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I'd love a return to Celtic: Lennon

By Stuart McKinley

Published 27/02/2016

Old Bhoy: Neil Lennon admits he has a great affinity with Celtic after his 14-year spell at the club
Old Bhoy: Neil Lennon admits he has a great affinity with Celtic after his 14-year spell at the club

When Neil Lennon quit as Celtic manager in May 2014 he said that he was going because the time was right for him to leave the club.

Although there are certain aspects of being part of such a big club that Lennon does miss, almost two years later his feelings haven't changed.

He does, however, still harbour one wish when it comes to the club he supported as a boy and then served as player, coach and then manager for the best part of 14 years - that one day he will return to Parkhead.

"It was the right time to leave," said the former Northern Ireland international in an interview with The Guardian.

"There was always the opportunity that I could be back there some day. What I miss about it is the intensity and that opportunity of winning every week.

"We had dominated for three seasons and the club was sort of downsizing with the squad. I always felt the Champions League was the competition to be in and I wasn't sure we would be able to do that again with the squad of players that we had. So it was time to go. Four years was a good stint at it.

"Do I regret it? No. Would I go back? Yes, eventually. I was there for 14 years, I have such a great affinity with the club. In some capacity, I would like to be around the club again at some stage in my career."

After winning three Scottish League titles - in consecutive seasons - and two Scottish Cups as Celtic boss, Lennon, who also won 10 trophies as a player with the Hoops, is used to success.

That's why there is such a stark contrast between being at the top of the Scottish game and the position he currently finds himself in as manager of Bolton Wanderers.

The Trotters' off-field problems are expected to be addressed as a takeover goes through. Highly respected chairman Phil Garside died recently and owner Eddie Davies stopped pumping money into the club, but was willing to write off a £185m in order to facilitate a smooth sale.

There is still a winding up order over £3m in unpaid tax pending.

On the pitch they remain seven points adrift of safety in the Championship and almost right from the start in December 2014 Lennon has been fighting with one hand behind his back.

Had he known what was coming the 44-year-old may never have taken the job.

"We had been trying to sign Rajiv van La Parra from Wolves and Joao Carlos Teixeira from Liverpool and had been given the all-clear to do that on the Thursday," said Lennon.

"On the Monday we were simply told all bets were off; no more money to spend, nothing left. So we were getting these loan players in, Phil had okayed it and a couple of days later we were told the money situation and that Phil was gravely ill.

"I knew about the debt. I wish I had been told that the money coming in would stop.

"If I had known about the situation with the owner I would have had serious reservations about taking it on.

"I knew there was a big debt but I knew it was the owner's debt and he was prepared to write it off.

"What I didn't know was that I wasn't going to be given the chance to invest in players and the squad, as I wanted to.

"And build, rather than have to demolish; that's all I have done - 19 players went out the door last summer.

"We cleared about £10m from the wage bill as well as bringing in £2.5m in fees."

Lennon is realistic enough to understand that the club's new owners, with former player Dean Holdsworth the face of the Sport Shield Group Consortium, might want their own man in charge.

He won't, however, be walking away even though the challenge of keeping Bolton in the Championship is greater than winning trophies in Scotland with Rangers not in the frame to challenge.

"That's the easy thing to do," said Lurgan-born Lennon, who will lead his team into a derby battle with Burnley today.

"I'd rather see it through. I'm enjoying the challenge - that in itself is a motivation - and if we keep the team in this league, what a great achievement.

"I want the chance to rebuild because I haven't had a chance to build anything."

Wanting to stay and getting the opportunity to do so are two different things though.

"That's the reality of the job. I would be professional about it and accept it for what it is but we will cross that bridge if we come to it," said Lennon.

"This job takes a lot of work, it takes a lot of time. Whether we get the time to do it, I don't know.

"It's not all about money but it is about the long-term future of the club."

Belfast Telegraph

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