Neil Lennon lands Celtic manager job at last

NEIL Lennon will finally be confirmed as the 16th permanent manager of Celtic in the club's 122-year history at a media conference this morning.

• Neil Lennon: Fighting spirit. Picture: SNS

The 38-year-old's appointment has been anticipated since the end of the domestic season last month. After becoming interim manager following Tony Mowbray's dismissal in March, Lennon led Celtic to eight successive SPL victories, including a 2-1 defeat of champions Rangers. It has proved enough to overcome the shock Scottish Cup semi-final defeat suffered under his guidance against First Division Ross County with Celtic's major shareholder Dermot Desmond persuaded Lennon merits the opportunity to take charge on a longer term basis.

Lennon will be joined in a new-look management team by two of his former Celtic team-mates. Johan Mjallby, who assisted him during his interim period, and Alan Thompson, who resigned from his position as Newcastle United's reserve team coach earlier this week, will return to the club. Garry Parker, who played alongside Lennon at Leicester City under Martin O'Neill, is also expected to be recruited as part of the backroom staff.

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But while the speculation over Lennon's appointment comes to an end, the intrigue surrounding it remains with Finland coach Stuart Baxter still being widely tipped to have a role in an advisory capacity. The Celtic board are keen to have a more experienced figure involved as a mentor for Lennon.

They have met with firm resistance from the Finnish FA, however, who stated firmly at the weekend they would not sanction any part-time involvement at Celtic for Baxter who is under contract in Helsinki until 2012. It was suggested Baxter was seeking to negotiate a softening of his current employers' stance, but that does not appear likely.

Finnish FA spokesman Velimatti Sutela told The Scotsman last night: "Not a single thing has changed since this story about our coach and Celtic was first brought to our attention last Friday. We would not consider him working for anyone else on a part-time basis. We have received no contact from Celtic about Mr Baxter and he has not given us any indication he wants to leave us."

While uncertainty continues to surround Baxter, confirmation of Lennon's position will allow the new manager to press ahead with his plans to strengthen the first team squad at Celtic.

He has been strongly linked with moves for Arsenal defender Sol Campbell, Stoke City winger Liam Lawrence, Cardiff City midfielder Joe Ledley, Nottingham Forest defender Kelvin Wilson and Hull City midfielder Jimmy Bullard.

The Celtic squad are due to begin pre-season training on 1 July before travelling to North America for four friendly matches against Philadelphia Union, Manchester United, Seattle Sounders and Sporting Lisbon.

Lennon's first competitive match as permanent manager will be the first leg of their Champions League third qualifying round tie on 27 or 28 July. The draw takes place on 16 July and Celtic, unprotected by seeding, will face either Zenit St Petersburg, Ajax, Fenerbahce, Dinamo Kiev or Sporting Braga when they begin the daunting task of trying to reach the lucrative group stage of the tournament.

The appointment looks set to go down well with the club's supporters. "He is certainly a fans favourite," said Alan Horne, president of the Affiliation of Celtic Supporters Clubs. "He's got a passion for the club and he has desire and hunger and a will to win. I think he will be a great appointment.

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"You will always get people who think he is not experienced enough to manage at that level but give him a chance.

"He is very animated on the touchline, which was certainly lacking in the last manager.

"The fight on and off the park last year was pretty poor and I think Neil Lennon has instilled that back in the team."