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Thursday, 22 August, 2002, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Profile: Neil Lennon
Celtic and Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon
Lennon (right) has always been a fan's favourite
Neil Lennon has progressed through the ranks of professional football to the heights of the game, but now must wonder at times whether all the hard work has been worth it.

The 31-year-old from Lurgan is now into his 16th year as a professional footballer and it is a career no less colourful than his hair.

After three uneventful years at Manchester City, where he made just the one appearance, Lennon joined up with Dario Gradi at Crewe and began to make a name for himself.

During the 1990s, regular visitors to Gresty Road have seen a few decent players make their names and Lennon would fall into that category.

  Neil Lennon
DOB: 25/06/1971
Clubs: Manchester City, Crewe, Leicester City and Celtic
International caps: 40

After playing in the side that gained promotion to the Second Division in 1994, Lennon became hot property.

He made his first appearance for Northern Ireland in the same year and scouts from the top league began to show keen interest in him.

Regarded essentially as a combative midfielder capable of scoring the odd goal and also playing a decent pass, Lennon was linked with a host of Premiership clubs.

In the end, his choice was between Coventry and First Division Leicester.

It might well be that the insatiable enthusiasm and charisma of Martin O'Neill convinced Lennon that his immediate future belonged at Filbert Street in 1996.

Compared to the current predicament of the Foxes, he enjoyed a profitable spell at the club and along with midfield partner Muzzy Izzet, was an integral part of Leicester's success.

They were promoted in 1996 and captured the Worthington Cup the following year with a replay defeat of Middlesbrough.

Celtic and Northern Ireland midfielder Neil Lennon
Lennon has been successful at Celtic
He picked up another winners medal in the same competition three years later before O'Neill made the decision that would have a huge impact on Lennon's own football career.

O'Neill, as had been widely expected, left the relative comfort of Filbert Street for the volatile surroundings of Glasgow and the green and white hoops of Celtic in June 2000.

Almost immediately, it was rumoured that O'Neill would go back to the Midlands to poach some of the stars that had helped make Leicester a genuine Premiership force - Lennon was just such a player.

It took until December 2000 for him to put pen to paper in a transfer worth 5.75m which would keep him at Parkhead until 2005.

Almost immediately, the passions and prejudice that play such a strong part in club and national football began to affect Lennon.

He suffered abuse during a friendly against Norway last February and considered retiring from international football then.

Lennon has never been a stranger to controversy or trouble - his commitment to Northern Ireland has been questioned after often withdrawing from the squad for friendlies.

And in 1999 he was one of 14 players charged with failing to assist the Football Association's investigation into black market ticketing for that year's Worthington Cup final - he was later cleared.

But this determined character can never have experienced anything similar to his current predicament - whether he can handle the impending pressures in order to represent his country is another matter.

See also:

22 Aug 02 | Football
22 Aug 02 | N Ireland
21 Aug 02 | Football
02 Oct 01 | World Cup 2002
09 Mar 01 | N Ireland
24 Mar 01 | World Cup 2002
Links to more N Ireland stories are at the foot of the page.


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