John Kennedy: 'It's a dream' to manage Celtic after starting as a 'boot boy'

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'It's a dream' to manage Celtic one day
Scottish Premiership: Celtic v Aberdeen
Venue: Celtic Park Date: Saturday, 9 March Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Coverage: Live on BBC Radio Scotland, live text commentary on BBC Sport Scotland website

John Kennedy says it is his "dream" to manage Celtic, but insists his immediate focus remains on helping Neil Lennon complete the club's third straight domestic treble.

A former Celtic defender whose career was curtailed by a spate of serious injuries, Kennedy has worked his way through the coaching ranks at the Scottish champions.

He is now Lennon's assistant after the Northern Irishman replaced Brendan Rodgers last month.

Kennedy, 35, tells BBC Scotland about becoming Celtic's youngest player at 16, being told he would never play again a decade later, and his lofty ambitions as a burgeoning coach.

From 'boot boy' to the first team

Teenage Kennedy snorted in the face of Kenny McDowall when the former Celtic youth coach told him he was to train with the first team, at the time managed by Kenny Dalglish.

"I was getting some cereal at the breakfast bar and laughed at him, 'aye, right', and walked away. He had to come after me and say, 'no, you're actually training with the first team'," Kennedy recalls.

"Shock, nerves, a bit of butterflies... I went out, trained and found out after the session I was going to be in the squad for Motherwell the following night."

He was named on the bench for the 4-0 shellacking Celtic dished out. The game had entered its final 10 minutes when Dalglish gave him "the shout".

"It was pure excitement - just get me on. I remember the stadium, the feeling, the team winning 4-0," he says.

"It was a strange few months going from an apprentice boot boy who occasionally plays with the youth team to stepping out on to Celtic Park which was a dream for a long time. It was a big achievement, but at that point, I was young and there were injuries and gaps in the first team to maybe give young ones an opportunity. I did everything I could to make an impression."

John Kennedy and Neil Lennon celebrate a Celtic goal
With John Kennedy as his assistant, Neil Lennon has won both matches since returning to Celtic as manager

'My shin popped out of position'

Five years on, Kennedy was a regular at the heart of Martin O'Neill's Celtic defence. He starred in a draw with Barcelona at the Nou Camp and an Old Firm derby triumph at Ibrox before being called up for his Scotland debut against Romania in March 2004.

Then, disaster struck. Kennedy was hammered late by a vicious Ioanel Ganea tackle. His leg was broken.

"I remember on the pitch I thought I had broken my leg. I tried to stand up and my shin popped out of position," he says.

"When you are young, you just think you are untouchable. You know, playing in the Nou Camp and going to Ibrox, playing with Henrik Larsson and Chris Sutton, and you are just in your own wee bubble. Then all of a sudden someone brings the needle out and bursts that and reality sets in."

John Kennedy lies in agony after breaking his leg on duty for Scotland against Romania
Kennedy broke his leg on his one and only Scotland appearance

Retirement brings 'relief'

Kennedy went to America for assessment and surgery where he was told he would be out for 18 months. He would have to wait almost three years until his next Celtic appearance in April 2007.

Seven months later, he was crocked again, knee damage this time. Back to America. Back under the knife.

Once more, Kennedy returned to action, but he could feel his knee grumbling and his powers diminishing. Celtic were poised to recall him from a loan spell at Norwich City when his ankle then his knee, again, broke down. At just 26, the writing was on the wall.

"At that point I was struggling a little bit. I could feel towards the end of games I was in a bit of pain, quite stiff and couldn't move the way I wanted, but I just wanted to push as much as I could to give it another go," Kennedy says.

"Ultimately it was never going to be. In the end the surgeon made the decision for me to call it a day. It was the right decision. I think when he told me it was time up, I felt a bit of relief. Physically, I was probably doing myself more harm than good.

"For someone to take the decision out of my hands and say, 'you need to stop now or your going to have long-term damage which will affect your normal daily life', then it was the right call. It gave me a bit of relief and I just had to focus on what I was going to do next."

'Dream' to manage Celtic

Kennedy stayed at Celtic, working as a scout then earning his coaching badges, leading the under-19s and the reserve side before being promoted to first-team coach five years ago.

With Rodgers' departure to Leicester City, Kennedy was elevated again to assist Lennon.

He refutes rumours he was to be appointed the club's director of football and says he was not tempted to follow Rodgers south. His ultimate ambition is to manage the club he supports.

"It's a dream. It's not something I'm going to get caught up in and overrule what I do now in terms of trying to become the Celtic manager," he says.

Chris Davies, Brendan Rodgers and John Kennedy in the Celtic dug-out at Rugby Park
A first-team coach since 2014, Kennedy spent two-and-a-half years under Brendan Rodgers

"I'm in the moment, I know if I don't deliver as assistant manager, then things happen and you need to move on. You work at big clubs, there are those pressures.

"I had a great relationship with Brendan, spoke to him about a number of things and what the future might hold, but ultimately I was there preparing the team. I'm happy here, I don't want to be moving anywhere at the moment.

"I'm in a good place, the club are in a great moment and when you're in these moments you've got to savour it because I've seen the other side of it as a fan and even as a player when you're maybe not winning, you're chasing the opposition. At the moment we're on top of our game."

Listen to the full interview with Celtic assistant manager John Kennedy on BBC Radio Scotland's Sportsound from 14:00 GMT on Saturday.

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