Neil Lennon on why he’s relaxed about Celtic’s ten-in-a-row bid

Manager says the pressure won’t compare to the heat when he replaced Brendan Rodgers

Neil Lennon has been named the William Hill Scottish Football Writers’ Association’s manager of the year. Picture: SNS
Neil Lennon has been named the William Hill Scottish Football Writers’ Association’s manager of the year. Picture: SNS

The heat generated in the crucible 
of Celtic’s quest for a historic 
ten-in-a-row is anticipated to be mind-melting for those involved. Neil Lennon, however, is cool on the prospect.

The Parkhead manager does not expect the coming campaign to be capable of singeing his senses in the same way his return to the club in March 2019 did, wherein he was effectively on trial and obligated to land the treble-treble following the abrupt departure of Brendan Rodgers, pictured, to Leicester City.

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Lennon, whose delivery of a record-equalling ninth successive championship in the Covid-19 curtailed season has earned him the William Hill Scottish Football Writers’ Association’s manager of the year award, is more eager than edgy about a campaign being billed as the biggest he has known in his 20-year association with the club.

“It’s certainly going to be one of the most exciting, that’s for sure,” he said. “In terms of pressure I don’t think I’ll ever go through the pressure I went through when I came in the second time around. I’ve had a good 14 or 15 months now back in the job so I’m comfortable in my own skin.

“We’ve got a real good structure and backroom staff here. We got there in 2018-19 and this season we carried it on and played with a real swashbuckling style that the fans enjoyed. The improvement in individuals, the style of play and the amount of goals we scored, we were really good to watch. They are winners and they do it in a style that is very pleasing.

“So I’m excited, I’m hopeful and the pressure is one I’m looking to enjoy [more] than I would have when I came in [during] those first few months [after Rodgers left]. That was unbelievable scrutiny and analysis. I’m excited and I think the players and fans will be too. It’s something monumental we’re going for and has never been done before so that’s a huge driving motivation for myself, the backroom team, the players and the supporters.”

Lennon, a firebrand in his first four-year spell as Celtic manager between 2010 and 2014, has cut a more considered figure since taking up the reins for a second time. Silverware has no doubt helped, with the Irishman hoovering up all four domestic trophies that have been contested since his return. The pause on life that has been caused by the global health emergency has allowed him to interrogate the impulses that drive him.

“As you get older you can better find that work/life balance. I think that’s important,” he said. “[But] you are very rarely able to switch off. Right now, we have just had an executive meeting around players, the forthcoming season and getting the players back into training which is going to kick off this week. Obviously we have the recruitment process, bringing players in, which we are very excited about too.

“Through this pandemic we have had a bit more time to reflect and take things. It’s monumental what the club has done over the last decade. More than ever we go into this season with real excitement and anticipation.”

Yet, it is a changed world that Celtic will blink into when they begin training on 11 June in preparation for the proposed supporter-less start to the season on the first weekend of August. It is estimated that the club’s £29 million bank reserve has been halved by the economic impact of Covid-19. That presents challenges and creates a degree of trepidation as they seek replacements for Jozo Simunovic and Jonny Hayes, neither of whom were offered new deals. The poser is whether the transfer market will be depressed by the global shutdown to allow Celtic to spread their smaller transfer kitty further.

“That’s a good question,” Lennon said. “But then I saw PSG paid 
£60 million for Icardi from Inter the other day – so they don’t seem to have any major issues on that front. I don’t really know. I would imagine if the Premier League can finish their season and the Bundesliga, Serie A too, then I can’t see there being mega changes in the transfer market.

“If the PSG deal for Icardi is anything to go by then it’s as you were. The climate in other countries and [in] leagues like the English Championship, the landscape will have changed. Whether it’s a buyers’ market remains to be seen.”

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