DERMOT Desmond has been on a rare visit to Scottish soil this week, Celtic’s major shareholder indulging his passion for golf by playing in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Fife.
There remains a perception among some Celtic supporters, most vocally noted whenever Desmond does not attend the club’s annual general meeting, that the Scottish champions are some way down the Irish billionaire’s list of priorities.
But as Neil Lennon testified at insightful length yesterday, nothing could be further from the truth. In typically frank manner, Lennon has revealed the debt he owes to Desmond for his current success as Celtic manager.
In the week when Desmond was effusive in his praise of Lennon after Celtic’s seminal 3-2 Champions League group stage win away to Spartak Moscow, the man he appointed to the managerial role, despite no previous frontline experience, has expressed his mutual admiration.
“Dermot has been a huge support to me,” said Lennon. “I know people don’t think he’s that interested in Celtic but he is very interested. He’s interested in the club, how the business is running and he’s certainly interested in the players and how they are.
“People think he’s swanning around the world playing golf all the time but he’s not. He’s a hugely busy man. I don’t know how many businesses or ventures he is the head of but I know he’s up very early every morning to look at all the things he has to take care of.
“He’s got his finger on the pulse in everything he does. I try to speak to him once a week and on occasion twice a week. If not, then it’s done through a text here and there.
“I try to speak to him before every game to tell him what my thoughts are and what the team is but he never interferes in footballing matters. He gives his opinion but he never interferes in what we do here.
“He is interested in how we are getting on as a management team. He gives great advice and he’s a tough guy. He wouldn’t be where he is if he wasn’t. He’s tough but fair. There have been times when he has given me a dressing down and other times when he’s been hugely supportive and full of praise. Tuesday in Moscow was a big night for us and Dermot was as proud as anybody.”
Lennon also credits Desmond for the notable change in his touchline demeanour in recent months, the less emotionally-charged responses to setbacks or perceived injustices against Celtic during matches. It was a situation which reached a tipping point when Lennon marched on to the pitch at Hampden last season to confront referee Euan Norris after the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by Hearts.
“Dermot wasn’t pleased,” added Lennon. “Not with anything the players had done, he just wasn’t pleased with me. With things like that, where maybe I’ve put the club in a bad light, he’s not slow in telling me.
“He’s not a dictator by any means and I’m allowed to say my piece. He gives me his point of view and I listen and learn. There are times when I stop and think ‘Yes, you’re right’. It’s made me step away, look at things and maybe see them more clearly.
“He is a cooler head, on the outside looking in and out of the maelstrom here, if you like. He is a highly intelligent man and a very interesting man. He’s always looking to challenge you, wanting you to think about things.
“He wants you to look at things from a managerial business perspective, rather than just a football perspective. He wants less emotion and more thought going into things. He is always sending me books, like Moneyball and how the baseball coach Billy Beane reinvented the whole scouting system. He sends me other fascinating stories or inspiring books about great managerial guys in American sport or sport in general.”
Ever since Lennon was first appointed on an interim basis to replace Tony Mowbray as Celtic manager in March 2010, Desmond’s belief in his potential to grow successfully into the job has been unshakeable, regardless of the disappointments which the club has experienced along the way.
“You can go right back to the Scottish Cup semi-final defeat against Ross County a month after I got the job,” said Lennon. “He had shown a huge amount of faith to give me the job in the first place and that was a hugely disappointing performance and damaging to myself in that respect.
“We talked for the best part of an hour that night and he was very supportive.
“We had a long conversation about where the club was heading in terms of the football department. He was very encouraging towards me. I said surgery was needed and there was a malaise running through the club which we needed to eradicate and he agreed with me on that.
“He wasn’t overly critical, he was actually really well balanced about the whole thing as he always is.
“As a player I met him occasionally. He’d come into the dressing room after games to see Martin O’Neill and would congratulate us. But obviously I talk to him a lot more now.
“I’m very fortunate. He’s a big Celtic supporter. He loves sport and is a huge follower. Whatever he’s done in his life he’s tried to achieve excellence and he admires that in people in sport as well.”