BY IAIN COLLIN – @CCP_sport
LEEANN Dempster believes Hibernian’s ability to attract Neil Lennon as the club’s new manager is further proof that Scottish football is on the up.
Lennon’s appointment comes hot on the heels of Celtic naming former Liverpool boss Brendan Rodgers as Ronny Deila’s successor and Rangers’ capture of ex-Manchester City and Newcastle United midfielder Joey Barton.
Languishing in the Championship for a third successive season, there was surprise that Hibs could entice Lennon to take over at Easter Road, just two years after leaving Celtic.
However, Dempster believes that succeeding in their pursuit of the high-profile Northern Irishman reflects well on not only Hibs but also the game north of the border as a whole.
“Folk always say ‘oh, Scottish football’ but I think Scottish football is on the up and it has been on the up for a wee while,” said the Hibs chief executive. “I always feel enthused about Scottish football and going to football matches here.
“You look at other appointments in Scotland this year and in recent years and I think it is strong.
“For Neil to come back to Scotland, to come to Hibernian, is a statement that we are all in better shape. I hope that continues and the curve goes up the way.
“He is obviously a manager who is known UK-wide and worldwide. You only have to look at the excitement among the supporter base about his appointment.
“As soon as it was talked about, it was something they were getting very, very excited about. So it can only be a good thing for us.”
Dempster has admitted Lennon instantly became the club’s number-one choice to replace Alan Stubbs as soon as it became clear he was a realistic target.
After Stubbs managed to revitalise the club and land the holy grail of the Scottish Cup, despite his managerial inexperience, directors were thrilled to be able to attract a candidate with such an accomplished record in Scottish football.
Dempster has acknowledged, however, that the pressure is now on to follow up on last month’s first Scottish Cup success in 114 years by returning the club to their ‘rightful place’ in the top-flight.
“Let’s be honest, this is going to be a really pivotal year for us,” confessed Dempster, who insisted there is no need for Lennon to have to sell or release any players and that a budget is available for new signings.
“We’re in the Championship, we need to get ourselves promoted this season, that’s our one aim, and when we knew the opportunity was there to work with Neil and (assistant) Garry (Parker) we wanted to make that happen.
“Need, desperate, urgent – whatever you want to call it, I genuinely believe we are a club who should be in the Premiership.
“You could argue it is needed for finances, but it is a need for this club to be in the Premiership. It is also a wish and a want.”
Meanwhile, Dempster has insisted that the on and off-field sectarian troubles that Lennon has been subjected to in the past played no part in Hibs’ consideration of the 44-year-old as their top choice for the job.
“For me, it was about getting the best coach we could get and focusing on that,” she commented. “I don’t think that’s going to be case (bigotry).
“It’s about focusing on football and supporting him in that, helping him drive us forward to make us as good as we can be.”