It might not seem like the greatest career move for any manager to declare that his No.2, without ever having held a frontline coaching position, possesses the capabilities to do his job. The fact Neil Lennon is willing to make such a bold claim about John Kennedy both reflects how highly he rates him, and how comfortable he feels in the Celtic manager’s post.
Lennon has no doubt that one day the role can belong to Kennedy. It is a judgment call that is made with abolute certainty. And that perhaps explains why the 36-year-old – a decade in Celtic’s backroom staff following his playing career at his boyhood club being cut short with serious knee problems – was moved to rebuff overtures about the Hibernian manager’s vacancy now filled by Jack Ross.
The Celtic manager joked he gave his assistant “short shrift” when he asked him for his advice about putting himself in the frame for a post the 48-year-old was occupying only ten months ago, and is delighted he rejected a precious chance to take the plunge into senior management with a club regarded as Scotland’s fifth biggest.
“I said ‘look, I am not surprised, but you are just too important to what we are doing here. You know your time will come’. He is ambitious, he has his own ambitions, but the club means a lot to him. He has made a huge contribution to the club and he still has a big contribution to make before he either steps in here – in the hot seat eventually – or he goes on and does his own thing.
“He is ready to go into management or the head coach role now. He is 36 and has been doing it now for four or five years. He has worked under Ronny [Deila], he has worked under Brendan [Rodgers] so he has a wealth of coaching expertise now.
“You can see the way he works with the players that he has a great relationship with them and he was really important to me coming in. I needed that stability and I am so glad that he has decided to stay. I am not surprised Hibs eyed him because he has got a very good reputation now.
“People say you never know when you are ready, and that would be the case, but I think he is ready. Some people say they are not ready but if an opportunity comes along and it is the right one then I think he would make a fine job wherever he went really.”
The more rounded second-spell Lennon seems to have found his perfect foils in Kennedy and first-team coach Damien Duff, two men diligent in their deployment of modern methods. “John will cut analysis of individual performances or aspects of the game and talk them through it. Damien is the same, particularly with the wide men or the attacking players. Their work ethic and energy is excellent and they complement me very well.”
The trio’s smart synergies are central to the current Celtic side being a win over Rennes on Thursday away from planting a flag on the European terrain. Already qualified from their Europa League section for next year’s last 32 knock-out stage, victory against their French visitors this week would see Celtic claim top spot in a group campaign for the first time in 16 attempts. “If there’s an extra incentive then you would look for that as motivation,” Lennon said. “I would like to see us take maximum points from the home games. That would be a good marker for going into the new year.”
The drive to complete the set of home victories from a group campaign for the first time since 2008 and only the fourth time ever, as well as rack up ten European wins in a season for the first time in the club’s history, ensures no thought will be given to resting players for the first of ten fixtures in 32-day period that will include a Betfred Cup final against Rangers on 8 December and a league derby on 29 December that could have a major bearing on the title race.
“I can’t do that,” Lennon said. “It’s a European night at home and there’s still work to do in the group. I want to get it done. And then we can take another look at it. But if we take our eye off the ball we could get done. And psychologically we don’t want that either.”