Neil Lennon: Hibs job has reinvigorated me
Neil Lennon may no longer be operating at the very sharp end of Scottish football, leading Celtic towards the Champions League group stage. That is presently Brendan Rodgers' domain.
However, the Hibs manager insists that being in charge of the Easter Road side is providing him with all the job satisfaction he requires. The 45-year-old Northern Irishman has enjoyed working with the guts of last season’s Scottish Cup-winning squad and has been gripped by the “feelgood factor” evident around the club.
In short, despite having operated at a notably loftier level than the Scottish Championship for most of his career, he is a man entirely content with his current lot.
Asked if he missed being involved at the top end of Scottish football, Lennon said: “No, I’m really happy here. I’m excited, I look forward to the games, I look forward to coming in every day – and I’m not looking anywhere else, I’m really focused on what I have to do here.
“I want to be in the Premiership, you know, so it would be a big string to my bow if I can get this club back up and get it really rolling again.”
The sight of more than 16,000 people at Easter Road for last weekend’s victory over Dunfermline lent credence to Lennon’s belief that there is “something brewing” at Hibs. “I was really impressed by the crowd,” he said. “For a club outside of Glasgow in this country, playing in the second tier, to have that kind of crowd is healthy, to say the least.
“It shows that I’ve come to a big club. And it shows that, if you can get it rolling, the punters will come. I’ve been surprised how good it is. Even when I came in, I was surprised by the quality of footballer we had as well – talented, technical, brilliant attitude, all of that.
“I’ve been reinvigorated by the whole thing, to be honest. I know I don’t look happy all the time but I am! There is something brewing here. Now I’ve got to keep a lid on that, because in football you can go from a peak to very low just like that. All it takes is a defeat and everyone is analysing everything to death. But there is a feel-good factor here. We’re winning games, albeit only two at the minute, and we’re the scalp that everyone wants to take. That can only be a good thing.”
Lennon is one of the most candid football personalities around and never shies away from offering his opinion on any subject, when asked. As one of the highest-profile characters in Scottish football, with a long association with Celtic, this inevitably manifests itself in the Hibs manager being regularly quoted on Old Firm-related matters, as he was this week when he suggested that Ronny Deila, his successor at Parkhead, was to blame for key players losing their form in recent seasons. Some Hibs fans feel he shouldn’t be discussing his old club so regularly, but Lennon is adamant that this shouldn’t be viewed as an indication of divided loyalties on his part. In fact, he insists his juices flow whenever he thinks about the next Hibs game, even while Celtic are winning handsomely in a crucial Champions League qualifier, such as the one against Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Wednesday.
“I know people ask about a lot of things, whether that be Celtic or the Old Firm or whatever,” he said. “I had a great time in that environment, 15 years or whatever, but I’m really enjoying what I’m doing here. You wish Celtic well, of course. I actually didn’t get to see the game on Wednesday but I was listening to the score coming in every now and again. And I was thinking: ‘Brilliant, really good.’
“But then, right away, I started thinking about [today’s match at] St Mirren and getting really excited about it. The anticipation started to build. I’m pleased for Celtic, obviously. But that’s not my pitch any more. I’ve got a big job on my hands here and I look forward to what lies ahead.”