Lennon looks to the longer term

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The Independent Online

When Gordon Strachan left Pittodrie for Manchester United 21 years ago, he felt he had taken Aberdeen as far as they could go. He was right.

Strachan got out at the high point in Aberdeen's history. Two European trophies had been won - in those days, Sir Alex Ferguson's old team were more successful than his current one - and a second Scottish Premier League title embraced in four seasons. Strachan goes back today to the place that used to echo to chants of his name, but this time the Celtic manager's sense of timing tells him that another feisty redhead should be sticking around, not departing.

Neil Lennon will lead Celtic out for Strachan's Pittodrie reunion eager to prove he has had a new lease of life at 34. The captaincy has come late to the Northern Irishman in his five years at Parkhead and now that that he has had a taste of it, he feels there is unfinished business for him at Celtic - especially in Europe - which is why Lennon has expressed a desire to sign a new contract if the club want to keep him.

"I see no reason why Neil can't play on," said Strachan, who hung up his own boots at 40. "He's like me. I stopped my career on a Monday morning after playing against Liverpool in front of 45,000 people. I just walked in and said 'that's enough for me'. I don't know what's going to happen but we're enjoying his company and his play. He's enjoying his training and has been excellent. I will let him go on enjoying himself."

Lennon has had some time to reassess his ambitions. The midfielder's suspension for being sent off against Rangers at Ibrox in August put him out of action for three weeks. Lennon came back leaner and hungrier in every sense, as he proved in Celtic's two Old Firm derby successes last month, and now he's eager to remain part of Strachan's Celtic revolution.

"It's always been in the back of my mind that I haven't really had the chance to captain the team in Europe," Lennon reflected on Friday. "However, I'm really enjoying this season and you can't look that far ahead really. My priority is to try and win the championship and that is what we are focusing on. The contract stuff is not at the forefront of my mind. The plan is that nearer the end of the season both parties will have a look at things."

Last weekend's shock defeat by Dunfermline at Parkhead has galvanised Strachan's men for a tough next month that takes them to three tough away games at Aberdeen, Inverness and Hearts. "You can never dismiss it as a blip," said Lennon. "You have to analyse it to make sure we don't make the same mistakes again."

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