Stephen Dobbie has assured Hibs supporters that prospective new head coach Neil Lennon remains a high-calibre manager even though his most recent job didn’t go to plan.
Former Celtic boss Lennon is the clear front-runner to replace Alan Stubbs as he ponders whether or not to accept the chance to rebuild his career with next season’s Scottish Championship favourites after ending a turbulent 17-month reign at Bolton Wanderers in March.
Lennon, who built a stellar reputation during four glittering years at Parkhead, took charge of the Lancashire club when they were bottom of the English Championship in October 2014, led them comfortably to safety in his first season, and then left them at the foot of England’s second tier three months ago, at the end of a tenure dogged by off-field difficulties. Former Easter Road striker Dobbie spent last season under Lennon at Bolton, and insists there was little more he could have done against a backdrop of budget cuts, unpaid wages, a transfer embargo and the constant threat of administration or worse. He is adamant that his old manager’s title-winning pedigree will come to the fore if he decides to take charge of a Hibs side buoyed by last month’s Scottish Cup triumph.
“I don’t think Neil’s reputation should be tarnished by what happened at Bolton because he was working under hard circumstances,” Dobbie told the Evening News. “It would have been a hard task for anyone to keep the team going in the situation we were in, so I don’t think what happened there has tarnished what he did at Celtic at all. He just needs a fresh start and another challenge. Going into a new club that’s on a high would give him a good boost.
“Hibs are on a high after winning the Scottish Cup and, if he goes in there, he’ll have a good chance of taking them out of the Championship without Rangers or Hearts being in there. He would be a great appointment for Hibs.”
Dobbie, who joined Bolton last summer, explained that Lennon worked tirelessly to try and keep the players focused on football at a time when they were understandably preoccupied by off-field events.
“The restraints on the club, it nearly going into administration, the players not getting paid and all that sort of stuff, it was a hard time for the players and the coaching staff,” said Dobbie, who made 35 appearances for Hibs between 2003 and 2005. “It was a really hard task for Neil.
“He didn’t have much money to spend. He just had to bring in free transfers and loans. He and his coaching staff did a really good job of trying to keep everyone going in a difficult situation. When players are not getting paid, especially the younger ones, it’s hard to keep their heads up and keep them going. As a player, when stuff like that’s happening, it affects your football, but Neil did as much as he could to keep us going and keep us fighting. Even though we weren’t getting results, we were actually playing some good stuff.”
Dobbie was impressed with the way Lennon managed to maintain a positive demeanour even though Bolton were struggling badly last season. “He kept his spirits up,” said the 33-year-old. “If we lost on the Saturday, he’d come in on the Monday desperate to get back to work and rectify what had gone wrong. He was easy-going in terms of his man-management. You could go and speak to him anytime. Even though we weren’t winning many games, he was good at making sure training was enjoyable.”
Dobbie believes Lennon deserves credit for giving debuts to highly-regarded Bolton youngsters Zach Clough and Rob Holding. The latter is the subject of strong interest from Arsenal. “You look at some of the younger boys at Bolton that have come through under Neil. Rob Holding, who has been linked with Arsenal, and Zach Clough have come through and done well, and a lot of that is down to the coaching they’ve had from Neil and his coaching staff.”