The ambivalence of the Celtic support towards Neil Lennon’s appointment as manager is in sharp contrast to the glee with which his elevation has been greeted by the Rangers faithful.
In the 47-year-old they see a man whose coaching status is a level down from Brendan Rodgers, making him vulnerable to any challenge that Steven Gerrard mounts from across the city. Never mind that Lennon boasts eight more years and eight more trophies as a manager than the former England captain. The second-time-around Celtic boss is dismissive of the Ibrox followers’ hand-rubbing.
“They have been wrong before. On numerous occasions. So hopefully they will be wrong again,” Lennon said. “I am not biting on that one. What else are they going to say?”
A more cogent response was offered up by former Rangers manager Graeme Souness, who has developed a friendship with Lennon through their punditry work on Irish television in recent years. He said earlier this month that, as a Rangers supporter, he didn’t want Lennon to be appointed because he feared what he would bring to Celtic. Lennon accepts there could be managerial parallels between the pair in that he considers himself to have mellowed with age, as Souness did.
“He did change as he got older and I have spoken to him about it time and time again,” said the Celtic manager. “I don’t think he will appreciate me saying this but we are sort of cut from the same cloth. We have a lot of ties to the city. I think he is a brilliant pundit anyway but as a footballer and a manager, I have great respect for him.
“He has had a good influence on me. We talk about the game a lot, off screen, on screen. I worked with him for two years in Ireland and he was a pleasure to be with. I respect him totally because he has done this and he knows how difficult it can be.”
Lennon has willingly plunged himself into the cesspit that is the Glasgow rivalry where the nastiness will be ramped up to frightening proportions as Celtic chase a significant slice of history by claiming a ninth successive title. Yet, even as someone who has been open over his struggles with depression, who was subjected to death threats and had a parcel bomb sent to him during his first spell, Lennon does not consider himself better out of the maelstrom.
“No, because if I am not going to do it then someone else is going to do it. And I want to do it. And I want to do it well,” Lennon said. “The calibre of the people that offer you the job for the second time, they don’t make flippant appointments. They have obviously thought long and hard about it for a few months, so you have to respect that from their point of view and from my point of view as well.
“You just have to park [the negative aspects] because a lot of it is not real. When you are in a public position you are going to get criticised one way or another. Whether you are a sports person or a celebrity or whatever. You can’t take it too personally. I have learned to stay really focused and in the present as a manager. I think that is really important as a manager, that you don’t get caught up in any of the hype. Which I probably did when I was younger. That has been a real lesson learned.
“I am nowhere near as aggressive as I was [first time]. I wanted to take on the world back then and prove a point. That might have been detrimental to me occupationally, so I have learned to deal with that and my temperament is a lot better for the job.”