Neil Lennon hails Brendan Rodgers and calls fans’ reaction ‘over the top’

Neil Lennon has urged Celtic supporters to respect Brendan Rodgers’ legacy at the club and described the reaction provoked by his sudden exit to Leicester City as “over the top”.

The reputation of Rodgers in the eyes of many Celtic fans has been traduced by the timing and manner of his departure with two months left of a “triple treble” chasing season for the champions.

Lennon has willingly stepped into the breach as interim manager as Celtic look to avoid being derailed in their quest for an eighth successive league title and the retention of the Scottish Cup.

Sign up to our Football newsletter

Sign up to our Football newsletter

But if Lennon does oversee the clinching of another Premiership crown for the club he previously managed from 2010 to 2014, he insists the credit for it will still belong to Rodgers.

Celtic's new interim manager Neil Lennon is unveiled at Parkhead. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
Celtic's new interim manager Neil Lennon is unveiled at Parkhead. Picture: Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

The 47-year-old, who was formally unveiled yesterday morning for his second spell in charge, believes even the currently most disgruntled Celtic supporters will ultimately reflect warmly on Rodgers and his achievements in the east end of Glasgow.

“In years to come, they’ll be looking back upon this period as one of the finest in the club’s history so, eventually, once the anger and the agitation settles down, I think people will be very appreciative of what Brendan did here,” said Lennon. “I know I am.

“I know [there’s a lot of anger out there] but it’s my job to ease that by making sure we follow on and do the job of trying to get the title and the Scottish Cup as well. If we win the title, it would be Brendan’s title, definitely. I’m just in here to get us over the line.

“Supporters have their own individual views on it. From a footballing perspective, the job Brendan has done here has been magnificent.

“I know what it can be like. People say the reaction is maybe worse than would have been expected and I’m not going to criticise people for having their opinions.

“But it does feel a little bit over the top. The only thing is the timing of it which has surprised a lot of people, including myself.

“But there might have been things going on in the background that maybe forced the issue for Brendan. So he’s gone to a good club at Leicester but he’s left a fantastic 
legacy here.”

There was very little fanfare for Lennon’s return to the club, the number of fans waiting outside Celtic Park to greet him at his media conference numbered in tens as opposed to the thousands who hailed the much-hyped arrival of Rodgers in the summer of 2016.

That is more a reflection of the lingering shell shock among the Celtic support after Rodgers’ abrupt return to the English Premier League than any indication of their warmth towards Lennon which is already assured. But Lennon appreciates the circumstances of his appointment are very different to nine years ago when he initially stepped in as caretaker manager following the sacking of Tony Mowbray. Winning the last eight league games of that trophy-free 2009-10 season were enough to land him the job on a permanent basis, despite also overseeing a shock defeat against Ross County in the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup.

If Lennon is to extend his second stint beyond the end of this campaign, he knows only the completion of another domestic treble may be good enough.

“I might have to win everything because of the bar being set so high by Brendan,” added Lennon. “I came in after Tony the last time and the club was going through a difficult time, the players were, and I was already in the system at the club so I knew everything.

“I’m coming in totally different circumstances now – the team’s going well, the club’s flying and I’m coming in from four-and-a-half years away, so it will take a bit of adjusting to, no question about that.

“My plan after leaving Hibs last month was to wait until the summer and look at things. But when an opportunity like this comes up, you’ve got to take it. You’re lucky to get an opportunity like this once in your life. Now I’ve had it twice so I’m very, very fortunate and very grateful. I mean that sincerely. I just want to make the most of my time and try to enjoy it.

“Listen, if I wasn’t going to do it, then I’d be sitting watching somebody else do it. So I might as well be that guy. I get it. Things could go awry. But with the things that are in place here, we are hoping that’s not going to be the case.

“There’s going to be a period of adjustment for the players simply by the fact that Brendan is not there. That leaves a huge void. They also have to get adjusted to me 
and I have to get adjusted to them. But we can’t afford that adjustment period to take too long.”

Lennon is more than happy to adapt to the radically altered set-up at Celtic’s Lennoxtown training ground, mostly instituted by Rodgers, which has taken place since he left the club five years ago.

“The manager’s office is like a floor of the Radisson hotel now!” joked Lennon. “You need binoculars to see the other end of the room. The sofas are like you’d get in Harrods. But, seriously, the whole thing is very impressive.

“The technology and analysis available to both staff and players is fantastic. It’s moved on very quickly in the time I’ve been away and the players have everything they need.”