Neil Lennon maintained Celtic will be getting a “more rounded” individual after he was offered the manager’s job on a permanent basis in the immediate aftermath of leading the club to an epoch-making treble treble.
Lennon, interim for the three months since Brendan Rodgers left for Leicester City, revealed that a “five-minute conversation” in the dressing-room with chief executive Peter Lawwell, largest shareholder Dermot Desmond and director Tom Allsion while he was “dripping in champagne” provided him with a potentially “life-changing moment”.
After playing what he said was “just a small part” in an “historic” achievement that came with a “weight of expectation” he can now look forward to building on his near five years at the helm across two trophy-laden spells. He has yet to ink a detail, but that, he said, was largely a formality. “There are obviously talks to go through but I don’t think it will take much to get it done,” the 47-year-old said, stating that Celtic will now be getting a person “a bit more rounded, I think” before adding: “I’ve had highs and lows, which is good, more experienced, a bit more nous about the game and maybe not as aggressive as I once was but I’m still very competitive and still want to win. I’ve had to learn on the job here about myself, it was a different piece of management this time because it didn’t feel like it was mine and I had to coax it and cajole and get it over the line as best as I could.”
Lennon started the season as Hibernian manager with Rodgers firmly ensconced at Celtic. The turnaround since could not have been envisaged.
“If anyone had said that [I’d be winning a title and Scottish Cup at the start of the season] I’d have said Hibs are in for a right good time this year. That’s just the way football is. I work hard. Despite what people think, I’m very professional and I take the job very seriously. I love it, but I’m very, very professional and sometimes you get rewarded for that.”
The reward, Lawwell maintained, would have come his way irrespective of yesterday’s outcome, and Lennon had no quibble about only discovering about being given “privilege” to manage Celtic again, as he did from 2010 to 2014, until after the final.
“It keeps you on your toes,” he said. “It was challenging but I have complete trust in these guys. I had four great years working under the board, four great years, great time and when the time came we sat down and shook hands and left on very cordial terms. I have always kept in touch with Peter and he has kept an eye on my career and been a great support to me.
“It is a privilege. It was a privilege the first time. That was nine years ago, I was younger and a bit more robust now I have come full circle. I left the club on good terms and I always to come back and manage again.
“It has been hard work, I had a difficult time at Bolton for reasons not within football and then I had a great couple of years at Hibs. I owe them a debt of gratitude for giving me the platform to get back into this position again.
“I never second guessed anything. These guys are class people. I trust them and trust their word and I expected nothing else. Obviously we have had to deal with a lot of speculation and a lot of false news but they kept me abreast of everything and they were upfront and honest. If anyone has ever dealt with Dermot Desmond they will know you get what you see.”
Lennon accepts that the squad will now require to be recast quickly, with the club’s first Champions League qualifier in only seven weeks time. He will seek to do that and modify the team’s style.
“There’s a good core there, lots on long-term contracts that’s great. There will be personnel leaving and coming in. It may be a short holiday, there’s a process in work at the minute that we’ve identified some players, hopefully we can get some freshness and quality in the squad as soon as possible. You could see today, they are cramping and tugging at muscle injuries. It is a monumental effort to do what they’ve done over three years. I don’t know how many games they have played domestically and in Europe.
“I’d like us to be a bit more on the front foot attacking-wise, not maybe use the goalkeeper as much. I know we use the sweeper keeper a lot these days, but build the team around my centre-forwards as well. Edouard has carried the flame brilliantly and did it again today, we’ve had one fit centre-forward in the building since I’ve come in and he’s taken on that responsibility magnificently and today’s was another big show from him in a big game, he’s put himself in the annals of the club’s history. I like him a lot, his temperament and his quality is fantastic.”
Lawwell paid tribute to Lennon’s temperament as he appeared before his manager in the Hampden media auditorium to confirm a club tweet that he would be offered the job.
“I’m delighted to announce that after today’s events we’ve offered Neil the job to be permanent manager.,” said the club chief executive. “It’s a fantastic day, a fantastic achievement, probably never to be repeated. And in our moment of need, Neil stood up to the plate. he’s done a fantastic job in difficult circumstances and really when you look at his credentials, he’s made for Celtic. he’s a Celtic man, he knows Glasgow, he knows what’s required, and he’s a winner. And at this point in terms for looking at the squad, there’s no-one I’ve worked with who has a better eye for a player. So we’re delighted to announce he’s been offered the job and over the next few days we’ll work out the details. I think it’s better to do that tonight to kill the speculation. ‘m sure he’ll be positive but we just need to work out the details. Today was a big occasion for him but Neil would still have been the manager, no matter what happened today.”
Lennon does not have universal backing from the Celti support for a second spell in charge but Lawwell dismissed that as a potential issue. “In terms of Neil as a candidate, there’s no-one better,” he said. “He has earned the right to be the permanent manager of Celtic, based on the recent performance and who he is as a manager.[His] going back is irrelevant for us.
“it was really tough and he said himself he came in at a difficult time. We were eight points ahead with 11 games left but it wasn’t his squad, he had big shoes to fill and a treble to win. Brendan takes a lot of credit for it, we probably wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him, in terms of his magnificent period as manager - we’ll be forever grateful to him. But Lenny stood up, he’s done a fantastic job and we’re delighted to have him here. We also need to pay tribute to John Kennedy, who has brought us continuity in terms of the discipline and structure, and Damien Duff who has been a real find and has done exceptionally well.”