NEIL Lennon has revealed that Anthony Stokes has rejected a new deal at Celtic, despite ending the season on a high by playing a key part in the Parkhead club completing a league and cup double.
Speaking in Dublin at the announcement of a summer friendly against Liverpool at the Aviva Stadium on 10 August, Lennon said of Stokes, who is out of contract: “We have already made him an offer – he has knocked that back, but negotiations will be ongoing.”
The 24-year-old Irishman endured a season of frustration as an ankle injury kept him on the sidelines for four- and-a-half months while his team-mates made a major impact in the Champions League.
But the former Falkirk, Sunderland and Hibernian frontman returned to fitness in time to score the winning goal in the William Hill Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United, while he put in a man-of-the-match display against the Easter Road side in the final.
“We really saw the best of him towards the end of the season. He looks physically in the best shape he has been in,” added Lennon.
“He was such a pivotal
player for us towards the end of the season, and his cup final performance was absolutely fantastic. The opportunity is there for him to go and make a good career for himself. He is very important to me.”
Basking in the afterglow of a second consecutive SPL title and with that Scottish Cup win to boot, Lennon said that he was putting no pressure on Celtic to reward him with a longer-term contract.
The 41-year-old reasoned that he was “in a very precious position” in top-flight football to have a “stable job”, which is partly attributable to Rangers’ collapse and partly to the faith shown in him by majority shareholder Dermot Desmond since he was given charge of the team three summers ago.
The linking of Lennon to high-profile vacancies at clubs such as Everton appears to have come to nothing but he said: “There’s plenty more I want to achieve with Celtic. At the end of the day, I’m in a very precious position. I’m manager of a football club and you’ve seen the merry-go-round with the hiring and firing – I’m in a very stable job and I’ve got to pay tribute to Mr Desmond and Peter Lawwell for the support they’ve given me in those three years.
“There are times when they could have easily turned
away [from me] but, in the difficult times, they actually gave me more encouragement. I’ve still got a lot to do at Celtic.”
Lennon was giving away little as to his intentions in the transfer market, although he did concede that, after conducting end-of-season reviews with Lawwell and Desmond last week, he would have slightly more to spend than last summer, owing to Celtic’s Champions League success in the season just ended.
“The budget is what it always is. We’ve made a really good income from the Champions League money so we may have a little bit more to spend than we’ve maybe had in previous years but we’ll keep regurgitating the money and there will be bids coming in for players.”
Asked if Victor Wanyama would still be a Celtic player in August, he said: “I certainly hope so. There’s a lot of speculation surrounding Victor at the minute, but that’s all it is, it’s just speculation.”
His answer when asked about Gary Hooper, was in similar vein. He said: “Nothing, it’s as you were,” he replied. “That’s all it is, speculation. There are no offers in and one of my priorities will be to try to keep Gary at the club.”