Neil Lennon is bracing himself for a fresh offer from the English Premier League for Gary Hooper, Celtic having already turned down a £5 million bid from Norwich last week.
The Celtic manager said yesterday that he does not want to sell the 24-year-old, who scored his 19th and 20th goals of the season in a 4-1 rout of Hearts, but added that Hooper is good enough to play in the top league down south and that everyone has his price”.
“I haven’t got a crystal ball,” said Lennon. “I don’t know what’s going to happen in the next couple of weeks.
“I have made it clear, Peter [Lawwell, the Celtic chief executive] has made it clear and the board made it clear that we are not selling him. We don’t want him to go, particularly at this juncture of the season.
“However, everyone has their price. What Gary’s price is will be down to myself and the board to decide if a club comes up with that figure.
“What we were offered on Thursday [by Norwich] was nowhere near our valuation of the player. I am hearing that they might come again but good luck to them on that.”
Lennon and Lawwell met Hooper’s representatives on Friday to state their case and the manager said that the discussion went well.
Asked what kind of money they would accept for the striker, Lennon joked that he would happily accept £25m.
“I don’t have a set figure, however, goalscorers are at a premium and Gary’s a goalscorer. We’ll set the bar pretty high for him. I’m not going to stop any of the players’ progress because I wouldn’t have wanted that done to myself, but I’m the manager of the club and I have got to do what myself and Peter think is in the club’s best interests. And, in the short-term, it is keeping Gary Hooper here.”
Norwich are the only club to have officially made a bid but Lennon said he would be surprised if other, bigger clubs, didn’t have Hooper on their shortlist.
“You never know what’s round the corner. We’ve still got two weeks of the window left.
“The last week gets pretty heavy. It’s always a difficult time to acquire players, but I’m sure he’s on the radar of plenty of clubs – it’s just that Norwich have come in first.
“He’s at a big club as it is and he’s playing in the Champions League. His ambition, possibly, is to go and play in the Premier League. He’s good enough, there’s no question about that. It just depends on the level he wants to play at.
“I don’t think he’s far away from England recognition as well, given his level of performance.
“Goal scoring is not an easy thing to do and he does that fantastically well whatever club he’s at. His all-round game has come on in leaps and bounds in the past 18 months. He’s playing with
confidence and he’s good to watch.”
Joe Ledley spoke about the Hooper issue as well, saying that he is fully expecting other clubs to make a move for the player before the end of the month.
“He’s one of our main players. He links up play and scores goals, so hopefully we can keep him,” said Ledley.
“Obviously, clubs are going to look to sign him because of what he has done here, but I hope he can stay for a long time. I wouldn’t be surprised if more bids come in for him given the
talent he is.
“He’s a goal scorer and they are in demand, but, as players, we want him to stay, as does the management and the fans.
“All we can do is wait and
see what happens, but he still has 18 months on his contract and that’s a long time. With a bit of luck the speculation will go out of the window.”
That seems pretty unlikely. This story is going to get fascinating in the coming weeks.