Neil Lennon: Lack of playing success won’t hinder Hearts duo

Hibs boss Neil Lennon took a more traditional route into management. Picture: SNS
Hibs boss Neil Lennon took a more traditional route into management. Picture: SNS
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A spell in charge of his old club’s under-20s and coaching stints with pedigree sides in four different countries. The former is Neil Lennon’s route into frontline management – which began at Celtic – the latter the path trod by Ian Cathro that has earned him the head coach role at Hearts.

It is little wonder that Hibernian manager Lennon is free from the scepticism that, in some small quarters, has accompanied 30-year-old Cathro’s appointment across the capital this week.

The Irishman, equally, does not pretend that Cathro can lean on the invaluable experience – two decades of playing pressure-fuelled high-profile, high-stakes football – that allowed him to make a success of his four years at the helm in Glasgow’s east end.

Lennon simply sees Cathro’s skill set for what it is: one with pluses and minuses when set in the context of the tasks ahead of him at Tynecastle.

“I don’t know much about him, but I know that Craig Levein has worked with him before and he has a very good CV, with Newcastle and Valencia. He obviously wants to be his own man now so good luck to him,” Lennon said. “Ian is very highly thought of and Hearts certainly feel he is the right man to take them 
forward.

“He certainly isn’t ‘old school’ and hasn’t come down a traditional path, but that is absolutely fine, there are plenty of successful coaches that haven’t been great players. If you look in England there are plenty of really top-class managers who weren’t brilliant players. [Jose] Mourinho, to [Rafael] Benitez to Jurgen Klopp – I don’t think he was much of a player – have all cracked it on the managerial side. I believe there is an avenue for both.”

That was the case made by Austin MacPhee, appointed assistant to Cathro after his lauded analytics for Michael O’Neill’s Northern Ireland.

“It does help if you’ve been at a club and have gone through everything those players are going through,” said Lennon. “There is an immediate respect there. However, as Austin said, that will fade away and ultimately you are judged on your coaching skills.

“A playing career is an advantage, no question, because you have been through the rigours they are going through and have been in their shoes, but that is not to say you will be a good manager.”

Lennon, articulate and empathetic with charisma and obvious leadership qualities, considers that succeeding in what has now been his trade of seven years can ultimately come down to people skills.

“I think man management is a huge part of it and how to get the best out of your players. It will be interesting to see how he goes,” he added. “It’s an exciting challenge – he wanted to go out on his own and has taken the plunge. I’ve only met Austin a few times and I know he is very well thought of. He is very thorough and his work with Michael O’Neill has been absolutely fantastic. He is another one whose reputation just seems to be getting better and better.

“Guys like Ian and Austin study the game, study the statistics and analyse the game and see the benefits, as we all do. They probably have more of an educational background than me, to put it that way. My education was playing. That’s how I earned my spurs. But there is room for both.”