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Lennon's phone is red hot but time will be taken

NEIL LENNON's telephone has already been "red hot".

Johan Mjallby and Neil Lennon spent four successful years as a team at Celtic. Picture: SNS
Johan Mjallby and Neil Lennon spent four successful years as a team at Celtic. Picture: SNS

The decision by Johan Mjallby to step down as Celtic assistant manager has prompted a deluge of unsolicited interest from those who quite fancy the idea of working alongside Lennon and training, motivating and moulding the Scottish champions. Those prospective candidates will go on a shortlist that Lennon and Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, will put together over the coming weeks. By June 24, the day the Celtic players return for pre-season training, Lennon hopes his new deputy will also be in place.

It will not be Garry Parker, who will remain as first-team coach, nor will it be Henrk Larsson or John Kennedy. Larsson is coaching in Sweden and Lennon cannot imagine his erstwhile Celtic team-mate giving that up. "I think he likes doing his own thing," said Lennon. "I'd probably be looking for someone with a bit more experience."

For the same reason, Kennedy, cutting his coaching teeth in the Celtic youth set-up, will not be considered at this point. "It's too early for John just yet and he is quite happy doing what he's doing."

Lennon has tended to deploy people familiar to him within his backroom team but that may not be the case this time around. The only criterion in the job description will be the ability to replicate what Mjallby brought to the set-up.

"It is exciting for me as well, someone coming in with a different skillset maybe and a different view of the game," added Lennon.

"What you don't want is someone bickering with you 24/7 but I'd like someone to come in and challenge me on a few things and certainly have a level of intelligence. Johan was never a 'yes' man. He had his own thoughts on things and we did argue over a things, but it never came to blows. Which is a good thing because I'd have lost.

"I'll obviously sit with Peter and we'll go through the various candidates for the job. It doesn't have to be someone I know but it might be. What we'll do is just try and pick the right one, or who we think is the right one anyway. I'm not convinced what I'm looking for as yet.

"Ideally, if the guy is astute on the training ground, he might bring something fresh to what we are doing. Maybe European experience as well - that's not a necessity but it would certainly help."

Lennon, of course, would rather not have to replace Mjallby at all but understands why the former Celtic defender has elected to move on.

After four years as Lennon's assistant, and with his family already back in Sweden, Mjallby has decided it is time for him to move back home too. Lennon insists he is not aware of his friend having a new job already lined up, but expects he will go on to make a fine manager.

"Johan's got his own ambitions and interests that he wants to pursue," he added. "I tried to talk him out of it on a few occasions but he's very strong-minded. He thought that four years was enough.

"He has been away from his family for over 18 months as well, and that can take its toll. He's got two kids who are going through college, university, and he's been away from them for quite a while. So, I fully understand it. I'm very disappointed, obviously, because he's been with me since day one.

"He's certainly got the personality for [management] and he's got the experience he's had here to stand him in good stead. He was my confidant, my No.2, someone whose opinion I really trusted and still do."

Mjallby's departure was a source of disappointment for the players as well. "He has been great, we can't thank him enough for what he has done for us as a back four," said Charlie Mulgrew. "The manager might get a lot of credit, deservedly so, but there are a lot of people in the background, like Johan, who play massive parts as well."

Celtic take on Inverness Caledonian Thistle tomorrow, the SPFL Premiership title having long been secured. News from across the city that Rangers intend on challenging their supremacy in two years' time piqued Lennon's interest.

"It's certainly ambitious. But, if they do make the Premiership in a year or two's time, maybe they will be looking to mount a challenge.

"I don't know what state their finances are in at the minute, but they'll certainly have a bit to go to catch us because we are pretty strong. We're not in any rush to relinquish the title just yet."

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