Neil Lennon’s decision to take charge of Championship strugglers Bolton last October, five months after leaving Celtic and 17 months on from being the favourite to replace David Moyes at Everton, created the suspicion that the Northern Irishman was selling himself short.
However, now that he has emerged as the [2.2] favourite to succeed Nigel Pearson at Premier League side Leicester, the shrewdness of his unlikely career move is becoming apparent.
Click here to read Joe Dyer’s profiles of the six frontrunners
Whereas his Celtic accomplishments read very impressively – three Scottish Premiership titles, two Scottish Cups, a Champions League round-of-16 appearance and a victory over Barcelona – Premier League employers are as suspicious of success in Scotland as they are of prolific Eredivisie strikers.
The even more decorated Walter Smith was forced to return north of the border after failing to bring his Rangers form to Everton. Gordon Strachan’s Celtic trophy haul was similar to Lennon’s and he had plenty of past English experience, but bombed in the Championship with promotion hopefuls Middlesbrough and was out of work for 27 months afterwards until the national team came calling.
Lennon’s record was the easiest yet for Scottish football sceptics to pick holes in due to the absence of a competitive Rangers. Though he had admirable European results to counter that criticism with, it is unwise to hire a manager that you will judge on league progress based on cup performances.
So the 44-year-old adopted a tactic that has also served Steve McClaren well this summer: if the door to the Premier League is locked, go next door to the Championship and start climbing that fence until someone takes notice and lets you in.
Bolton were bottom of the second tier (yes, we’re talking below Blackpool!) when he took over, five points from safety already having scrambled together just five from their opening 11 games.
Lennon was able to inject some upward momentum into a club that had spent four years in constant decline position-wise, lifting them to 18th, a full ten points clear of any relegation danger. Had the season commenced the day that his reign began, they would have finished in the top half.
Picking a side at the bottom was a particularly smart call because it eliminates almost all of the question marks from his stint at Celtic.
Were his Bhoys achievements because he inherited a squad used to winning? No, he revived a group on a run of one win in 11 at Bolton. Was it because he was able to attract the best players? No, he signed one player for a fee at the Macron Stadium and was still able to stop their rot. Could he turn around a team on a losing streak? Evidently.
Suddenly, he has shown that he possesses the versatility to both furnish expectant fans with the silverware that they demand or restore pride to a fading force.
And what better vacancy to arise so soon after proving all this than one at a Premier League club where he already has existing positive relationships from his playing days?