Neil Lennon: I have no interest in the Northern Ireland job
Neil Lennon has insisted he has no interest in becoming manager of Northern Ireland should current boss Michael O'Neill decide to quit.
Former Hibs midfielder O’Neill is the front-runner to take charge of Scotland following the departure of Gordon Strachan, the SFA having made a formal approach for the 48-year-old who is also high on the wanted list by the United States and English Championship outfit Sunderland.
But while adamant his countryman will make his own decision – and he admitted he’d love to see a manager who “has performed miracles” stay with Northern Ireland – the Easter Road boss insists he won’t be putting his name forward should O’Neill decide the time is right to seek a change of direction.
He said: “I enjoy what I do and I like the day-to-day thing, I’d miss that too much. I don’t think I’m ready for international management. I don’t like the feast or famine aspect to it either.
“You win a couple of games and you are the best thing since sliced bread, you lose a game and the whole world falls around you. It’s just disproportionate from a public perception.
“I like working with the players on a day-to-day basis as well. In international management you get the players once every couple of months and you have to get it right over a specific period of time. I think it’s a very difficult thing to do.”
He isn’t, however, surprised in the slightest that the SFA are now chasing the man who led Northern Ireland into the Euro 2016 finals and narrowly missed out on a place in next summer’s World Cup finals, suffering an aggregate 1-0 defeat by Switzerland in the play-offs thanks to what Lennon described as a “diabolical” penalty decision. Conceding that he felt overall the Swiss were the better team and deserved to go through, Lennon was nevertheless unstinting in his praise for Edinburgh-based O’Neill. He said: Whether he wants to do it or not only Michael can answer that.
“His stock is very high and from a Northern Ireland point of view, I want him to stay on. He may feel he has taken Northern Ireland as far as he can, or that there is more to come.
“It doesn’t surprise me that there is interest in him from elsewhere. Michael has performed miracles. To get to the last 16 or the Euros and then to make the play-offs in a group containing Germany and the Czech Republic was unheard of when I played.
“He does not have a big squad of players, there is not great strength in depth but the players have been magnificent for him as he has got the best out of them. He has them believing and there is great mentality about them.
“Tactically he is very strong, defensively they are well set-up and they became really hard to beat.”
Expressing a belief that at present Scotland are a “young, vibrant international team” with potential while Northern Ireland could be about to enter a transitory phase with a number of players now the wrong side of 30, Lennon said: “Michael is smart and he will make the right decision for him whether that will be moving on or staying.
“He’s quite savvy that way. It’s all about timing too, and if he feels the time is right to move on then that will be his decision.”
He did however, agree that Tommy Wright – boss of St Johnstone, Hibs opponents’ tomorrow and a former Northern Ireland goalkeeper – would be a prime candidate to succeed O’Neill.