Parkhead hero Neil Lennon wants to be remembered as a great football manager – and not as a martyr to the Celtic cause.
After a season from hell on and off the field, Lennon is thankful for the fresh start offered at home and abroad this week.
Lennon and Celtic return to their roots for Saturday’s nostalgic Super Cup date with Inter Milan at the Aviva Stadium.
The manager will be afforded a hero’s welcome by thousands of Irish fans when he leads his team out for the re-run of the 1967 European Cup final in the new tournament.
But he is not looking for any sympathy from the Bhoys Irish support after the death threats, postal bombs and sideline hassles of last season.
“I don’t want to be remembered as a martyr to the cause, I want to be remembered as a really good football manager,” insisted Lennon as his side opened their Scottish League season with a 2-0 win at Hibernian on Sunday.
“The Celtic support threw a big protective arm around me last season and football is my only focus going into this new season. If the other thing raises its head again then I am sure it will be handled the same way as it was last year.
“That’s all in the past now as far as I am concerned. The security forces and the government in Scotland are making sweeping changes and stamping down on it and that can only be for the betterment of the game.
“I will try to live my life as normally as I can. Where I get my kicks is going into work everyday and watching my players play, train and improve.”
Some Lennon critics – including RTE pundit Eamon Dunphy, claimed the Celtic manager needed to look in the mirror after events on and off the field last term.
But Lennon is having none of that line of criticism.
“That’s an easy excuse for people to hide behind and I have no respect for those people,” added the former Northern Ireland and Celtic midfielder.
“They said for 10 years that the aggression in my play was the reason I was booed and that was a misnomer as well.
“I know what the expectations are with this job and I know the pressures, the challenges and the criticisms that go with it as well. I knew them before I took it because I have been engrained in this club for 11 years now.”
As he prepares to bring his team to Dublin on Saturday, after opening their Scottish season with goals from Anthony Stokes and Ki Sng-yeung at Hibs, Lennon knows a title challenge is a must in the coming months.
“My priority now is to win the Championship and look to take the club into European action in December as well,” he said.
“There were a conflicting set of emotions last season but also one of great encouragement in the way the team and the club have gone forward. That’s what matters.
“The bookies have made is favourites for this season so they must know something but that is a tag my players can live with.
“They go into most games in Scotland as favourites anyway so it is something they can handle.”
Ireland has always been important to Celtic, historically and financially, and Lennon is keen to cement that relationship this weekend.
“When I was growing up everyone was a Celtic fan, even if their first club was in England,” remembered the Armagh man.
“There is a real affinity between the club and Ireland and I hope to see a huge turn-out of our Irish fans against Inter on Saturday and the Airtricity League on Sunday.
“The game with Inter is a perfect warm-up for Europe for us and it will whet people’s appetite for the Champions League so we are really looking forward to the weekend.”
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