Arch-pragmatist Neil Lennon eschews idealism in search of warrior spirit

THIS IS the tale of two coronations; same club, same room, same month, but a year apart and, truth be told, a world in the difference.

Tony Mowbray was unveiled as the new Celtic manager almost 52 weeks ago and even now the memory of the love-in is vivid. Mowbray was presented as a "man of dignity" and "quiet fortitude", a guy who had shown great strength in adversity and who possessed an instinctive understanding of the Celtic family and the Celtic way. That's how Peter Lawwell and John Reid introduced him. The Great Redeemer had returned. There was no escaping the vibe of a son coming home. The sense of excitement and anticipation was palpable.

Mowbray was talking about his philosophy of the game and his love of Barcelona, about his admiration for clever little passers and midfielders who possessed great weight of feet. He promised quality on a budget. That was his thing. He was going to find "diamonds amongst pebbles on the beach". He was going to "win with style". It looks so naive now. It even looked naive back then, but not everybody could see it. Lawwell couldn't. Neither could Reid. For sure, they see it now.

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Contrast that giddy first day in the Mowbray era – if you can call it an era – to what we witnessed on Wednesday when Neil Lennon was given the job. It was more low-key than it had been a year earlier. Less dreamy, more circumspect. There were fewer people about and not much of a buzz. There was a smaller top table also. Lawwell was on his holidays. And we didn't get the expected hyperbole from Reid.

There was no talk of the Celtic family or the Celtic way as there had been, endlessly, for Mowbray. The praise of Lennon's character was warm but even-keeled, the prediction of how he would fare in the job more hopeful than emphatic. "A judgment had to be made," said Reid, "and that judgment has no infallibility about it, no inevitability of success. It has to be worked for. And we made that judgment and I accept the responsibility. The buck stops here. I have a deep interest in Neil being successful."

The mood could be described as business-like. You could say it was almost in keeping with the character of the man being unveiled. There was a pragmatism to everything Lennon said. Not so much pebbles on the beach as thunder on the pitch. Mowbray had meandered down a path that mentally brought him to Barcelona and an acclamation of the genius of Xavi and Andres Iniesta. Lennon sought inspiration from more realistic sources.

Yes, he said, Liam Lawrence was the type of character he was looking for. And Joe Ledley. Sol Campbell, too. And maybe Jimmy Bullard. Fanciful, it was not. Mowbray spoke about a player's ability, but Lennon stressed the importance of a player's mind. Mentality is everything. Is he a warrior? Is he a leader? Does he want it? And how badly?

These are the kind of strengths he had himself, of course. Not many craved the battle as much as Lennon. Not many defended his team as vigorously as he did or sought to mess with the minds of rivals with such a devilish mischief. So that's what we got from him on Wednesday. A mission statement as simple as could be. The strong will survive. The chancers will not. No grand plan, no pebbles, no planning for the future at the expense of the present, no Xavi, no Iniesta, just a down-to-earth pursuit of Lawrence of Stoke – an honest pro, a good lad, a fighter. A player in the image of what Lennon wants to create.

The manager never once spoke about an obligation to entertain, didn't invoke the gods of the past and say he'll try and be true to their spirit, as Mowbray had done – and as Lawwell and Reid had done on his behalf. Mowbray's first instinct was to try and pass the opposition into a dizzy submission. Lennon probably wants that, too, but he also wants them clubbed over the head first.

He was asked about Celtic's criticism of referees last season. Was it over the top? No, he said. "Some of the decisions we had were abysmal, particularly in the high profile games, the Rangers games. So I think they were probably justified making that point."

What about the players? It was noticeable on more than one occasion that Mowbray's team were reluctant to react to anything. If an official got it wrong, there was rarely a heated protest from the Celtic players. If a team-mate got scythed down by an opponent there was normally a feeble acceptance of a guy taking a liberty. Soft touches, in essence.

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Should his team put pressure on referees? "I think so. I did it myself as a player, not trying to influence the referee but to let him know that we weren't happy. And any challenges that were a wee bit heavy, there would have been two or three around the referee or around the player who did it. So I want a togetherness. I want to see that again. I want to see them sticking up for each other. They did it in the last few games and that's what good teams are about, looking after each other on the pitch and having a good spirit off the pitch as well.

"I'm going to try and bring in some more British and Irish-style players that maybe don't have an affinity for the club but certainly have an understanding for it. That's maybe missing a wee bit. You know, I remember playing against Man United (as a Leicester player] and the midfield was Keane, Scholes, Giggs and Beckham and I came away thinking it must be easy playing for that mob.

"But then you come to a club as big as this and the shoe is on the other foot and every player you come up against is trying his hardest against you and you have to put up with that every week and you have to develop the right mentality. My admiration for the top teams in England has developed since I came up here and realised what they had to confront. And it isn't easy. It's actually harder."

The pursuit of a harder edge. The lack of it saw Celtic knocked out of the Scottish Cup and, of course, it sparked an explosion from Lennon and a vow to bullet the weak from his dressing-room. Naming no names, he made it clear that there were some in there who were incurable cowards. Any of them manage to persuade him otherwise in the weeks since? "It's a bit of an unfair question. I've been persuaded to a point, but I'm looking to improve the quality, looking to improve the experience, looking to improve the mentality. So there are maybe a few who fall short but I wouldn't put a number on it. I'll think about it over the next few weeks but I think my mind's made up on a few of them."

The pre-season tour to America will help that process. It's not an ideal jaunt, but Lennon is stuck with it and he's drawing the positives. "It gives them a chance to bond together. The pre-season trips are always pretty good, even though some of the results haven't been as good as we would have liked. It gives me a chance to look at different formations, maybe, before we go into Europe. We're playing Man United so we'll see if the players can adapt to what we're looking for. Should be a good exercise. The beauty of it is I know the players so well now. Tony had his sort of style and I would maybe adapt a different type of style. I want us to get out of the traps in games, I want us to put teams under pressure, I want us to play, I want us to believe, but I want us to be smart as well."

And so the reign of the anti-Mowbray has begun.