Neil Lennon has waded into the debate about the decline of Scottish football by insisting young players are too soft and over-coached and the game has become “sanitised”.
The Hibernian manager said he felt he couldn’t criticise players in the manner of an old-school boss as they wouldn’t respond well to it, although it is a society issue, not just a football one, with a generation of sensitive young people dubbed “snowflakes”.
In a wide-ranging interview with The Scotsman, Lennon made his remarks after being told that Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh – whom he invited to Hibs’ training centre this week – had grown up playing football with Scotland boss Gordon Strachan on pitches strewn with broken glass.
“That’s brilliant. Let’s go back to those days,” Lennon said, though obviously the parks should be hazard-free. “Kids don’t play enough football now. Boys’ clubs aren’t as prominent and there isn’t as much schools football as there was.”
Looking around Hibs’ East Main complex, he added: “We never had facilities like this when I was growing up and yet the academy kid is over-coached. This is my personal view. It’s old school but, you know, that wasn’t the worst.
“Listen, I’m all for looking after players but sometimes it goes too far. The game’s too sanitised now. We’ve got a barn here, half the size of an indoor arena, where we throw the kids, give them a ball and tell them: ‘Right, get on with it.’ They aren’t coached. We’re trying to let their natural instincts come to the fore. There’s been a huge improvement in their mentality, physicality and temperament.”
Lennon said that as he gets older he has to temper what would be his natural instincts when dealing with younger men unused to the “hairdryer treatment”.
“I’m now a different generation from guys playing the game. They’re academy boys who had mobile phones and laptops and iPads. I tend to think my generation – who were given the strap and the cane and bollockings – were tougher. Doubtless the generation before mine thought we were soft. The hairdryer treatment has had to be shelved [at Hibs] although I admit I’ve razzed the players up a couple of times. But then maybe I got too demanding. We had a night out together and that was important. The team then went on a very good run.”