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Lennon takes Celtic centre stage

Celtic manager Neil Lennon
Lennon has been given the Celtic job after impressing during his interim role

By Martin Conaghan & Thomas McGuigan

Neil Lennon never shirked a challenge during his playing days at Celtic and you expect him to manage the club in a similar fashion.

The 38-year-old Northern Irishman, a combative midfielder who refused to give opponents a moment's peace, was forced to cool his heels in recent weeks before learning he had landed his dream job.

And, after leading Celtic to eight consecutive league victories at the end of last season during his stint as interim boss, his ambition to manage the club has finally been realised.

Before signing for Celtic from Leicester City way back in 2000, Lennon waxed lyrical about his passion for his boyhood heroes.

And it's this intensity, over and above his lack of managerial experience, that he'll hope will convince Celtic fans of his ability to deliver silverware.

Speculation over the delay in his appointment has centred on the thorny issue of a director of football.

Finland coach Stuart Baxter has been linked with a mentoring role, thought it remains to be seen where the nomadic 56-year-old will feature in the new coaching set-up, also boasting Lennon's former team-mates Johan Mjallby and Alan Thompson.

Lennon's seven-year playing career at Celtic was not without incident after his £5.75m switch from England's Premier League.

Highlights - Lennon's winning SPL streak

Lennon's eight-win-run in SPL

The stocky midfielder was adored by the Celtic supporters and vilified by the opposition in equal measure.

He worked with Martin O'Neill at Leicester and was keen to be reunited with his fellow Irishman in Glasgow when the chance arose.

O'Neill would prove to be an inspirational figure for Lennon, much in the same way Brian Clough was for O'Neill during their Nottingham Forest days.

Under O'Neill's tutelage, Lennon excelled at Celtic and went on to collect five championship winners' medals, three Scottish Cups and two League Cups.

He also featured in the club's historic run to the Uefa Cup final in 2003, which ended in defeat by Porto in Seville.

Lennon, more often than not, provided a defensive shield for his team-mates on the park and he has utilised those broad shoulders to deal with flak that has come his way.

He was the heartbeat of a successful Celtic midfield; before captaining the side to a Scottish Cup final victory over Dunfermline in May 2007 - his final game for the club.

Spells at Nottingham Forest and Wycombe Wanderers followed, before Lennon found himself back at Celtic with a coaching role in Gordon Strachan's backroom staff.

He then took control of the reserve side in 2009, when Tony Mowbray was appointed manager.

Neil Lennon
Lennon is determined to restore Celtic's fortunes

Celtic have struggled to find an adequate replacement in midfield since Lennon hung up his boots.

The character and fight he brought to the side was clearly lacking in last season's 4-0 drubbing by St Mirren: it proved a watershed for Mowbray's ill-fated reign and signalled the beginning of Lennon's fledgling managerial career.

Placed in temporary charge after that defeat, Lennon guided Celtic to eight consecutive league wins before the end of the season - including an Old Firm derby victory.

Granted, Rangers had already secured their second successive league title, but Lennon did enough to impress the Parkhead hierarchy.

Despite a numbing Scottish Cup semi-final defeat by First Division outfit Ross County, only his third match in charge, Lennon did enough to convince the Celtic board he was the man to succeed Mowbray.

His scathing criticism of Celtic's underachieving squad raised eyebrows in some quarters, but highlighted his winning mentality.

He has come a long way since his apprenticeship days at Manchester City.

MY SPORT: DEBATE

After guiding Celtic to victory against Kilmarnock in his first game as interim boss in March, Lennon revealed his overriding emotion was relief.

As he walks into Celtic Park as the club's 17th manager in their 122-year history, he could be forgiven for feeling no little trepidation over what lies ahead.

A trophy-less season intensified the pressure on the board to ensure they strike gold following the expensive calamity of Mowbray's reign.

Celtic had their fingers burned when they allowed John Barnes to cut his managerial teeth at the club with dire consequences.

And West Ham's nerve-shredding experience with managerial rookie Gianfranco Zola was a sobering reminder of the dangers inherent in giving former playing heroes a chance to find their feet.

Nevertheless, Lennon is widely regarded as a favourite Celtic son and will be afforded an ocean of goodwill by supporters desperate to wrest the league title back from their Old Firm rivals.

If he fails, it won't be for the lack of trying.



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see also
Lennon seeks passion from Celtic
09 Jun 10 |  Celtic
Lennon's eight-win-run in SPL
28 May 10 |  Scotland


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