• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Three men who have each spent time in the same boat

THREE men, one night, two teams and a shared past.

Gordon Strachan gave Neil Lennon his first coaching job at Celtic and remains a mentor. Picture: James Galloway
Gordon Strachan gave Neil Lennon his first coaching job at Celtic and remains a mentor. Picture: James Galloway

The infinite capacity of football to throw up the most compelling of dramas was shown yet again in Nice as the contents of a group of plastic balls ensured that a reunion of former Celtic managers will be held on a touchline in Glasgow, perhaps even at Parkhead itself.

The meeting between Scotland and the Republic of Ireland on November 14 will have a significance on both sides' hopes of trying to qualify for Euro 2016 in Group D.

It will also have a personal fascination for Neil Lennon, the Celtic manager, who has played for the club under both managers. It is also likely to be played on a ground where Lennon, O'Neill and Strachan have savoured an endured extraordinary nights of football.

It is understood Ibrox will host Scotland's first home game against Georgia on Saturday, October 11, and that Celtic Park will be awarded the visit of the Irish as Hampden recovers from the Commonwealth Games.

Lennon will thus watch from the stands as Strachan and O'Neill parade the touchline where they witnessed the title-winning teams they built.

He is candid in declaring his debt to both men. O'Neill, of course, guided the then holding midfielder for more than a decade at Leicester City and Celtic. However, Strachan gave the Northern Irishman his first job as a coach at Lennoxtown. Both have been mentors and friends.

So who is the better manager?

"I can't answer that," said Lennon. "Martin had a huge influence on my career and I will always be indebted to him and in the last stages of my career, Gordon had a huge influence on me as well."

This is an example of that rarest of breeds: Lennon sacrificing frankness for diplomacy.

It is, though, born of the respect he has for two of his predecessors at Celtic Park. Lennon has taken advice and comfort from both. O'Neill famously put an arm around his player's shoulder after he had been pilloried at Ibrox and Strachan has been on hand in moments of doubt and nervousness.

Lennon acknowledged that both his former managers were different in approaches but had no hesitation in declaring his respect for both. "Both of them are brilliant men and brilliant managers - man-management and on the tactical side as well," he said. He picked out O'Neill's knowledge of what were the "big moments in games", adding: "He is very mentally strong."

Of the Scotland manager, he said: "I owe Gordon a lot as well. I was there for a year and a bit under him and I learned a lot from how he approached games and on the training ground."

He calls both for advice on pragmatic grounds, adding: "They are the two who know better than anyone how to handle the job and what you are going to confront."

And the best advice he received from either? "Martin just said I should trust my instinct," he said. Strachan was particularly helpful on the day of the William Hill Scottish Cup final against Hibernian last year.

"My stomach was churning. I asked him: 'Do you go through the same thing?' He said: 'Absolutely'. So I didn't feel that I was a freak - it happens to everyone. You need those wee crumbs of comfort from them every now and again when you are feeling it a wee bit."

The immediate cause of tension for Lennon will be the visit to Pittodrie tonight when Celtic seek to continue their unbeaten record in the SPFL Premiership against an Aberdeen side that knocked them out of the William Hill Scottish Cup.

Lennon concedes it will be the biggest test of an unbeaten run in the league that now stretches to 26 games this season. "Aberdeen are second, we are away from home and they are the only team to score against us in the last couple of months - and the only team to beat us as well," he said, acknowledging the degree of difficulty.

Celtic may be without Leigh Griffiths, who has a calf strain, and Stefan Johansen, who is struggling to be fit, but James Forrest and Emilio Izaguirre are ready to return.

There is no need to search for motivation after Aberdeen came to Glasgow and put Celtic out of the Scottish Cup. "There is a freshness with the cup game being so recent," said Lennon. "We didn't play well on the day and we get an early chance to rectify that."

This determination is inbred. It would be recognised by both O'Neill and Strachan.

Contextual targeting label: 
Football

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

215297