There is a growing sense, perhaps a mistaken one, that Neil Lennon’s answering of the call home when Celtic really needed him might ultimately be a case of noblesse oblige.
In the eyes of a support that have seemed strangely cool about his filling the void created by the shock departure of Brendan Rodgers, he is duty bound to deliver the club’s third straight treble but too familiar and unglamorous for them to want him elevated from interim to permanent manager.
For Lennon’s own part, he is devoting his every effort to meet the most exacting demands, while being careful to exhibit a detachment so as not to have anyone accuse him of piggy-backing on the work of Rodgers and the squad he inherited from him.
Lennon’s position feels invidious in some sense since whatever he does it may not be enough to see him remain in charge for next season.
Yet it is hardly as if he has turned up for the curtain calls. An eighth straight league title may have been approaching the rubber-stamping stage when he took over six weeks ago, but he arrived just in time for a Scottish Cup tie that, arguably, was a more arduous assignment than any of the previous 24 cup encounters that Rodgers successfully helmed the club for. Easter Road was the ground at which Celtic’s failure rate was highest in Scotland in the Rodgers era.
Yet, Lennon recoils at the suggestion that if he were to lead the team to Scottish Cup semi-final victory over Aberdeen tomorrow and then prevail in the final this triumph would belong to him. “I don’t know. I wouldn’t see it that way,” he said sheepishly.
It perhaps isn’t fully appreciated how awkward it is for Lennon to be, essentially, auditioning for a job as others such as Roberto Martinez, Andreas Villas Boas and Rafael Benitez are being floated as more lustrous possible candidate.
“You can’t do anything about that,” the Irishman said. “It is just noise, you have got to dismiss it. It may well be that there might be some truth in it. It will be the club’s decision and they will make the decision they feel is best for the club going forward. My remit is to do the job now. We will see what happens after that.
“But two weeks ago, according to a lot of people, I had to beat Rangers in order to guarantee the job. Now I have got to win on Sunday to guarantee the job. It is just nonsense. I can’t do anything about speculation, conjecture, opinion, analysis”
Lennon doesn’t view the club having placed him in an unenviable position in not simply giving him the right to win the job by delivering another treble.
“No, not really,” he said. “We are looking too far ahead. I am just going to take it a game at a time and ignore all the conjecture and speculation. It is difficult. But you have to just blank it out. You have got to worry about what you can control and try and fathom what you can’t control. You can enjoy certain aspects of the job. I enjoy the wins. But other aspects of it... you can’t let it affect you too much. We are human beings and sometimes it is hard to ignore. But you have to ignore it because you can’t control it.
“I have no idea [what the management decision will come down to]. I don’t know. We are planning for next year, obviously. But I don’t want to talk about that until we get everything sorted out this season. That is another thing about football. You don’t get to enjoy the moment because people start talking about the next thing. That’s gone, let’s talk about next season, let’s talk about qualifiers. You have to stay in the here and now.”
Lennon was asked what he would do if he did not get the job. “Yeah, I will go on holiday.” He says “of course” he would cope if did not get the job on a full-time basis. “I don’t want to run away from the question, but I don’t know how I’ll feel one way or the other to tell you the truth. Obviously you think about it and all that kind of stuff, but you can’t dwell on it too long. I have a great relationship with [Celtic chief executive] Peter [Lawwell]. He knows the circumstances of this job as well. He is good to bounce ideas off, as is Dermot [Desmond, largest shareholder]. But there have been no assurances, no guarantees, no promises. I am comfortable with that.”