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O’Neill tells Celtic boss Lennon: back your instincts

By Ronnie Esplin

Former Celtic manager Martin O'Neill has revealed his one and only piece of advice for protege Neil Lennon — trust your own judgment.

O'Neill was back at Parkhead on Tuesday night for the first time since he left the club six years ago and oversaw a Celtic legends team play their Manchester United counterparts in a tribute match for former Hoops defender John Kennedy.

Since becoming permanent Celtic boss last summer Lennon has not been above asking some of his former managers for advice.

However, his fellow Northern Irishman believes Lennon, whom he signed in a £6million deal from Leicester in 2000, needs ultimately to follow his own instincts.

“My advice to Neil when he does phone occasionally — and it is only occasionally, it is not terribly often — would be, all the time, to have a think about it and analyse it yourself because you are the one who is closest to it,” said O'Neill.

“He certainly couldn't talk to me about formations when he knows the players better than I know them.

“He will learn. He will learn through mistakes and he will learn through some good days.

“When I signed him in December, 2000, I only thought about him as a player.

“I didn't envisage him being a Celtic manager — primarily because I was!

“But he's pushed on and he knows the game very well indeed.

“He was an excellent player and if he becomes half as good a manager as he was a player, that would be excellent.”

On Lennon's appointment it was suggested that a mentor could be brought in to help and inevitably O'Neill's name was mentioned.

But the former Northern Ireland international does not buy into the concept.

“It wouldn't have been my way of doing it,” he said.

“I know he is inexperienced in terms of management but when is he going to get that experience?

“I'm not so sure that would have been the way forward.

“I might be wrong, I might be right, but I think he would have handled things on his own, particularly as he had been a player here for some time.”

However, O'Neill, who declared he is ready to get back in to management after a year out — “I have been in hibernation so maybe in the not-too-distant future” — was as studious as ever when answering questions, but acknowledged that Lennon is working within more rigid financial constraints.

“It is a difficult task because expectations are very high,” he said. “In terms of the economic situation it seems to be getting tighter and tighter in the SPL.

“Rangers were knocked out [of the Champions League] by Malmo and each year seems to get harder and it is obvious - you can trace it back to the fact that the finances are not there any more.

“But he knows all these things.

“I think Neil's ambition this year would be to win the league. I would be surprised if it was anything else.”

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