‘I just want to live in the moment’ says Celtic boss Neil Lennon
It’s not just the short-term uncertainty over whether interim manager Lennon will stay on beyond the summer. The medium to longer term craving for further domination of Scottish football, the once mystical but now ever more tangible ‘ten-in-a-row’, is the be-all and end-all for those who witnessed the eighth consecutive league title clinched at Pittodrie on Saturday.
No-one is more steeped in Celtic becoming the most powerful and successful club in Scotland since the millennium than Lennon. Of the 14 league titles they have now won in the 21st century, he has been involved in ten of them – five as a player, one as a coach under Gordon Strachan and now four as manager.
While he again played down his role in this season’s retention of the crown, having stepped in to take charge of a winning side when Brendan Rodgers jumped ship for Leicester City in February, Lennon has certainly earned some time to reflect and take satisfaction for seeing the job through.
“Right now, I just want to live in the moment,” he said. “For me, I just ignore all of that [ten-in-a-row] stuff now. This has been a really tough couple of months for me. My life is on hold, I’ve no future plans in place, no holidays booked.
“It was important I accepted that for what it was when I came in. I inherited a totally new team and a style of play that I had to get used to – not change it, because it has been successful.
“No, I don’t see it [as my title]. I played a small part. If I was a player and played in ten games, I’d say I made a contribution. This is just the same. I was basically doing my job, what I was entrusted to do.
“Why do I say it has been my toughest job in management? Because the day-to-day stuff, looking at the style of play, I thought ‘do I need to change that?’. Then I thought ‘No, hold your water, don’t change it’. Because that’s what the players were used to.
“I didn’t want to confuse them because they were confused enough at the time with all the hullabaloo going on. So it was important to be patient. Getting to know the players was another thing, their traits and personalities, getting to know the training regime which was different to what I’m used to.
“So even if we had a bit of a flat performance, it was just a case of staying with it. It’s been a great learning curve for me personally.”
Lennon was gratified that Celtic crossed the finishing line with something of a flourish with their ultimately comprehensive 3-0 win at Aberdeen. Some of their league displays under him have been less convincing but he can point with pride to an 11-match unbeaten run so far.
“Sometimes the performances haven’t been up to the expectation levels, but in the main they’ve been pretty good,” he added. “That’s eight wins and three draws now since I came in.
“Will people complain about the performances? The expectation level is obviously pretty high, then Rangers went on a bit of a run recently. But they were playing under no pressure and we know that.
“Our boys have been used to playing under pressure every week for years now. You can see the mentality of the team shining through.
“I think people lose sight of a lot of things, not just the form this team has shown since the turn of the year.
“They are on the cusp of a treble treble – at what cost going forward, I don’t know. But the expectation level just builds and builds. People need to put a perspective on it at times.
“We’ve had a lot of injuries, a lot of them rehabbing and breaking down again, a lot of players going through the mill for the club. They need a break, there is no question about that.
“You also have to remember the loss of Brendan would have been huge to the players as well, not just the club or supporters. It was a different voice coming in almost immediately and that takes a bit of adjusting to.”
Some of the Celtic players are running on empty as the season ends with Kieran Tierney and Mikael Lustig both limping off at Pittodrie on Saturday. Lennon now faces the delicate task of managing his squad through their two remaining league games against Rangers at Ibrox and Hearts at Celtic Park before the treble goes on the line against the Gorgie side at Hampden on 25 May.
“When I came in, we had 11 players injured,” he added.
“That was very difficult to gauge but then we started getting some back.
“But some of them do need a rest. Whether we can do that is another matter. We may look at that over the next couple of weeks but we obviously have the cup final in the horizon as well.”