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Celtic v Hearts: On the day the club's past is remembered, Lennon ponders the managerial pressures of the present day

THAT loyalty and patience are becoming increasingly scant commodities in the modern game was perfectly illustrated by events of yesterday.

Neil Lennon
Neil Lennon

Just hours after Celtic had announced the sad passing of Sean Fallon, a man who served the club with distinction and class over three decades, came word that Southampton had brutally dismissed their manager Nigel Adkins despite a near impeccable two-and-a-half year stint.

Neil Lennon was part of, presumably, a fairly select band of people with a connection to both men so it did not come as a surprise that his mood yesterday was a combination of sadness at Fallon's passing and anger at the treatment meted out to Adkins.

Fallon was, of course, long retired by the time Lennon came to Celtic as a player 13 years ago but the pair met frequently over the years, most significantly at the start of this season when, just a few days after his 90th birthday, Fallon unveiled the championship flag won by Lennon and his players last May. A soon-to-be-published biography will chart Fallon's achievements, most notably his role as Jock Stein's assistant as Celtic won the European Cup and nine successive league championships, but it was the Irishman's warm, endearing personality that Lennon appreciated the most.

"I was pretty sad to hear the news this morning," said the Celtic manager. "He will be sorely missed and my thoughts go out to his family. Despite the fact he was getting on in years, he still had a really sharp brain, a sharp wit. He was always very fit looking and kept himself immaculate. It's just a great loss for us because he's an icon and very, very popular with everyone around the club. He was a great servant for the club, a real gentleman.

"It was fantastic to be with him as he unfurled the flag at the start of the season. I couldn't think of anyone better to do it for us. The last time I saw him was the [125th] anniversary photograph and he was still in great form then. He had a good innings. But I'm very sorry he's passed away. It's just a sad day for the club."

It was a sad day for Southampton, too. The decision taken by Nicola Cortese, the club's chairman, to sack Adkins did not go down well with the majority of their supporters, nor with Lennon. The pair had spent time together earlier in the week at the inaugural European Managers and Coaches Forum, with Adkins seemingly none the wiser that his position was in jeopardy. With managers being given less and less time to make an impact, Lennon admitted it may put him off taking on a new challenge.

"Why would you? It's not just confined to England. How long do you keep your job in Italy? Where is the stability at those clubs? Spain . . . there are a lot of sackings of managers who are going well. I suppose if anybody does come in for you, you're going to have to do a bit of background on the history of the owner and his sacking record.

"I don't understand the logic of Nigel's sacking. He's just gone to Chelsea and got a draw, he won the game before that. He's had back-to-back promotions. I'm not too sure what more Nigel could have done. That [instability] was one of the topics brought up [at the forum], the low percentage of managers, particularly first-time managers, who reach 250 games in a job. It's a very difficult thing to do these days, particularly when you have owners who see the game differently."

That aside, Lennon enjoyed his time at St George's Park, most notably the chance to pick the brains of esteemed managers like Sir Alex Ferguson and Fabio Capello. "It was fantastic," Lennon enthused. "There were a lot of tactics and ideas discussed. I was impressed by a lot of the people there. Howard Wilkinson, who was introducing the whole thing, was great. It was interesting talking to Steve McClaren about working in Holland and Germany. It was great just to mix with these guys and to chew the fat over a few things. Everyone is in the same boat. Everyone is under pressure at their own clubs for varying reasons."

Lennon returns to Clydesdale Bank Premier League action this afternoon, hoping the time off has done his squad some good ahead of the match with Hearts. "It was a chance to get the players refreshed again, mentally and physically and that wouldn't have happened without a winter break. I think everybody's found it beneficial to a certain extent."

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