Neil Lennon has insisted he wouldn’t stand in the way of any of his players taking part in Scotland’s controversial summer tour – even if Hibs win a place in next season’s Europa League.
The plans to travel to play Mexico and Peru in June – announced before it was revealed Alex McLeish would be returning as manager of the national side – have attracted criticism, with some believing it’s too much to ask of players.
But while he understands the doubts the likes of Celtic, who had eight players in recent Scotland squads, have over the timing of the trip, Lennon believes aspiring internationalists should by fighting for a place on the plane.
The Easter Road boss recalled how facing Mexico and Colombia for Northern Ireland before the 1994 World Cup was “a real eye-opener” and believes it would be a “real education” for the Scots this time round.
Lennon has his eyes firmly on claiming a place in the Europa League, Hibs having muscled their way into that fight by beating both Rangers and Aberdeen in successive matches to not only tighten their grip on fourth spot in the Premiership table but to now lie just five points behind those sides.
Should the Capital outfit realise that goal, they’d face an early return to action, but Lennon was adamant he’d have no worries should any of his players be called upon by McLeish.
He said: “I wouldn’t stand in their way. Before the 1994 World Cup I went with Northern Ireland. We played Mexico and Colombia and that was a real eye-opener for me to see top quality players just before a World Cup as they were both going there.
“I was playing against some top players having played at Rochdale two months earlier. You saw the game at the highest level. It was a real education.
“Some of these players now in Scotland could do with going and playing against a Mexican team and seeing top players, the South American culture and how hungry they are.
“It was amazing how hard they worked their possession. They made the game look easy, it was a real education. Top players going to the World Cup and a fanatical support as well.
“I think it would be a great education for some of these players to go and experience, not only from a football point of view, but from a life point of view as well.
“I get the Celtic side of things, I understand that. I wouldn’t play any Celtic players. We keep going on about how important European football is. It is important for all the clubs in the Premiership if Celtic qualify.
“We want to have Champions League football next season again so I wouldn’t take any of the Celtic players. They are near enough into their mid-40s for games already. Some of them didn’t get a break last year. So you’re playing 12 months a year, that’s got to stop. They need a break at some stage.
“You know what Scott Brown, Stuart Armstrong, Kieran Tierney and all these players can do. I’m sure Alex will know that as well.
“But for other players maybe on the periphery of the squad you have to go, you have to go play for your country. Certainly in this country, thinking I am not gong to play for Scotland in Mexico and Peru because it is the end of the season, they are not that good.
“Sorry, they have not done enough in their career to warrant that sort of attitude if you understand what I am saying.
“All this hoo-hah about these games at the end of the season, and that’s all it is, hoo-hah.”
Hibs midfielder John McGinn would be one who’d be hoping to hear from McLeish ahead of those matches but, believes Lennon, team-mate Dylan McGeouch could force his way into the new manager’s thoughts.
Admitting the midfielder is one of the first names on his team sheet having enjoyed an outstanding season, Lennon – who is hoping to persuade McGeouch to stay at Hibs having made him the offer of a new contract – questioned whether he was ready to play a competitive international but agreed he could make the squad.
He said: “Dylan has been very consistent. The problem with him is he has had injuries, groin strains, hamstrings, niggles, to the point where I’m not sure he played eight games in a row throughout his whole career until this season.
“He went to see a specialist, got to the bottom of it and he has had a very, very strong season. He is mature, composed on the ball, his reading of the game is very good, his passing is of a very high level now and he has accepted his responsibility within the team.
“I’m delighted with him. He does go under the radar a little bit. It’s a big challenge. Is he good enough for Scotland? Maybe not yet. He needs a full season under his belt a good pre-season and next year and then we can see.
“I just think it is maybe a bit early to put him in that category up there with the likes of Scott Brown. But when he has played against the Browns and [Kenny] McLeans of this world he has been as good as anyone. Maybe he could make the squad.”
Lennon admitted McGeouch’s form has been such there will be others interested in him given he is out of contract in the summer, adding: “He has a big decision to make. From my point of view, I want to say his best years are in front of him and he’s maybe best served here. But that’s a decision he has to make.”