Martin Hannan: Neil Lennon exit down to ambition

TO UNDERSTAND Neil Lennon’s love of Celtic and his job as manager, you have to know that he is completely besotted by the Champions League. In his eyes, nothing else comes close to the sheer excitement of playing for, and managing, a team testing itself against the best in Europe.
Neil Lennon. Picture: SNSNeil Lennon. Picture: SNS
Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS

It may well be that with Champions League football not guaranteed at Parkhead next season – Celtic face three ties that could see them conceivably have to beat Arsenal, Porto or Bayer Leverkusen in the final play-off – he just could not face the strain of qualifying again.

Let no-one think Lennon has been intimidated out of his job by thugs, morons and idiotic bombmakers. He is concerned for his family, and always has been, but his reasons for leaving Celtic are to do with football, first and foremost.

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As a player and manager, Lennon showed he is a born winner, fiercely competitive and, yes, argumentative. He is also ambitious, and with winning the Champions League not really a possibility for Celtic, he must go somewhere that offers him a realistic chance of success in the highest echelon in Europe.

In England, where the Premier League every week offers riches and excitement beyond compare with Scotland, it would need to be a team in the top ten in terms of turnover who at least have a chance of making the Champions League, and currently only Spurs in that category are without a manager.

West Bromwich Albion are also managerless, and he could cut his English managerial teeth there, but the real sleeping giant of English football is Newcastle United, where boss Alan Pardew is effectively on a final warning.

And who will replace Lennon at Celtic Park? Celtic have shown they are not scared to try a relatively young and untested manager with good ideas about the game, and from Jock Stein to Billy McNeill to Tony Mowbray and Lennon himself, they have a habit of appointing a former recent captain of the club to the managership. That’s why Jackie McNamara is a good bet for the job.

The Lennon era at Celtic encompassed success as a player, captain and manager for the man from Lurgan. It also brought huge controversy and no little opprobrium in some quarters based on his fiery image, yet the Lennon I know is charming, highly intelligent and articulate, and nothing like the touchline terror he can occasionally appear. And nobody, but nobody, deserves the treatment he got for doing his job well.

Having helped him write his memoirs Neil Lennon: Man and Bhoy, I look forward to assisting him with the sequel. Believe me, there will be one, for we have not heard the last of Neil Francis Lennon as a winner, not by a long chalk.