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No bed of roses, but Parkhead is the place for Neil Lennon

By Steven Beacom

Neil Lennon says being the manager of Celtic has turned out to be far more worthwhile than even he ever expected.

Lennon supported Celtic as a kid, played for and captained them and has been the boss at Parkhead since March last year. If he ever buys the club in later years, he'll have the full set.

Lennon's tough times as manager off the park have been well documented. It hasn't always been a bed of roses on it either with Celtic losing a league championship last season they should have won and this term starting so badly that at one stage they were a whopping 15 points behind league leaders Rangers.

The gap is now just four due to Celtic winning their last six SPL games.

Lennon knows all about glory as a player having won League Cups with Leicester City and every domestic trophy possible with Celtic, but to win the the SPL title as boss, adding to the Scottish Cup success last season, would he says be “the best thing I've ever done in my professional career.”

As he speaks about the job he has craved from the time he considered going into management, there is a sense that for the Lurgan man the reality has turned out better than the dream.

“There is so much to this job. It's a great challenge, far more worthwhile than I ever expected it to be,” he says.

“I've had to learn on the job. Whether you play or manage, you are always learning in football. There's not a day goes by when you don't pick up something new. You could probably ask Sir Alex (Ferguson) that and I'm sure he'd tell you exactly the same thing.”

Lennon still gets “a thrill” from walking down the Parkhead tunnel, and takes positives from matches even when his side don't play well.

“There's a real sense of satisfaction seeing the team play well, but also from riding the rough times and coming out the other side,” he states.

“If you go through the same patch again, you are better prepared for it, so you can deal with it a little bit better and a little bit quicker.

“I do enjoy the job and even in a perverse sort of way, I enjoyed the pressure that was going on six or seven weeks ago. I enjoyed the challenge of it and trying to get the team back to where we feel we should be.

“The man-management side of it is huge. It's how you deal with each individual and how you can get the best out of them on a consistent basis.

“In the modern game, you've got different cultures, religions and personalities to deal with. But we all have one common goal, which is winning games and trying to win trophies here.”

While Lennon is desperate to get his hands on the SPL trophy, an Olympic medal has never been on his wishlist. In Scotland in recent weeks, several players, including some from Celtic and Rangers, have declared an interest to compete for Team GB in the football tournament in the London 2012 Olympics.

Traditionalist Lennon is not a big fan. Typically straight talking, he says: “I wouldn't want to stop my players from going but I would have a concern about it. I think we have enough tournaments going on the whole year round without needing football as an Olympic sport. When the Olympics were brought back in 1886 it wasn't for professional football.”

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