Today will be the greatest day of Neil Lennon’s football life.
This morning, when he is officially announced as Celtic’s new permanent manager, after a caretaker spell at the end of last season, Lennon will truly be in paradise.
It’s what happens next though that will determine how good a manager Lennon is and how long his career will be.
Do well and he can be in charge at Celtic for the next decade; struggle and he might not be there this time next year. He’s only got the job because Tony Mowbray failed miserably and lasted only nine months.
When he was growing up in Lurgan his dream was to pull on the green and white hoops and Martin O’Neill made that dream come true when he signed him from Leicester City in 2001.
Now that he’s grown up and a different career path has been sought, Lennon has wanted more than anything to manage the club that he loves.
No need to kiss the badge or declare his devotion at every available opportunity — you’ve got to
wonder about those who do. Everyone who knows Neil Lennon knows that he loves Celtic and it is because he is one of them that the club’s fans wanted him and nobody else as the new manager.
Managers are rarely — if ever — universally popular. Even Sir Alex Ferguson, amazingly, has his detractors. From day one, however, Lennon will have the backing of every Celtic fan. The only other managerial appointment I can imagine being as popular is if Kenny Dalglish returns to be boss of Liverpool.
That groundswell of support for the former Northern Ireland international is massive for someone undertaking such a big job when the extent of his experience is eight league matches at the end of a campaign that was all but over and a cup semi-final defeat.
The fact that Celtic won all eight of those league encounters, which included a victory over Rangers, meant that Lennon’s popularity rose even further.
There’d have been a major outcry if Lennon hadn’t got the job, but it’s a gamble the same time.
What does inexperience matter though? What manager ever went into his first job with any real experience under his belt? When
Dalglish was appointed manager of Liverpool he was still playing and went on to win the double. He was also 90 minutes away from doing that on two other occasions. Not a bad appointment then?
Lennon does have a big job on his hands, but one thing in his favour is that Rangers aren’t that far ahead and unless the takeover at Ibrox goes through, Walter Smith won’t be blessed with a huge transfer budget this summer.
With the Scottish Premier League title being a perpetual two-horse race Lennon will be judged as much on his own performances as those of his rivals.
All the ingredients are there though. Lennon has hunger, desire and passion in abundance. That won’t matter without ability, but he appears to have that too, and blessed with a little bit of luck he can be universally popular for some time to come.
1. He grew up supporting the club, played for them, captained them and has now achieved his final dream of managing them. Okay, there is one more unfulfilled dream and that’s winning trophies as Celtic manager.
2. Knows the Scottish scene, what it’s like to work inside the Old Firm bubble and being able to pass that experience on to new players will be invaluable. Also well aware of how the Scottish media works, which is something his predecessor Tony Mowbray never quite managed to get to grips with.
3. Loved by the fans. It will help at the start and the honeymoon period will last longer than with most Celtic managers, but ultimately he’ll be judged on results and popularity won’t come into it.
4. Knows the players. Having been first-team coach at Parkhead for a couple of years and having played alongside a few older members of the squad, there will be no need for introductions. They will know his methods already, he will know what makes them tick and that could be a successful recipe.
5. Record so far. He may be just 38-years-old (39 in just over a fortnight) and inexperienced as a manager, but Lennon couldn’t have written a better CV than winning eight successive league games at the end of the season. That legacy won’t last forever, but he’s already displayed a degree of ability and if he can maintain anything like that kind of form then he’s onto a winner.
1. No managerial experience to speak of — other than the nine games he had in charge at the end of the season. Employing a rookie manager is a massive gamble for Celtic. The last time they did that John Barnes’ team were a laughing stock when they lost in the Scottish Cup to Inverness Caley.
2. Celtic need to make an impact in Europe again if they are going to hit the jackpot financially. Lennon may have played in the last 16 of the Champions League for the club, but given that he’s very much wet behind the ears in management terms as it is, never managing in Europe could be a problem.
3. Too outspoken. He has the support of the players and will have for a while, but too many outbursts, like when he had a go at the players following their Scottish Cup semi-final defeat to Ross County and that support will soon dwindle. Lose the dressing room, you lose your job.
4. Lots of work to do. Lennon said himself after that defeat to Ross County that he’d be recommending a clear-out to the board. The Celtic squad is in need of major surgery and it’s a far from ideal scenario for a hugely inexperienced manager at such a big club.
5. Lennon is understood to be less than enamoured with Stuart Baxter’s appointment as a ‘mentor.’ If that relationship falters the whole thing could come down like a house of cards.
Neil Lennon factfile
1971: Born Lurgan, Northern Ireland, June 25.
1987: Starts career with Manchester City, making just one appearance after being blighted with a back injury.
1990: Joins Crewe on a free transfer.
1994: May - Helps Crewe win promotion to the Second Division.
June - Wins first Northern Ireland cap in a friendly against Mexico in Miami.
1996: February - Joins Martin O'Neill at Leicester for £750,000 after rejecting a move to Coventry.
May - Leicester win promotion to the Premier League after play-off win over Crystal Palace at Wembley.
1997: Wins League Cup winners' medal after replay victory over Middlesbrough at Hillsborough.
1998: April - During Leicester clash with Newcastle at Filbert Street, Alan Shearer appears to kick Lennon in the face. Receives no apology from the England striker — a fact the Leicester man later reveals rankled him.
1999: March - Wins runners-up medal in League Cup after Tottenham beat Leicester at Wembley.
May - Wears captain's armband for second half of Northern Ireland's friendly against the Republic.
2000: February - Wins second League Cup after Leicester beat First Division Tranmere 2-1.
June - O'Neill leaves Filbert Street for Celtic, with Lennon immediately linked with a move to Parkhead.
July - Celtic make a bid, leaving O'Neill's successor Peter Taylor to set a deadline for Lennon to make his mind up.
August - Signs new four-year contract with Leicester worth a reported £30,000 per week.
December 2 - Lennon says win over Leeds is his last game for the club before joining Celtic.
December 8 - Completes £5.75million switch to Celtic, signing a four-and-a-half year deal.
2001: February 28 - Lennon (pictured) booed by Northern Ireland fans during Windsor Park defeat by Norway.
March 1 - Reveals he is considering retiring from international football as a result of abuse.
March 4 - Scored first Celtic goal in 3-0 win over Dunfermline.
March 9 - Announces he will continue playing for Northern Ireland.
May 26 - Celtic beat Hibernian 3-0 to lift the Scottish Cup and complete the treble, having already won the League Cup and Scottish Premier League.
2002: April - Clinches second successive SPL title.
August 21 - Captain Lennon pulls out of the Northern Ireland team on the evening of a match against Cyprus after receiving a death threat.
2003: May - Beaten up in apparent sectarian attack by three men in Glasgow's West End.
Plays in UEFA Cup final extra-time defeat by Porto in Seville.
2004: May - Celtic complete the double with Scottish Cup final win over Dunfermline.
2005: June - Appointed club captain by new manager Gordon Strachan after signing a new one-year deal.
August - Dismissed after Old Firm defeat by Rangers for foul and abusive language towards referee Stuart Dougal, and later banned for three matches.
2006: March - Celtic beat Dunfermline 3-0 in League Cup final. Lennon is accused by the Pars' Greg Shields of boasting about the size of his bank balance during the match.
April - A 1-0 victory over Hearts at Parkhead secures the SPL title for Celtic.
November - Celtic beat Manchester United 1-0 to qualify for Champions League knockout stages for the first time.
2007: April - Celtic clinch SPL title, the fifth during Lennon's time at the club, with 2-1 win at Kilmarnock. Announces he will leave Parkhead when his contract expires at the end of the season.
May - Celtic win Scottish Cup final, beating Dunfermline 1-0 at Hampden in Lennon's swansong. Strachan substitutes the midfielder after 66 minutes, following a quiet performance. Lennon storms down the tunnel.
June - Joins Nottingham Forest on a one-year contract.
2008: January - Lennon joins Wycombe Wanderers.
April - leaves to take up a coaching role with Celtic.
September 1 - Requires hospital treatment after being attacked in Glasgow's West End after Celtic's Old Firm derby defeat. Two Rangers fans are later jailed for assault.
2009: June - Following the appointment of Tony Mowbray as Celtic manager, Lennon is put in charge of the reserves.
2010: March - Lennon is appointed caretaker manager for the remainder of the 2009-10 season after Mowbray departs. He appoints former team-mate Johan Mjallby as his assistant.
April - Lennon's chances of becoming manager on a permanent basis are hit when Celtic lose 2-0 to First Division side Ross County (pictured left) in the Scottish Cup semi-finals.
May - Celtic recover to finish the season with eight consecutive SPL wins under Lennon. He reiterates he wants the job, though Celtic reveal they will consider their options.
June 8 - Celtic confirm they will unveil their new manager at a press conference today, amid widespread reports Lennon has been handed job.