Celtic v Inverness CT: Neil Lennon looks for No.2

NORMALLY Neil Lennon saying he is open to offers might be a concern for Celtic supporters. But this was meant in reference to the role of assistant manager, which is due to fall vacant after Johan Mjallby confirmed he is leaving the club at the end of the current campaign.

Celtic Manager Neil Lennon with assistant coach Johan Mjallby behind. Picture: Ian Rutherford

Mjallby will be in place for only three more matches after tomorrow’s home league clash with Inverness Caledonian Thistle, when compatriot Mikael Lustig could make a popular return after long-term injury. Lennon admitted that the assistant manager’s absence will be ­sorely felt, but he is prepared to look far and wide for a replacement.

While Lennon has not ruled out promoting from within, he sounded more likely to appoint someone from elsewhere. The manager stressed that the person who comes in would not have to be personally known by him already. “When I first got the job I wanted people around me that I knew,” he said. “But this could be someone completely out of left-field.”

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Lennon described his phone as being “red-hot” since Mjallby’s decision was revealed this week. He said: “I’ve known about it for a while now,” said Lennon. “He’s got his own ­ambitions and interests he wants to pursue. I tried to talk him out of it on a few occasions but you know Johan, he’s very strong-minded.”

Lennon ruled out youth coach John Kennedy, explaining that it was “too early” for him just now, and he was happy doing what he is doing. Garry Parker, the first-team coach, will also continue in his role. “I’m looking for a No 2, so I won’t promote Garry,” he said.

The manager also disappointed those fans hoping for an emotional return to the club for former striker Henrik Larsson, another name mooted as a candidate. Larsson is now managing Falkenbergs FF, in the Swedish top flight.

“I’ve been asked that and the answer would be no,” said Lennon. “Henrik has just got a job in Sweden and I’m not too sure if he’d want to come in as a number two. I think he likes doing his own thing. I’d probably be looking for someone with a bit more experience than that.”

Lennon described Mjallby as being the perfect lieutenant as he was not a yes man. “He had his own thoughts on things and we did argue over a few things, but it never came to blows – which is a good thing because I’d have lost,” he said. “He was my confidant, my number two, he was someone whose opinion I really trusted and still do.

“Even if I do bring in someone from the outside there’s got to be a feeling from myself that I can go to this guy, I can pick his brains and I can trust his opinion. Whether I agree with it, and I didn’t always agree with Johan, ultimately the decision is mine when it comes to football and ultimately the decision will be mine on who I bring in as well.”

Lennon intends to have someone in place by 24 June, when the players are due to return to training, and will discuss the options with chief executive Peter Lawwell soon. “I will sit down with Peter within the next couple of weeks and go through some candidates,” he said. “There no rush but it’s an important decision I’d like to get right.”

Asked for a comment on the publication of the Rangers business review, in which it is stated that one of the Ibrox club’s ambitions was to win the Premiership title in 2016/17, Lennon described such a goal as “ambitious”.

He added: “If they do make the Premiership in a year or two’s time, maybe they will be looking to mount a challenge. Whether they can do that or not, I don’t know. I’m not really up to speed on the review. I’ve not seen it.

“I don’t know what state their finances are in at the minute, but they’ll certainly have a bit to go to catch us because we are pretty strong. We’re not in any rush to relinquish the title just yet.”