Graham Ruthven: Neil Lennon is the big winner from Celtic’s mad week

Neil Lennon looked to be heading into the managerial wilderness, but somehow he has emerged as the victor from Celtic’s current turmoil…

If, following the shock departure of Brendan Rodgers earlier this week, Celtic fans were left soul searching over what it means to be a ‘Celtic man,’ as their former manager had proudly proclaimed only to betray those who saw him as one of their own.

They will have been comforted somewhat by the sight of Neil Lennon at Tynecastle on Wednesday night.

Whatever a ‘Celtic man’ truly is, whatever the underlying meaning behind such a label, Lennon is one. He is a figure synonymous with the recent history of the Glasgow club, the man who started the fabled run to 10 league titles in a row and now the man entrusted with carrying the Hoops over the line.

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The latter part of that last sentence hasn’t been confirmed yet, with Lennon only hired as Rodgers’ replacement until the end of the season, but Celtic are only 13 games from completing a historic Treble Treble – something never before seen in the Scottish game. Should Lennon deliver that the job will almost certainly be his on a permanent basis.

It’s quite the turnaround in personal fortune for a man who lost his job at Hibernian just one month ago. The true circumstances of Lennon’s exit from Easter Road still aren’t known, but by all accounts, he left under a cloud of controversy and indignation.

Many, including the man himself, doubted he would ever manage in Scotland again. Now, he is in charge of the champions.

Of the three parties – Celtic, Rodgers and Lennon – impacted by this week’s events, it is the latter who has emerged the real winner. Rodgers once called being Celtic manager his “dream job.” Of course, those remarks have now been called into question, but there is no doubting Lennon’s affinity for the Hoops.

Everything has fallen in the Northern Irishman’s favour. Lennon put himself in the frame for the Celtic job back in the summer of 2016, but was knocked well down the pecking order when it became apparent Rodgers was keen on the position.

So when Lennon took over at Hibs that same summer, the feeling was that he was very deliberately keeping himself within plain sight just in case Celtic came calling again.

His availability at the very moment of Rodgers’ unexpected exit, though, was down to pure good fortune. Releasing Lennon from his contract at Hibernian would have been a protracted affair, particularly after the John McGinn transfer saga during the summer, and so it’s reasonable to assume Celtic would have looked elsewhere for an interim appointment had the 47-year-old still been in employment.

In the long term, it’s debatable whether Lennon is the right man to take Celtic into a new age.

Rodgers instilled a lot of principles in his players that go directly against what his successor stands for. He’s only been in the job for a few days and Lennon is already talking about stopping Celtic from playing out from the back.

Many, with strong justification, see Lennon’s return to Celtic Park as a backwards step for the Scottish champions. The Northern Irishman left Celtic in the summer of 2014 because he felt he’d taken the club as far as he could.

What has changed in the time since?

Lennon’s individual ambition, perhaps, following his failed stint in English stint, but from Celtic’s perspective, shouldn’t they be looking to someone who can build on what Rodgers created rather than chip away at it?

Celtic were thrown into a difficult situation when Rodgers left for Leicester City. Lennon was, on the balance of things, probably the best they could have hoped for, although some have pointed out John Kennedy, assistant under Rodgers, might have been able to coast the club to the end of the season.

Whatever the criteria to succeed Rodgers, Lennon ticks the one box that seems to matter most to a fanbase hurt by betrayal – he is a ‘Celtic man.’ For now, that might be enough.

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