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Lennon is walking in footsteps of Maley and Stein

NEIL Lennon isn't likely to be found in Glasgow's Mitchell Library scanning old newspaper coverage of Celtic games.

Neil Lennon celebrates at Firhill as his Celtic side secure a third title under his management. Picture: SNS
Neil Lennon celebrates at Firhill as his Celtic side secure a third title under his management. Picture: SNS

He won't be easily spotted poring over the pages of dusty ledgers chronicling ancient minutiae at Parkhead. Were he ever to appear on Mastermind, the club's history might not be the topic he would chose as his specialist subject. But all of that aside, it doesn't take long in the company of the Celtic manager to detect a bona fide aficionado.

Amid some chaotic, almost slapstick scenes in the north of Glasgow two nights ago, Celtic won the league again. At full-time, a planned celebration in front of the away fans at Firhill was aborted when a couple of hundred of their younger, more excitable ones ignored orders and invaded the pitch. Then a fire alarm went off in the main stand, it's ring suffocating the excited chatter.

It was a daft context for a profound moment in the Celtic story. There were only three men who had ever delivered three consecutive Scottish league titles for the club: Willie Maley, Jock Stein and Gordon Strachan. Lennon has now nudged his way on to the pedestal beside them.

He can never hope to emulate Maley or Stein in longevity, nor in impact. Maley ruled for 43 years, for heaven's sake, and Stein for 13. Maley won so many trophies it feels necessary to spell it out: 30. That's t-h-i-r-t-y. Stein came pretty close to him, with 24 domestic prizes, and he planted the European Cup on top of the pile.

Lennon cannot embed himself as deeply into the Celtic tapestry as those two but, at the age of 42, his record already stands comparison with that of all their other managers, including Strachan. Both won the league three times in their first four seasons, the difference being that Celtic lost out in Strachan's final season and in Lennon's first.

"I know the footsteps I'm walking in," said Lennon. "I'll probably never be remembered in the folklore of the club like some other managers but I want to make my stamp on the place. I think that's vital, and it's relative now. I hope people will remember me for a few years to come.

"Currently, it's important to find a team - without Rangers being around - who play well in the current climate and play better than everyone else as well."

If Celtic win the title again in a year's time - with Lennon the man to have done it - he will leave Strachan in his slipstream. Only Maley (who reached five) and Stein (nine) have ever managed four-in-a-row for Celtic. "I'm disappointed that we haven't already done four in a row [they suffered a fatal stumble against Caledonian Thistle in the 2010-11 run-in and lost the title to Rangers]," said Lennon. "That was up against Walter Smith, who was a magnificent manager. We had the opportunity and we let it go. But we've learned from that and we've been really consistent over the last three years.

"Everyone will make comparisons, but we live in different times. I'm the manager of Celtic currently and I want to make the most of that time. Reaching milestones like three-in-a-row is important to me personally but not in the big scheme of things. What is important is the growth of the club. I would love us to be competing in the Champions league every year, but it would cost £200m to build a team to be able to do that."

Lennon and his chief executive, Peter Lawwell, conducted a number of broadcast interviews yesterday, some to a Scottish audience and some across the United Kingdom. Familiar grievances were aired again, namely the gnawing frustration the club feels as its nose is pressed against the window of English football's staggering media rights deals. "When people dismiss the Scottish Premiership, I get the hump," said Lennon on Talksport. "It sometimes downgrades what we're doing as a club and what I have as a team. It's tough to make comparisons."

Maley reigned for so long the game went through some fundamental changes, but football in that era was still recognisably the same pastime it was during the Stein years. Neither of them ever felt they had to defend to assert their teams' credentials as the best in the country once a league had been won. Nor, it has to be said, did their teams, some of them magnificent, celebrate as ostentatiously as Celtic or any other champions do these days.

There will be a lap of honour after Celtic face Ross County at Parkhead tomorrow and a podium celebration. No trophy will be presented - that will likely come on the final home game of the season - but why let a perfectly good podium go to waste?

The Celtic supporters occasionally chant about 10-in-a-row - the Old Firm's holy grail - and the slow burn of that anticipation is understandable. But might there be a danger of moments like this week's not being properly savoured?

Lennon is entitled to anticipate at least one more year of league

dominance, and probably many more than that, but did he ever pause to let it all properly

soak in?

"I will enjoy the moment, as a lot of planning goes into it, a lot of sleepless nights, too. I said to the players that they should savour it, because it can pass so quickly. We'll enjoy this moment and we'll enjoy being at home on Saturday in front of our own fans.

"I want to win the league next season. I'd like to win a treble, that's a difficult thing to do and I've come close a couple of times. They are tough to achieve, especially when you are playing Champions League as well. But that's the incentive for me and an ambitious target. Whether or not

I achieve it is another thing.

"I want us to be consistent in the Champions league. I think recruitment is the key between now and the time the qualifiers start [on July 15/16]."

There should not be any pitch invasions or fire alarms when Celtic return to Parkhead

tomorrow but there's still some disarray around their own ground. Major building work has been transforming Kerrydale Street; diggers, holes and piles of earth have disfigured the area for weeks.

Eventually, Parkhead will look spruced up and there will be an "Avenue of Heroes" stretching from London Road to the stadium's front door. Maley and Stein will merit the grandest statues. Their work is done.

The Celtic story winds on, though, and Lennon's chapter continues to expand.

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