Derek McInnes: Neil Lennon became ‘a bit of a punchbag’ at Celtic

The Aberdeen boss said problems at Celtic go beyond the manager.

Derek McInnes: Neil Lennon became ‘a bit of a punchbag’ at Celtic Craig Foy via SNS Group
McInnes defended his "friend and colleague".

Aberdeen manager Derek McInnes has expressed his sadness at Neil Lennon’s exit from Celtic, saying the team’s problems couldn’t all be blamed on the Northern Irishman.

Lennon left the club this week after a season of poor results across all competition, with a defeat to Ross County on Sunday leaving the champions 18 points behind Rangers in the Premierhsip table.

McInnes believes Lennon’s record at the club has to be given credit, and he said that endless criticism this season had made Lennon “a bit of a punchbag”.

“I class Neil as a friend and a colleague and we have been well-versed to playing against each other both as player and manager,” the Dons’ boss said. “He is someone I have a high regard for.

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“It’s really disappointing to see any manager lose his job but I know how important the Celtic job is and was to Neil.

“What has to be said is he is a very successful Celtic manager. Sometimes in the here and now, particularly in Neil’s case this season, he has been a bit of a punchbag for others and he has had to take a lot on the chin, and a lot of criticism has come his way.

“I think when you see the difference points-wise Celtic to Rangers, it’s more than a manager at fault there if people are blaming anybody.

“Time will be kind to Neil. It might not be that now because a lot of people got themselves into a real state this season, the 10-in-a-row thing comes into that, but Neil has been a very successful manager in both spells.

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“In time, even people who have been heavily criticising Neil will see the merits in what he has achieved.

“Neil’s a good manager and he will go on and show someone else he is a good manager.”

The Aberdeen boss is preparing his team to face Celtic this weekend, having felt pressure himself as the team have struggled for goals and form recently, with the club board having felt the need to give him public backing.

McInnes said he felt the ire directed towards managers added to pressure and focus on the men in the dugouts.

“We can’t do anything about that,” he said. “When you sign up to be a manager you have to expect a level of criticism that comes your way when your team don’t win.

“You get the flip side of that when you’re winning games, the praise at times can be a bit overboard. But I have always tried to keep a balance on that.

“As managers that’s becoming a bit more difficult. I get asked a lot more on outside pressures than I do on the game now.

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“I speak to managers from a different era, I speak to Walter (Smith) quite a bit, and I do think they look on with astonishment on what we have to contend with now.

“But it is outside pressure, that’s what you have to keep reminding yourself. The job is still to work closely with your players and get your club as competitive as possible.”