The Celtic manager, a team-mate of Beattie’s towards the end of his playing career, recalls a young, raw striker whose career was hampered by injuries.
Now, after spells with West Bromwich Albion and Swansea City, the 28-year-old has matured into a more complete player.
Beattie, who moved to Tynecastle in January, will be quite a handful when he confronts his old club in today’s Scottish Cup semi-final at Hampden.
“He’s a great kid,” said Lennon, pictured right. “He was here as a young boy. He had really raw, natural talent. He’s very powerful and quick. He had a horrendous time with injuries and that curtailed his career a bit.
“I’m pleased to see him playing consistently. He has made a huge difference to Hearts. He has given them a different dimension altogether. A bit of the rawness has gone from his game now, and his technique, in terms of taking the ball in, is a lot better.
“His footballing intelligence has improved, which comes with maturity and experience. I am sure he learnt a lot at Swansea. It would have been a good grounding. He’s probably not as dynamic as he was, but he is still strong and powerful and has a speed about him. I think his all-round game has got better.”
At Celtic, it never quite happened for Beattie, who was effective only sporadically. “He was there or thereabouts, and then he had a really bad hamstring tear,” says Lennon. “It was a psychological thing for a player of pace. These highly-tuned boys come into that category. His upper body looks like it has bulked up a bit now, but he’s always had a good attitude. He’s always been confident.”
Lennon recalls Beattie scoring against Hearts when Martin O’Neill was manager, and a “wonder goal” against Dundee United under Gordon Strachan. “He always did that in bursts. He always showed bursts of quality that took your breath away. Now I think he’s more rounded in terms of his football. I have been really impressed by his performances and his fitness levels. He really works defenders and his running off the ball has been a real feature of his game.”
Lennon, meanwhile, admitted that full-back Mark Wilson, out of contract in June, may be on his way out. “I haven’t spoken to Mark yet, but with us bringing in [Mikael] Lustig and the emergence of [Adam] Matthews it might be difficult for him to retain his place here. He might want to look at going elsewhere. If he does, he goes with our blessing because he has been magnificent for the club. He would have had an even better career had it not been for horrendous injuries.”