Friday, 28 March 2014


By Andy Ritchie

SO, now the annual skittle competition that’s called the Scottish Premiership is over for another season, the questions will inevitably begin.

In fact, they began in my house this morning when a teaser was thrown at me: did I expect both Neil Lennon and Derek McInnes to be with their respective clubs next season?

A long intake of breath was needed over the cornflakes. I replied that I’d only expect one to be there. My questioner was relentless. Which one? If I were given one of those hard-earned pounds that Aberdonians seem to swear by, well, I’d put it on McInnes being at Pittodrie next season.

But, as for Lennon being at Celtic Park? I think not. I’d imagine he’s looked at the equation and decided: “I’ve got to get out of here - it’s time to move on.”

The noises that he may want to go have been flying about for some time. I suggest they will become more prevalent now that the title race has been copper-bottomed with that runaway victory over Partick Thistle.

So I think it’s just a case of playing the countdown game. Who could blame him for looking down the road? Hey, he’s left a legacy by joining the select managerial band of Willie Maley, Jock Stein and Gordon Strachan, who had won three or more titles in a row.

But trying looking for reasons why he should stay is another thing altogether. Anyone who recognises their onions know that, without Rangers in the mix, everything is a hollow victory. Lennon will recognise that better than anyone.

He’ll also recognise the fact that times have changed and there’s a whole different ball game going on with Celtic these days, And it’s official. It’s gone public. In the old days, it was an accepted fact that the Charlie Nicholas and Kenny Dalglish types of this world would eventually play in England. But it was never mooted in public.

Now it’s been discussed openly that the policy is to bring in good, under-the-radar young players, get them developed before selling them on for as big a profit as possible. You’ve got to look at it and say it’s the state of Scottish football. And it’s also the state of Celtic.

You hear from some quarters claims of an upsurge in the game. Really? Well, up at Aberdeen, for instance, there’s a guy who wasn’t good enough to play in the first team last season and who in fact was loaned out to St Johnstone.

It’s now being stated that Peter Pawlett’s an absolute certainty to be playing in England in six months. Yeah, he couldnae get a game for them a year ago and they were undecided if they wanted to keep him. Now he’s the new Willie Miller, or, to put him more in context, Eoin Jess.

So, I’d imagine for the benefit of Neil Lennon and his career as a manager, it would be beneficial for him to be looking at the bigger picture. And that, I’m afraid, is England. There’s nothing radical about that, though, He’s done four years and they’ve generally been good years.

Things have changed for him. It’s only natural if you’ve been in a job this length of time that the rough edges have been knocked off. In Lennon’s case most of them have gone, even if some took a while to disappear.

I think the change in attitude could be traced back to the time he was attacked at Tyne castle - and also the time they beat Barcelona and had a decent run in Europe. That escalated his worth to the football world.

And I think people were making suggestions to him then that it might take a different type of managerial mindset for him to get a job down in England. That’s when the rough edges began to disappear.

It was like he was saying to himself: “If I do have any aspirations as an individual, these issues need to be addressed.” And I think that’s been his purposeful plan as Celtic manager ever since. And, in fairness to him, he’s done very well.

Perfection is nearly impossible, of course. You hear him being interviewed by local reporters in Scotland and then by those from down South. There’s a marked difference for the better, as far as the latter is concerned. Look, it’s not that he’s so much more refined, it’s just that he’s more acceptable to the masses. I sometimes wish he’d add those little touches up here as well.

I remember at the Aberdeen game at Pittodrie when Celtic’s winning streak ended. If he’d put on the diplomatic hat that he wears for the international media, it would have been better. As it was, he was less than complimentary about Aberdeen. A wee bit more humility was required in that situation.

But, on the whole, I think the changes in his character have been for his well-being. Whatever, if and when the day arrives that he makes a move down South, it might be beneficial to him if he leaves a couple of pieces of luggage behind him.

Would he be successful in a far more competitive division? I see no reason why he shouldn’t be. He probably has a head start on many others who are coming to the Barclays Premier League from abroad. He has a grounding in England, knows the game and also the aspirations of the supporters - unlike some who have gone there recently.

Look, when you went to manage in England years ago, it was a 25-piece jigsaw. Now it’s a thousand piece affair and remember you’ve got to put all those pieces together. I don’t see why Lennon can’t make a fist of it down there. Father Time, of course, is the only man who will tell.

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