Bottom of the Championship and in dire financial trouble, Bolton Wanderers have acted quickly in finding a replacement for Dougie Freedman – sacked at the beginning of the month – by appointing Neil Lennon as their new manager.
The task which lies ahead for Lennon at his new club is a considerable one, with the Trotters having struggled badly since their relegation from the Premier League in 2012. After amassing debts of £168.3 million – a truly staggering amount – through overspending in a doomed attempt to remain in the top flight, the funds available to Lennon to strengthen the team are not likely to be significant.
The man from Northern Ireland will have to make do with what is in front of him, and maintaining the club’s status in the Championship is surely all that will be required of him in his debut season. After a highly successful spell in his first managerial role at Celtic, winning three Scottish Premier League titles and two Scottish Cups, expectations will be significantly more modest in nature at the Macron Stadium. But is Lennon the man to oversee a reversal in the Trotters’ fortunes?
His strong-willed, confrontational nature, not to mention his achievements north of the border, makes Lennon’s appointment intriguing. Although he enjoyed great success at Celtic as a managerial rookie, one could make the counter argument that such success almost came by default in a largely uncompetitive league devoid of Celtic’s main rivals, Rangers. After four years of very few hardships where Lennon found himself in charge of a team which was expected to win as heavy favourites every weekend, he is now at the helm of a club in dire straits for whom defeat has become, depressingly, commonplace. Whether Lennon is able to cope with such a drastic contrast in only his second role in management will go a long way to determining how well his time at Bolton pans out.
However, if we look beyond the wildly differing on-field fortunes of Celtic and Bolton in recent years, there is reason to believe that Lennon may be a tidy fit for the Wanderers. For all the silverware won by Celtic in recent years, they haven’t exactly been big spenders. Since 2009, the club has not spent more than £3.8 million on a single player, yet the £12.5 million and £10 miillion Southampton paid for Victor Wanyama and Fraser Forster respectively in the past two summer transfer windows are the two highest fees Celtic have received for any of their players. The truth is that the Glaswegian side have become a selling club, and Lennon’s achievements under such financial constraints stands him in good stead for the job at hand at Bolton.
What was most impressive about Lennon’s tenure at Celtic Park was the way in which he got the best out of the moderate resources at his disposal, especially on the continent. Qualifying for the last 16 of the Champions League during the 2012/13 season – famously beating Barcelona in the group stages along the way – ranks as one of his finest achievements and is a perfect example of Lennon getting his side to punch well above its weight. While Bolton are not expected to challenge for European qualification anytime soon, they are certainly underdogs in their domestic league, a label which Lennon has been known to thrive under during his time at Celtic.
One could also make the argument that Lennon’s volatile and combative nature is a danger if things start to go badly at Bolton, yet even the most desperate of predicaments will seem trivial in comparison to the death threats and bomb scares that he suffered at Celtic. Such experiences will have hardened Lennon no end, which will give him the confidence to deal calmly and effectively with the harshest of criticisms and the most intense pressure he may face at Bolton.
Despite being poles part in terms of recent fortunes, the nature of Neil Lennon’s success at Celtic makes him the ideal man to initiate Bolton Wanderers’ revival.