BY ALAN TEMPLE – @CCP_Sport
Hibs boss Neil Lennon admits he cringes when he looks back on some of his misdemeanours as a young boss and insists he can’t even recognise that man anymore.
Lennon, 44, will renew hostilities will Falkirk boss Peter Houston when the Championship campaign kicks off in earnest next Saturday, six years on from a bitter spat between the pair.
The Northern Irishman – interim Hoops boss at the time – suggested Celtic were the only team attempting to play football during a 2-0 win at Tannadice in 2010.
Lennon can laugh about it in hindsight, but the humour is mixed with a little embarrassment as he reflects on how he has “mellowed” since then.
He said: “We [Lennon and Houston] had one major run-in really and that was me being a young d*******, really. It was the day he said I hadn’t achieved anything in management yet! I think he’s backtracked on that one since then!
“But it was all fun and games. We know each other very well now so I don’t think there will be too much nonsense going on.
“I laugh when I look back – more or less – and sometimes I cringe. I do. You look back on situations and think ‘I don’t know that person any more.’
“I still have my competitive instincts and you still get your back up about things but that is done in a more controlled manner now.
“I had to learn very quickly. I was still interim manager at that time and that first year was raucous to say the least. But I wouldn’t change it for anything, it is all part of the learning curve.”
In a peculiar twist of fate, Houston would subsequently joining Lennon’s staff at Celtic as chief scout in 2013, laying the foundations for a firm friendship between the pair.
Lauding his achievements in guiding Falkirk to the Scottish Cup final in 2015 and securing a second-place finish in the Championship last term, Lennon reckons Houston could operate at a higher level.
He continued: “Peter was in touch when things weren’t going great at Bolton. Me, Garry [Parker] and Johan [Mjallby] got to know Peter very well and he did a great job for us on the scouting side of things.
“That was never going to be enough for him, though, because he is management material. Falkirk had a hell of a season last season and that was no surprise to me. I am surprised he is still at Falkirk.
“I mean that as no disrespect to Falkirk, he might be really happy there, but I think he can manage at a higher level than that, whether in Scotland or England.”
While thoughtful regarding his own past and complimentary to Houston, there is little chance of Lennon becoming a shrinking violet – a fact he acknowledges himself.
He was sent to the stand in his first competitive match in charge of Hibs against Brondby, despite claiming he made his grievances with the Spanish officials known in a reserved manner during that Europa League defeat.
And his burning will to win shows no sign of fading.
He continued: “You need that edge. If you don’t have that then there’s no point – I wouldn’t be bothered with all this if I didn’t have that edge. It would be pointless. Totally pointless.”
Ahead of the start of the league campaign, in which the Hibees will attempt to escape the Championship at the third time of asking, Lennon insists he feels “reinvigorated”.
At this time last year he was attempting to steer a sinking ship at Bolton amid brutal cost-cutting and turmoil behind the scenes. Twelve months on, and Lennon is adamant he has all the tools he needs to succeed.
Prior to Hibs’ final pre-season friendly at Shrewsbury today, Lennon added: “There is a structure here and everything is in place.
“It is night and day compared to the start of the season at Bolton. I’m a lot happier with the quality of the players and the attitude of the players.
“I know what my budget is so there is a lot more piece of mind there. I’ve absolutely been backed by the club, so now it is down to me to achieve our goals. We are happy and reinvigorated by what we’ve seen here.”