Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 25 December 2014

Neil Lennon lived Celtic dream... but also endured a nightmare

Fan favourite: Neil Lennon has always been popular amongst the Celtic support, both during his time as a player and his time in charge of the Bhoys
Fan favourite: Neil Lennon has always been popular amongst the Celtic support, both during his time as a player and his time in charge of the Bhoys
GLASGOW, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 04: A young Celtic fan shows his support for Celtic caretaker manager Neil Lennon during the Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League match between Celtic and Rangers at Celtic Park, on May 4, 2010 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
KILMARNOCK, SCOTLAND - APRIL 07: Coach Neil Lennon of Celtic celebrates following his team clinching the Scottish Clydesdale Bank Scottish Premier League title after the match between Kilmarnock and Celtic at Rugby Park on April 7, 2012 in Kilmarnock, Scotland. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 21: Celtic Manager Neil Lennon celebrates with his team after winning the Scottish Cup Final between Celtic and Motherwell at Hampden Park on May 21, 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Bryn Lennon/Getty Images)
GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - MAY 15: Manager Neil Lennon of Celtic, flanked by police officers, looks on as the crowd sing 'You'll never walk alone' at the end of the Clydesdale Bank Premier League match between Celtic and Motherwell at Celtic Park on May 15, 2011 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)

Neil Lennon lived the dream at Celtic. He supported the club, played for the club, captained the club, coached at the club and ultimately managed the club, winning matches and medals galore.

As a football crazy ginger-haired kid growing up in Lurgan, imagining himself in those famous green and white hoops, he could not have asked for more.

There was a flip side though.

Away from the league titles, cup success, memorable victories over Rangers and that glorious night when Barcelona were blown away at Parkhead, Lennon often encountered troubled times.

He may have lived the dream, but the 42-year-old also suffered nightmares at Celtic.

He was attacked in his car, was knocked out on the street, had bullets sent to him in the post, was the victim of a letter bomb campaign, faced death threats, was assaulted by a Hearts fan during a game and endured severe bouts of depression.

Forget Lennon leaving Parkhead yesterday for a moment. For him to stay there as manager for as long as he did – four years – merits discussion and admiration.

Others would have walked away long before this.

Lennon had to put up with more horrific experiences than any other manager I can think of yet with his fierce determination, a desire not to let the haters win and his love of Celtic, he continued to take charge of the club he cheered on as boy through the darkest days of his life.

You hope for his and his family's sake wherever he ends up next will be a lot less turbulent.

In the summer he'll be in the comfy confines of a BBC studio analysing World Cup games – which he will do exceptionally well – but it won't be long before he is in a dugout again.

And in many ways then we'll be able to judge just how good a manager Neil really is.

The experiences – good, bad and ugly – in Glasgow will help him when that time comes though whether he ever manages a club as big as Celtic again remains to be seen.

In four years as boss, the former Northern Ireland midfielder won three SPL titles in a row and two Scottish Cups.

Despite that record he won't go down as one of the great Parkhead bosses because Rangers, due to their financial woes and demotion from the top flight, weren't around to challenge him and the Hoops.

With Rangers floundering, it was obvious that Celtic would flourish and win championships.

In his heart of hearts, however, Lennon will be disappointed that he didn't win at least one domestic treble during that period.

He can be proud of what he achieved in Europe though, not least that remarkable night in 2012 when Celtic defeated Barcelona, then considered the greatest side of all time with Messi, Iniesta and Xavi in their ranks.

Lennon's tactics that November evening when the 'thunder' roared back to Celtic Park worked a treat as his team recorded a famous 2-1 victory in the Champions League group stages, pushing them to qualify for the knockout phase.

Lenny could have left then. The truth is it wasn't going to get any better than that at Celtic for him.

So, why has this bright and engaging character moved on now?

Well, he's fancies a crack at English football and believes he has matured enough as a manager to give it a go.

He'll also feel that he has taken Celtic as far as he can, knowing that with budget constraints and the summer sale of more star names, the Hoops may struggle to make it through the three qualifying rounds to reach the Champions League group stages next season.

And it will have crossed his mind that it was finally time to leave the madness of being Neil Lennon in Scottish football behind.

Nobody could blame him for that.

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