Neil Lennon Could Still Be A Great Manager If He Learns To Calm Down

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Last night, Neil Lennon got into a major touchline bust-up with Jim Duffy of Morton, and was duly sent to the stand. This is hardly the first time it’s happened.

I watched the incident this morning and Neil’s sense of anger was palpable.

The whole thing was unedifying. Highly unprofessional from both. They can expect to be severely carpeted by the SFA.

Neil says Duffy challenged him to a “square go” which the Morton manager has since denied through the club’s official website. In the end it won’t matter; the discipline board will watch the footage and have no choice but to do them.

Neil will miss major games because of it, perhaps even the cup semi-final.

I understood exactly why Neil Lennon was furious. I would have been furious. Any one of would have been.

But he blew it. He reacted so angrily, so aggressively, that it doesn’t matter who’s fault it was … he’s played into the hands of his critics as usual.

What good has he done his team here?

I love Neil Lennon, The Man. I dedicated my first book, in part, to him for the courage he showed in staying at our club in the face of death threats and physical attacks. A lesser man would have quit and hidden under the bed for years, giving in to the hatred and those responsible for it. That would have been a perfectly rational, understandable, reaction. Who needs that stuff in their life? Who wants to go everywhere with a bodyguard?

Neil Lennon showed more determination and true grit than any manager I’ve ever seen. Nobody in the profession ever had to put up with what he did.

When the smirking coward was getting tea and sympathy in every newsroom in the country when his own started to unravel I was furious to read nonsense about how “no other manager ever had to work under this much pressure.” I though “Eah? What?” If had to endure what Neil had, that guy would have emigrated and changed his name and to this day would never have slept in the same bed two nights in a row.

Lennon, The Man, is unimpeachable. A genuine hero.

I have long harboured doubts about Neil Lennon, The Manager, though. One of the reasons is that the courage that manifests itself in his steely determination not to be intimidated, by anyone, is combined with a fiery temper … and it’s forever getting him into trouble.

This is strange, too, because he wasn’t like this as a player. Go back and check. He reminds me, in this regard, of Scott Brown. He picked up a lot of bookings, but very rarely got himself sent off. He would let players on the opposing side know he was there, but his aggression was very disciplined in that he knew how to reign himself in. Scott is exactly like that. I never worry when he is booked early in a match; it never leads to anything more serious.

On the touchline, that discipline goes sometimes. Neil just can’t keep the pin in the grenade. In one way it’s admirable; he shows passion. He clearly cares about his teams and he cares about the game. But he is easily provoked. He is easily riled. I know other managers have baited him. himself did it, easily. Neil gives in to that emotion, to the detriment of his team at times. Hibs are chasing a crucial promotion back to the SPL. He’s no good to in the stand, and all too often he gets dragged into silly showdowns a wiser manager would walk away from.

I wish he would. Neil can still become a top boss. He’s not there yet, and even he would accept that. But he’ll never accomplish that goal until he can better keep his emotions in check on the touchline. This morning he’s facing a lengthy ban and for what?

I understand the need to protect his players and to make sure his feelings are known, but he should take a leaf from Martin O’Neill’s book on that one; he would keep calm until the final whistle and then he would make sure he got the point across in the and after shows.

It was Martin himself who offered Neil a protective arm and marched him across the Ibrox turf to the Celtic fans after one of the vilest displays of bigotry this country has ever seen. Martin was furious; that’s plain. But he picked his moment to unleash it, a Champions League press conference days later, when he threw a live grenade into the mix by calling Neil’s treatment “racist.” That sparked UEFA’s first investigation into sectarian singing at their games.

Likewise today and his comments alleging that Duffy challenged him to a fight. I have no reason to disbelieve Neil on that; on the contrary. Duffy might have denied it this morning with the dismissive words that “I’m not 12 years old” but that’s exactly how he acted in the footage. It was moronic. It was childish.

In light of that, Neil’s claim would have carried ten times the weight had he reacted in a more manner instead of showing just how up for the idea he was.

Even in the press conference afterwards, Neil still looked ready to rock and roll.

He was furious with some of the media questions and didn’t hide that fact; I can sympathise with him here, by the way, because as per usual there were hacks there determined to blame him for the whole incident, when it Duffy was the one who squared up to him.

Neil’s problem was that he showed no remorse or realisation that he, too, had reacted badly. His initial anger over the tackle was over the top, but you can understand it when you think of Seamus Coleman being stretched off the pitch earlier in the week … but he lost it, completely, in the face of Duffy’s own spectacular over-reaction.

I feel bad for Neil watching the press conference he gave after the game, because he knew exactly how the media was giving to spin it. But really, that was inexcusable last night. That could have resulted in a full-on mass brawl or a riot. He has to set a better example. He has to learn, sometimes, to simply walk away. I love the guy, I hate seeing the media flay him, but on this occasion he’s handed the ammo on a plate.

One thing comes out of it; the hacks who have spent months lauding Jim Duffy, putting together their case for making him manager of the year over Brendan Rodgers … do your worst.

Nominate him.

And when you do, I’m going to run the video of him last night at the bottom of every single article all the way to the day of the decision.

Bad enough that Paul Hartley won the SPL manager of the month award for February on the back of two wins and two draws when Brendan completed a clean sweep … but the efforts to deny our manager the big award at the end of the season are pathetic, parochial, bitter and biased.

They are going to have a Hell of a job explaining it if he doesn’t win.

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