It isn’t just Celtic managers past and present that will occupy the technical areas as Hibernian are hosted in the east end of Glasgow this afternoon. As far as Brendan Rodgers is concerned, today could see the Celtic managers past, present and future in attendance courtesy of Neil Lennon being ensconced in the visitors’ dugout on his first professional return to his footballing home since he left the club in 2014.
Lennon interviewed for the job handed to Rodgers by Celtic last summer, after his successful four-year stint in the post had come to a close two years earlier. The former Liverpool manager may feel that his countryman is capable of managing in the English Premier League, and would have been a perfect fit for Everton on the back of five trophies and a Champions League last-16 appearance in his first senior coaching post. However, Rodgers also feels that Lennon could once more take charge of the club he played for with great distinction for seven years.
“There is no doubt that if I wasn’t manager here, if I was to say who’ll be Celtic manager, I would say Neil Lennon,” said Rodgers. “There is no question about that. I think the board spoke to a number of people [in the summer of 2016] but he was very good in his time here and if it ever comes to him again he would do equally as well if not better.”
Rodgers’ regard for Lennon covers both the professional and the personal. The Hibs manager once compared the pressures of being in charge of a Celtic that wield the power in Scottish football as similar to those experienced by the president of the United States.
Rodgers can handle the expectations in a different fashion since essentially he has taken a step down in the game’s pecking order in decamping to Glasgow when his previous posting was with an Anfield club that are five times winners of European club football’s greatest honour.
But what Rodgers never faced when seeking to return Liverpool to the top of the English game was bullets and viable explosive devices in the post, and struggles with depression. How the “brilliant” Lennon dealt with such horrendous issues underpins the respect Rodgers has for a personality he rarely encountered in his early years in the game, but who he got to know after Lennon, then Celtic reserve coach, came to analyse his methods when he was managing Reading.
“Part of my big admiration for him comes from his openness,” Rodgers said. “The courage he showed to come out and speak openly about his depression. I read his book and it was a real admission of his life and where he was at and that takes a lot of courage to do that. He would have opened up a lot of doors for a lot of people in that situation. I can understand exactly where he was coming from but he was a real pioneer. That was nearly a decade ago.
“Everything else that surrounded his time here too which isn’t nice and you don’t want anyone to go through [adds to the admiration] . This is a job that is big enough itself without any additional pressures.”
Lennon’s management career hit the buffers when he departed Celtic in the summer of 2014 and found that the best offer that followed was from a Bolton Wanderers mired in debt and on a downward trajectory in the English Championship. That move was not befitting Lennon’s talents, Rodgers feels.
“There is no doubt he deserved a better offer. That’s no disrespect to Bolton. If they’d been in the Premier League, it would have been a great job. I felt Neil was a Premier League manager in waiting. Maybe that’s because I know the side of Celtic and what the demands and challenges are at a club like this. I could see how he’d managed that and looked at what could be his next step.
“I understand that after four years here someone then would feel they have to break the cycle. There is huge intensity, not just in the games. This is every day in your life and Neil decided to break that cycle. He went and looked to see if something fresh came up.
“Maybe because of what happened in the background was the reason he decided to break the cycle for his family.
“I always felt that coming out of here, his destiny would be a Premier League club. Maybe the right offer never came but that was my feeling. He did a really good job.”