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Celtic boss Neil Lennon admits next season will not bring same levels of scrutiny as when taking Brendan’s mantle

© Steve WelshNeil Lennon picked up the Scottish Football Writers’ Manager of the Year award to go with the Premiership and Betfred Cup trophies he had already lifted last term
Neil Lennon picked up the Scottish Football Writers’ Manager of the Year award to go with the Premiership and Betfred Cup trophies he had already lifted last term

Neil Lennon knows what it’s like to clinch a Treble.

He’s waiting to hear if and when he’ll be given the chance to win Celtic’s fourth-in-a-row with a resumption of the Scottish Cup.

But already the Hoops boss has secured three honours in season 2019-20 – the Premiership, the Betfred Cup – and now the William Hill Scottish Football Writers’ Association Manager of the Year award.

It’s the third time Lennon has picked up the accolade, and you’d have to think he would be the prime candidate again should he steer his men to 10-in-a-row next season.

However, the Northern Irishman insists the pressure of trying to deliver that historic milestone will not come close to the heat he experienced when finishing off the Treble following Brendan Rogers’ departure in 2018-19.

“Next season is certainly going to be one of the most exciting, that’s for sure,” said Lennon after learning of his award.

“In terms of pressure, however, I don’t think I’ll ever go through what I went through when I came in the second time around.

“That was very pressurised, a really intense period of my managerial career, and one in which I was under unbelievable scrutiny and analysis. I took a lot from that.”

Lennon can expect lorry loads of both in the campaign to come. The difference is, this time he has complete confidence in the group to get the job done.

“I’ve had a good 14 or 15 months now back in the job, so I’m comfortable in my own skin,” said the 48-year-old.

“We’ve got a real good structure and backroom staff here, as well as a great group of players.

“We got there in 2018-19, and this season we carried it on and played with a real swashbuckling style that the fans enjoyed.

“With the improvement in individuals, the style of play and the amount of goals we scored, we were really good to watch.

“They are winners and they do it in a style that is very pleasing.

“So I am excited, I am hopeful and the pressure is one I am looking to enjoy more than I would have when I came in those first few months.

“I am excited and I think the players and fans will be, too.

“It’s something monumental we’re going for and has never been done before, so that’s a huge driving motivation for everyone.”

Lennon was also keen to stress that as much as he accepts all the chat will be of 10 in the months ahead, no-one should forget Europe.

It is one of the many footballing anomalies of the coronavirus crisis that Rangers have completed their domestic campaign yet remain in contention to win the 2019-20 Europa League.

Celtic do not have that commitment, their interest ended when they were bustled out of the competition at the round of 32 by FC Copenhagen.

The electrifying win against Lazio in the Stadio Olimpico to get them through to the knock-out stages, though, was both a throwback to some great continental nights of old, and a tantalising promise of what could be possible once again.

“We had a great Europa League campaign – up until we went out,” said the Celtic manager, who was a key part of Martin O’Neill’s side who reached the 2003 UEFA Cup Final.

“They can take a lot of pride from the way they performed in Europe, home and away.

“Our away record was amazing really. We only lost two in all competitions.

“The volume of goals, the quality of football and individual players developing their game was a big source of satisfaction for me and, in this, I have to thank my backroom team.

“We brought in some new players who integrated brilliantly into the squad. They can take a lot of pride from their first season because it’s not easy.

“You are under intense scrutiny and pressure at Celtic. There is an expectation within the club, with what teams of the past have achieved.

“They have carried on that mantle.”

Celtic will do well to bring Fraser Forster back from Southampton, while Odsonne Edouard’s record of 28 goals over the 2019-20 campaign has left the club braced for predatory offers from England and further afield.

The manager remains confident that even should they lose star individuals, the group will be able to overcome.

“Obviously we have the recruitment process, bringing players in, which we are very excited about,” said Lennon.

“Through this pandemic, we have had a bit more time to reflect and assess things.

“It’s monumental what the club has done over the last decade. More than ever, we go into this season with real excitement and anticipation.”