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Celtic boss Neil Lennon pays tribute to ‘giant’ Jim McLean ahead of United clash

Neil Lennon File Photo
(Image credit: Andrew Milligan)

Neil Lennon described the late former Dundee United boss Jim McLean as a football giant as Celtic prepared to host the Tannadice side on Wednesday.

The Tayside club are in mourning following the death of their title-winning boss on Boxing Day at the age of 83.

McLean, who spent 22 years as United manager from 1971, led the Terrors to their only league championship in 1983, and made them a force in Europe, reaching the European Cup semi-finals in 1984 and the UEFA Cup final in 1987, beating Barcelona at home and away on their way to the latter.

Hoops boss Lennon said: “I grew up in that era, 13/14 and you had the New Firm of Aberdeen and Dundee United as well as Celtic and Rangers and he was a giant.

“His Dundee United team was one of the best put together in any generation of Scottish football.

“I remember them beating Barcelona and I remember also being really disappointed that they lost the UEFA Cup final to Gothenburg.

“But an incredible achievement and they won the league. He was a giant, really intelligent, a great football guy.

“I got to speak to him a few years ago, I rang him and I think he thought someone was taking the mickey.

“I was at Hibs at the time and I asked him for a little bit of advice but he was a little tentative coming forward because he wasn’t sure if it was me or not.

“But a huge loss, particularly to Dundee United because he was the greatest manager they ever had by a country mile and some of the players and teams he produced were out of this world.”

After the last game of 2020 against United, Lennon’s side will face Rangers at Ibrox on January 2, the 50th anniversary of the Ibrox Disaster.

Following an Old Firm encounter which ended 1-1, 66 fans died and around 200 were injured in a crush on stairway 13.

Lennon said: “My father-in-law was at the game and luckily enough he left early.

“An absolute tragedy. I was at Ibrox a few years ago and it was one of the most poignant moments I have had in my time here when we laid a wreath on the pitch.

“So, it will never be forgotten. We do think about the families who have lost (loved) ones, going to a football match and not coming back, I can’t think of anything worse really.”

Lennon’s side are 16 points behind Rangers at the top of the Premiership but have three games in hand.

However, the former Hoops captain does not expect to see many new faces when the transfer window opens in January and especially not in the goalkeeping department.

Conor Hazard has taken over as number one from Vasilis Barkas and Scott Bain in recent weeks but asked if he was looking to strengthen in that area, Lennon said: “I don’t think it will be an area that we will be looking to strengthen at all.

“We have three very capable goalkeepers. So, in short, the answer is no.

“I am pleased with his (Hazard’s) progress. He’s only had three or four senior games and he has already won a Scottish Cup medal so it is a pretty impressive start to his career.

“You are always looking at options and who may come available but we haven’t really struck a blow in any direction regarding that.

“At the minute I am quite content.

“We only have one injury really (James Forrest), the squad is vibrant and hopefully James will be back in training in a couple of weeks.”