In the wake of his side’s Champions League last-16 exit on Wednesday night at the hands of Juventus in Turin, the prospect of the Northern Irishman attracting interest from other clubs on the back of such an impressive run was acknowledged by chief executive Peter Lawwell.
Even Celtic goalkeeper Fraser Forster, when asked about his manager possibly moving on, said he “could definitely see it happening”.
However, ahead of today’s Clydesdale Bank Premier League clash with Ross County in Dingwall, the Parkhead manager said: “It [speculation] makes no difference to me. I am the manager of Celtic and I am one of the privileged few who have been lucky enough to do this job. I enjoy it, I love what I do. I can’t stop speculation about players or myself but at this current period I am Celtic manager and I don’t see any reason for that to change in the future.
“Does it flatter you? It just means that you might be doing a decent job along the way. But why are we talking about me leaving Celtic all of a sudden? I am only three years into the job. I am doing my job, I haven’t done a job. I want to improve myself, the team, the players and take the club forward. We have made huge strides this season. It is going to be difficult to replicate it next season but that is the challenge that lies ahead.”
The former Celtic skipper has warned his players that they, and indeed he, might not “get it better than this” if they leave the Scottish champions who are on their way to retaining their SPL title and have a William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United to look forward to next month. “You guys [media] create the speculation,” he said. “The minute we get a player in who does well, it’s as if you can’t wait for him to go somewhere else. It’s as if this is just a passing phase in their career. I have told the players this before; they may not get it better than this.
“They may not get to play at such a big club, to play in the Champions League and to have the chance to win trophies year-in, year-out. The only thing that hampers us is that we are in a difficult financial climate.
“We can’t compete with smaller clubs elsewhere who get more money from TV revenue, that is the environment we are in and we understand that.
“But, as I have said, I don’t want to stop players’ progress, I want them to go and succeed.”
Lennon concedes that he will now have to guard against a European comedown in the final few months of the season. “Absolutely,” he said. “I think that is a fair point. We go to Ross County tomorrow, who are having a fabulous season. Derek [Adams] has done wonders there but going from Juventus in the last-16, to Dingwall, in some people’s minds, is a step down but in my view it is a very important game.
“You have got to motivate the players, there is a championship to win and you’ve got your own targets to achieve.”
Adams, meawnhile, knows Celtic will visit in a rush to clinch the title.
Celtic saw their lead at the top of the SPL cut to 16 points following defeat at Motherwell and, if the Lanarkshire side keep winning, will need four victories to begin the celebrations. But Adams’ team have their own agenda as they look to tie up top-six qualification and extend their unbeaten run in 2013.
County have put themselves four points clear of the bottom half following a ten-match unbeaten run and Adams is hungry to seal the achievement of a top-half finish in the club’s first season in the top flight. Adams said: “We want to continue the unbeaten run and we have got a tough one to play against Celtic. They have come off a good performance against Juventus in Turin. We’ll just have to find out which team is going to come to Dingwall on Saturday.
“They have got undoubted quality throughout their side. They are a team that wants to win the SPL as quickly as possible. We want to collect as many points as we can as quickly as possible as well. We have put ourselves in a very good position and we want to stay in the top six. We have got four games to go and tough ones at that.
“We have Celtic, Inverness, Kilmarnock and Hearts but the other teams have very tough games as well.
“We will see how we go in the next few weeks. It has given us that opportunity in our first season not only to be in the top six but to stay there for the last five games of the season. We have achieved more than we thought we would at the start of the season.
“Consolidating in the Premier League was the main focus. We have probably done that now and we have put ourselves in a great position.”
County will have the chance to see how far they have come in 2013 against the last team to beat them. The Dingwall side went down 4-0 at Parkhead on 22 December.