul they win it by and that’s no mean feat. To go on the run they did after the Kilmarnock game is a fantastic achievement, especially when a lot of people were writing Neil off at the time. He was under pressure and everything was coming to a head but credit to the Board for sticking by him. They supported him, they helped him and it seemed to galvanise the players around him.
“At times on Saturday, they reminded me of when I was playing and the squad we had. At times your back’s against the wall and suddenly you rally round each other and the team spirit and camaraderie is unbreakable. The team showed signs of that at Rugby Park.”
When Stubbs points out that Lennon’s side has been admired over the border, he is not proposing that the Celtic manager should be a target for clubs in England. Having spent five years at Celtic, Stubbs is alert to the hold Celtic can have on those who have played for the club. He only left because he knew there is only a limited number of times that the club you supported as a boy come in to sign you. “They are a young team, as well,” he said, of the current Celtic side, whose average against Kilmarnock was 23. “The best years are ahead of them, so if Neil can keep a hold of them and build something, he could be building a platform for Celtic to be a dominant force for years to come.”
One of those players who still has the best years of his career in front of him is Charlie Mulgrew. The 26-year-old was man of the match against Kilmarnock, scoring twice from full-back and setting up two more goals. According to Stubbs, Mulgrew is an inspiration for all those youngsters who fear their career has hit a brick wall. Mulgrew was transferred from Celtic to Wolves without ever having appeared in the first-team but has since made a triumphant return, after impressing Lennon when playing for Aberdeen at Kilmarnock.
“This is a time of year when a lot of young players get told they are not good enough or that their team is not going to keep them on and Charlie is an example to all of them,” said Stubbs. “As a footballer, you are going to get highs and lows. You have knockdowns and it is how you respond to them. He has come back and responded to his in the best possible way. Just because you are out of favour with one manager doesn’t mean you are not good enough. That’s proved to be the case at Celtic.
“Everyone looks on Charlie as a very important member of the squad,” added Stubbs. “He was very impressive against Kilmarnock. Going forward, he is very comfortable on the ball and has great delivery from set-pieces. He scores goals and is a bit like the all-round package, really. We have a player, Leighton Baines, at Everton, who is very similar. He probably doesn’t score as many goals as Charlie but he is invaluable.
“You find these days that full backs are becoming very important players in the team, with the way they play like wing backs.”