Neil Lennon's star on the rise without domestic strife

Celtic manager benefits from Rangers' demotion as he aims for Double

A misdemeanour almost kept Neil Lennon from leading his side out for the Scottish Cup final at Hampden. He broke the terms of a touchline ban last month by entering a restricted area too soon after the final whistle in a game against Motherwell at Fir Park, but the Scottish Football Association's punishment was a one-match ban suspended for 12 months. It seems fitting that Lennon, at the end of a defining season, can take his place at the forefront of this Celtic side he built rather than concern himself with disciplinary matters.

In many ways, this is the campaign during which Lennon came of age as a manager. Winning the Scottish Premier League for a second consecutive season was expected to be comfortable, with Rangers playing in the Third Division due to last summer's insolvency. Yet Lennon excelled, because without the familiarities of domestic football he was able to capture attention.

Lennon's emotional attachment to Celtic – he grew up in Northern Ireland supporting the club – means he is keenly aware of the club's history. Winning a League and cup Double will secure his place among the club's notable managers.

To the majority of the fans he is already a revered figure, but that is as much to do with his background as a Catholic from Northern Ireland who has encountered prejudice during his time in Scotland.

Defeating Hibernian today would be a rousing finish to a campaign that saw Lennon guide his side to the last 16 of the Champions' League after beating Barcelona at Celtic Park in the group stages.

That result, when improbability was swept aside by a gloriously raucous atmosphere and tactically astute and diligent performance, brought acclaim. Lennon had devised and coaxed an outstanding performance from his team, and briefly he was a fêted manager.

The moment did not pass him by. He had already taken advice about his image and how to raise his profile in England, and he became a regular on national TV and radio. He saw this as an opportunity to present himself.

He had changed his demeanour. While he is still edgy and forceful on the touchline, there have been fewer confrontations with officials and the football authorities. A long chat with Sir Alex Ferguson, who visited Celtic's Lennoxtown training complex last year, was helpful in guiding a young manager – Lennon is 41 – but also in establishing that he is in the mind of British football's most influential figure.

Lennon is ambitious, and has admitted to wanting to test himself in England or the Continent. He has been linked with the vacancies at Everton and Stoke while his former club Leicester City have also been mentioned as a possible destination, yet it seems absurd to consider leaving Celtic, who are all but guaranteed a shot at trying to qualify for the Champions' League for two more seasons at least, for a smaller club in the Championship.

This might be his moment of highest profile, and Lennon can use his standing for leverage. His relationship with Peter Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive, tends to fluctuate, though Lawwell has always stood by Lennon, even through off-field dramas. The manager has a stronger relationship with Dermot Desmond, the majority shareholder and powerbroker, and they were due to meet last week to discuss Lennon's remuneration and transfer budget.

Lennon wants a greater say in recruitment, although the club's hierarchy and transfer policy, involving the development manager, John Park, overseeing talent-spotting in under-utilised markets such as Honduras, is widely admired and generally self-sustaining.

Winning the Scottish Cup would further embolden Lennon. He has managed cleverly and commandingly this season, particularly since the competitive tension of the Old Firm rivalry has been missing. There have been mundane displays, but mostly Celtic have been brightly effective.

They are clear favourites against Hibernian, even if the Edinburgh side won one of their three encounters in the League, with another one drawn. Pat Fenlon's side can be industrious and dynamic, but almost all of their threat gathers around the guile and impetuousness of Leigh Griffiths, on loan from Wolves.

Hibs bring their own narrative to the final, having not won the Scottish Cup since 1902. That burden will tend to draw a sympathetic support from the rest of Scottish football today, and winning would be a cathartic moment as well as a historic one. The club suffered a 5-1 defeat against local rivals Hearts in last season's final.

For Lennon, this is an opportunity to emphasise his standing as a manager of growing reputation. For Hibs it is a chance to atone.

Celtic v Hibernian is on Sky Sports 3 today, kick-off 3pm

Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk