Fergus McCann 20 years on: Lennon on Celtic squad's debt

NEIL LENNON led an unwilling Fergus McCann into the midst of the Celtic players who were in Boston as part of the pre-season preparations in the summer of 2010.

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McCann and Neil Lennon met up in Boston and the Celtic manager introduced him to the players of today
McCann and Neil Lennon met up in Boston and the Celtic manager introduced him to the players of today

Many of the squad did not recognise the shuffling little man standing beside their manager in a corner of Fenway Park.

But Lennon left them in no doubt what they owed to the shrewd businessman whose intervention and determination saved the club he loves.

As the club prepares to mark the 20th anniversary of McCann riding from Canada to the rescue as the banks moved to within hours of pulling the plug on a then debt-ridden Celtic, Lennon reflected on how humble he found the multi-millionaire saviour to be.

"I introduced Fergus to the players and said to them: 'You know all those nice houses and fancy cars you have got? You would not have them if it were not for this guy.'

"He was very reticent and reluctant to come forward about it.

"Fergus was very humble and shy, but he spoke to the players for a couple of minutes, and I think that pleased him."

McCann's legacy is represented in much more than expensive properties and vehicles.

It is there for all to see at Celtic Park, and in the sound financial footing the club still enjoys.

Had it not been for the man in the battered bunnet and the over-sized spectacles, Celtic might not even exist to have enjoyed its 125th anniversary.

Lennon was at Crewe when it was all going down to the wire in March 1994, and he admits quite oblivious to the crisis at Parkhead.

But he has researched the epic events extensively, and was honoured to get the chance to meet McCann and thank him for what he did.

Mind you, the darker side of the hard-nosed businessman's methods have not been airbrushed by Lennon who admits he does not know if he could have survived as a manager under his regime.

Lou Macari, Tommy Burns, and Wim Jansen didn't.

Lennon laughed when asked if he could have worked for McCann then replied: "Maybe now that he's mellowed a bit, but I'm not sure then. I suppose he had to be cruel to be kind."

Of the tight control McCann kept on finances at the club, both on the playing side and the operational side, Lennon acknowledges a lot of criticism came his way.

But he believes time has shown McCann to have been a visionary.

"He had the foresight to do that, although he was competing against a Rangers team spending big money at the time.

"There are always comparisons made: 'If they are spending big money then why are we not doing the same?'

"But he obviously knew it wasn't wise to do that, and we have now got a fantastic club, great training ground and fantastic stadium.

"That's not just down to Fergus, but he was at the forefront of it."

Now it is Lennon who is charged with delivering the success which keeps Celtic generating the kind of money required to sustain the business model which has been developed from the McCann green-print.

Without the presence of Rangers to boost income and interest, it has become a unique challenge.

But the Hoops are within touching distance of a third straight championship, though it has taken the defeat at Aberdeen in midweek to remind everyone that winning is not a foregone conclusion nor a god-given right.

"We have played very, very well over the last couple of months, and that gets overlooked a lot," said Lennon in defence of the effort his players have put in.

"People just say: 'Well, it's Celtic,' and take it for granted. But I can't look at it that way. I have got to be happy with what I have seen this season.

"We have already got 72 points, and got 79 last year. So, we are well ahead and better off than we were last season.

"It's just the cup competitions, and there's no question that has been disappointing."

He continued: "I was asked the other night about Aberdeen having improved, but no one seems to say that we have actually improved as well.

"That gets lost a little bit.

"People just think we should go unbeaten in the season or that we should be rail-roading teams. It doesn't always happen that way.

"We have had a transitional season, and I have said that all along.

"People have said we're not making progression. But it's difficult to progress when you are selling your best players, and we sold four of those this year, Hooper, Wanyama, Wilson and Ledley.

"So it's a case of maybe stabilising this year and looking to get better next year and build on what is arguably going to be 'just' the league title.

"People always find something to complain about, and say: 'Ah, but, ah but.'

"You've just got to try and avoid the negativity and get on with your job and try to enjoy it as best you can."

He went on: "If you are bringing in players then selling them for big money, it's difficult to replace them straight away.

"However, what I'm seeing now is that we have got Van Dijk in and Biton is starting to make progress, so we are starting to see blooms of improvement."

It's something that would make Fergus McCann purr with delight.

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