There are few guarantees as to what 2020 will bring Neil Lennon. It can be no other way following a Rangers’ derby victory at Celtic Park last weekend that has significantly raised the threat level to his club’s pursuit of a ninth straight title.
Yet, there is one certainty over what the coming months will usher in for Lennon. In late March, he will celebrate a decade in senior frontline management. For the man it is rightly a source of pride. Lennon has won every major domestic trophy across two spells with Celtic – seven honours in all – that sandwich a difficult period at Bolton Wanderers and a highly-regarded stint at Hibernian.
Lennon’s coaching career has a certain circular quality. In early 2019, his renaissance came as the result of filling the breach at Celtic as an interim created by the departure of Brendan Rodgers, inset. The opportunity arrived when he was out of work after parting with Hibs. Meanwhile, his first steps in management, in the final days of March 2010, also arrived through being handed the interim role in the wake of Tony Mowbray’s sacking.
There are more differences than similiarities between last decade’s Lennon, whose tempestuous nature seemed innate, and the altogether more temperate figure to have emerged in his second spell at the Celtic helm. A fact reflected in how the 48-year-old responds to the age-old enquiry as the advice he would give to his early 2010 self. “Calm down. You can’t do everything yourself, son. Take a step back and smell the roses,” said Lennon of the learned wisdom he would proffer.
The Celtic manager does seem to be able to count his blessings and block out the brickbats in his role that seems to oscillate between requiring him to do one or the other.
“It’s been an incredible year for me personally, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity,” he said, the club’s support underwhelmed when he was given the job permanently in the immediate aftermath of sealing the treble treble with May’s Scottish Cup success.
“I’m enjoying what I’m doing, I’ve got a great backroom team and a great group of players. I’ve got to be happy. I’ve had some tough times in management and that’s been a good experience for me, even in a bad way. In the good times you can reflect and enjoy them more and push yourself even harder.
“So ten years of management, it’s a nice milestone. I think I’ve done more than 500 games and I wouldn’t have envisaged that when I first took over. I think I’m in a great place. I don’t think you suffer the losses so badly or take them so personally now – you can be more philosophical about it. And the same with the wins, you don’t get too carried away, you enjoy the win and then look forward to the next game.”
Lennon completed his domestic honours set with the League Cup final victory over a luckless Rangers at Hampden a month ago. He was lauded to the high heavens by the Celtic faithful for ensuring a tenth straight trophy success for their club. It left him with plenty of roses for the fans and their manager to smell in following on from their most commanding European group campaign, a first top-place finish in such a section earning a Europa League last-32 tie against FC Copenhagen in February. Yet, the odour around Lennon for the moment has soured courtesy of a first home derby loss to Rangers in nine years. He will have to tough out the questioning of him that will come his way ahead of the season resuming post winter-break in a fortnight. He has attained perspective on coping with such junctures through having ridden them out before. “Totally,” he said. “Then you realise when you’re in a position like this – one, it doesn’t last very long and, two, it doesn’t happen very often. So you sit back and reflect like, ‘this is good’.”
Another ten years in management would still leave Lennon shy of 60, anything but a retirement age in a sport where knowledge can be understood as a precious quality to accrue in middle age.
“If I do that it would be brilliant,” Lennon said, his prospects for enjoying such longevity with a Celtic that has been his life for almost two decades entirely wrapped up in securing the league titles that would bring up a record ten-in-a-row.
“We’ve had a lot of success and I’m hoping for more of the same next year. Getting the League Cup was a nice landmark for me so I’ve got the three of them and once you get a taste of it you want more. Europe was a big thing as well. I was trying to make inroads there so I’m looking forward to the Copenhagen games and seeing if we can negotiate that. So the second half of the season will be as exciting as the first.”
It will also be tumultuous, with the mellower Lennon likely to be crucial to navigating dangerous waters.