Dermot Desmond and Peter Lawwell keep Neil Lennon afloat in Celtic bubble
Dermot Desmond doesn’t interrupt his annual pilgrimage to Augusta lightly.
So the three telephone conversations between the Irish billionaire and Celtic interim manager Neil Lennon in the build-up to Sunday’s Scottish Cup semi-final against Aberdeen were testament to the significance he attached to the outcome.
There are many and varied views among the Celtic support over whether Lennon should be handed the job again on a permanent basis this summer, while a plethora of alternative candidates have been mooted by bookies, pundits and punters alike. But, when it comes to decision time, the only opinion which will count is that of Desmond.
“I still jump when his number comes up on my phone,” says Lennon. “Don’t worry about that! It keeps you on your toes.”
The 3-0 win which booked Celtic’s place in the Scottish Cup final against Hearts on 25 May and kept them on course for the treble treble was perhaps the most significant step forward yet for Lennon as he waits to discover his longer term future.
He insists he remains content with the situation and is able to disregard the speculation while he tries to focus solely on successfully seeing out the rest of the season.
“I talked with Dermot three times in the week leading up to Sunday,” added Lennon. “I was anxious about the semi-final because of our previous result [0-0] at home to Livingston in the league.
“It’s almost as if you are going from game to game to game and being judged by outsiders. But they don’t make the decisions. We live in a generation now with social media, fake news and stuff being put out there, you just have to blank it out.
“It’s hard sometimes. You try to break it down, but you are living in a bubble really. Lennoxtown and home, Lennoxtown and home. You can get a bit grumpy, you know what I mean?
“Dermot is a great port of call for me, especially as he was in Augusta as well. What was he saying? It was just stuff like ‘How’s the team doing? How are you doing?’ I spoke with him Tuesday, then I rang him on Friday and we spoke again briefly on Saturday. It was all good and positive.
“And I’ve also got [chief executive] Peter Lawwell here and I talk with him every day. I couldn’t ask for two better people to work with in a footballing sense. It was a difficult week, but it was made a lot easier by those two and the conversations I had with them. I have to say that.
“At the end of the day, it’s their club and they have had a great time of it with Brendan Rodgers over the past two-and-a-half years. It’s their club and their opinion and I have no issue with that at all.
“I know the way they work. Dermot has given me the job until the end of the season and he wouldn’t want anything to affect that, the levels of concentration. People forget I have worked with him before, so I know how it works.
“I did it for a long time here, whether as a manager, a player or a coach, so I’m very comfortable with what they are telling me.”
Lennon has cut a noticeably more subdued figure in the Celtic technical area since he stepped in to replace Rodgers in February. That was evident on Sunday. He admits to a deliberate effort on his part to present a calmer demeanour and insists there will be no return to the occasional histrionics of his first spell in charge.
“I’m fighting myself a little bit at the moment,” said. “I’m not as aggressive and sometimes feel I’m holding back. I’m not being natural, but then sometimes it is good to be mellow.
“It’s good for the players that way because they had it like that under Brendan for a long time. Brendan cracked the whip a couple of times and I’ve only had to do it once since I’ve been here.
“Would I change back? You mean like being the Tasmanian Devil? No, no. Those days are long gone.”
Lennon’s focus will now return to securing the two victories required from Celtic’s five post-split Premiership fixtures to clinch their eighth successive league title, starting with Sunday’s trip to face his former club Hibs at Easter Road.
But he is already eagerly anticipating the Scottish Cup final at Hampden next month, when he expects Craig Levein’s Hearts side to provide the sternest possible obstacle to Celtic’s bid to lift the famous old trophy yet again.
“I know Craig very well and I have an awful lot of respect for him,” said Lennon. “We talk privately quite a lot. Despite everything this season, the plethora of injuries he’s had to deal with, Hearts have been to the semi-final of the League Cup, into the top six in the league and are now in the Scottish Cup final. So some of the criticism Craig has had over the piece has been unfair.
“Hearts are a good team. Hibs and Aberdeen were also difficult opponents in the previous two rounds, so if we are going to win the cup, we are going to have to earn it. We expect nothing other than a tough game.”