CELTIC legend John Hughes has urged his old club to give Neil Lennon the manager’s job NOW.
The 76-year-old former Scotland international frontman, the club’s seventh-highest scorer with 189 goals, reckons the Irishman has proved himself as a worthy successor to Brendan Rodgers.
Big Yogi, speaking to CQN, said: “I have been extremely impressed with what Neil has contributed so far.
“He has hit the ground running in what must have been a very difficult transition. They say no act ever wanted to follow Sinatra and that might have been how Neil felt when he was asked to take over from Brendan.
“Let’s face it, he was on a hiding to nothing. Rodgers had won seven domestic honours on the trot and a lot of the Celtic support believed he could walk on water.
“So, Neil would have realised what exactly he was taking on when he accepted the interim role.
CAPITAL GAINS…James Forrest scores the first goal in Neil Lennon’s return against Hearts in February.
“He deserves great credit for that alone. With the transfer window closing the previous month, he didn’t even have the opportunity to bring in his own players.
“Plus he inherited a squad with four loan signings and three of them – Oliver Burke, Timothy Weah and Jeremy Toljan – had just arrived in January.
“There was a fair bit of upheaval and remember, too, that Brendan took his No.2 Chris Davies and coach Kolo Toure with him to Leicester City.
“Neil didn’t just have the side on the pitch to sort out, but the backroom team, as well.
“John Kennedy, of course, stepped up as his assistant, but, although he is gaining a good reputation. he is still a rookie at this level. The same goes for Damien Duff.
“Neil hardly had time to draw breath when he was taking Celtic to face Hearts at Tynecastle where they had lost earlier in the season.
“It was crucial the team did not drop points in Edinburgh. A reverse might have sapped morale and would certainly have acted as a boost to Rangers.
LAST-GASP…Odsonne Edouard nets the stoppage-time winner against Dundee at Dens Park in March.
“Of course, a stoppage-time goal from Odsonne Edouard made sure of a winning return for the manager and then all eyes were on Easter Road a few days later when Neil had to prepare the team for the Scottish Cup quarter-final against his old club Hibs.
“A loss in that encounter would have killed any hopes of a historic treble treble. Ironically, the venue was a place where Brendan Rodgers had never managed to get a win in three attempts, with two defeats and a draw.
“The pressure on Neil Lennon that Saturday evening must have been awesome. He hadn’t even been in charge of the team for a week when these two games in Edinburgh came around.
“He’s been a steady hand on the tiller when the club has needed it most and I reckon he has proved he has the credentials and the temperament to take the club forward.
“I think he is due that opportunity and the sooner and decision is made the better for everyone.”
Hughes has looked at the so-called candidates for the manager’s job with names such as Jose Mourinho, Rafa Bentiez and Roberto Martinez bandied around and remains firmly in Lennon’s camp.
PRIZE GUYS…Tom Rogic and James Forrest after the Aussie’s goal in the 3-0 semi-final win over Aberdeen.
He said: “A club the size of Celtic with its worldwide appeal will attract all sorts of names for a prime and prestigious position.
“This is certainly not the time to experiment with bosses who don’t know what Scottish football is all about.
“Progress in Europe is essential, of course, and the two years under Ronny Deila pushed us backwards, I believe.
“No disrespect to the Norwegian who did bring in two championships, but the team suffered in this arena during his time in charge.
“Neil has guided the team to some excellent results in Europe – the 2-1 victory over Barcelona in 2012 immediately springs to mind – and I would have every confidence on him building on what Brendan Rodgers started.
“And I doubt if there will be any horrible 7-0, 7-1 or 5-0 defeats along the way as suffered in the Nou Camp and home and away against Paris Saint-Germain.”
Hughes added: “This is going to be a massive summer of change at Parkhead. Weah has already returned to Paris Saint-Germain and the three other loan players are due to return to their clubs and there are others coming out of contract such as Dedryck Boyata, Mikael Lustig, Emilio Izaguirre and Cristian Gamboa.
“If you look at the team, you can see every position, from back to front, needs strengthening. Scott Bain has taken over in goal and Craig Gordon hasn’t been seen recently due to injury.
“That has meant Dorus De Vries stropped for action in recent games, but the Dutchman will also become a free agent next month and a team of the magnitude of Celtic require at least three top-class performers for the No.1 position.
“It will be a hectic period in the summer transfer marker before the window closes at the end of August.
“That’s why it makes sense to make a decision on Neil Lennon’s future as swiftly as possible to end the guessing games and allow him the time to put his stamp on the player squad.
ON-FIRE FORREST…the Celtic winger runs away after scoring the winner with Connor Goldson and Allan McGregor helpless.
“Celtic will need to spend if they are going to continue to make progress. Neil’s record in the market in the past has been good and he has brought in quality players such as Virgil Van Dijk, Fraser Forster, Victor Wanyama and Gary Hooper without breaking the bank.
“I think they arrived for a total outlay of around £9million and the club got that back plus £1million when the goalkeeper went to Southampton.
“Something in the region of £30million was generated for Van Dijk, Wanyama and Hooper when they left for England.
“So, Neil has proved conclusively he can spot genuine talent at reasonable prices.
“I believe he has got a lot to offer and, at 47, he is still a young manager with a big future ahead of him.
“I just hope he spends it at Celtic.”
*Don’t miss the unbeatable match report from the Rangers v Celtic game this afternoon – only in your champion CQN.