NEIL Lennon has warned Leigh Griffiths he will be placing his future at Celtic under threat if he commits any further breaches of club discipline.
The Scotland international striker was fined by his club this week after footage emerged of him mocking Hearts’ financial problems in the company of Hibs supporters in a pub before attending last Sunday’s Edinburgh derby at Tynecastle.
Griffiths also faces an SFA Judicial Panel hearing on 24 April for the incident after being charged with an alleged breach of disciplinary rule 86 covering offences considered to be “not acting in the best interests of association football”.
While Lennon confirmed Celtic will defend Griffiths at that hearing, believing the club’s punishment is sufficient, the manager made no secret of his displeasure with the player’s behaviour when he held his weekly media briefing yesterday.
Lennon also revealed the club will take action against Israeli midfielder Beram Kayal for comments made in an interview with a newspaper in his homeland in which he criticised the standard of Scottish football and expressed his desire to leave.
But it was Griffiths who was uppermost in Lennon’s mind, insisting the 23-year-old has used up his “one strike” against the Scottish champions’ code of conduct and that he must avoid any repeat of the brushes with authority which previously earned him three separate SFA suspensions for incidents during his two seasons as a Hibs player.
“He has to, otherwise his career at Celtic won’t be as long as he maybe wants it to be,” said Lennon. “It was daft but he’s got to stop being daft. We’ve dealt with it internally and I wasn’t over-enamoured with it. It wasn’t aggressive and there wasn’t any foul language used – but there is a code of conduct Leigh has to adhere to now. He did cross the line in that aspect.
“It was a bit of fun for him but in this day and age, with modern technology, people want to drop you in it, as it were. A lot of people might have found it funny, I’m sure a lot of Hearts supporters would have found the opposite. We’ve all been guilty of doing daft things at times but that’s his one strike. I don’t want him doing any more. I haven’t hammered him or over-emphasised it, you have to give players a bit of space as well. But I don’t want to have any more conversations with him about it.
“Without being over the top on it, he needs to understand there is a certain example he has to set. I don’t want him singing with Hibs fans about other clubs. He is a Celtic player now and his whole focus should be on Celtic. While Leigh may feel he hasn’t done a lot wrong, I think he understands the reasons we are disciplining him. I know he acts daft, but he is bright enough to understand that. I want him to make the headlines for footballing reasons. He’s started his career at Celtic very well but I don’t want him to get carried away with that.
“He had his problems at Hibs as well. He’s just got to tidy a few things up. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it’s obviously derogatory to some people. Some people are sensitive to these things, particularly in Scotland and certainly when it comes to Old Firm players. It’s just not the done thing. We’ve dealt with it, we’ve drawn a line through it and we will go and support him at the SFA hearing. But I’m not going to have these conversations with Leigh time and time again. I think he now understands his role at the club.”
Lennon is hopeful Kayal can still have a significant role at the club, despite the 25-year-old casting doubt on his future in an interview with the Haaretz newspaper. His time at Celtic has been punctuated by injury problems, one of them sustained in a challenge with Rangers captain Lee McCulloch in December 2011 which he condemned in the article. “My only problem with Beram is that he didn’t have consent from myself or the club to do the interview,” said Lennon. “He will be disciplined by myself for that. He’s very upset about it and feels a lot of his comments have been misconstrued.”
Lennon also expressed his disappointment that no-one will be charged in connection with the incident at Tynecastle on 1 February when he was verbally abused and had coins thrown at him while watching the League Cup semi-final between Aberdeen and St Johnstone. Police Scotland this week announced there was insufficient evidence for a prosecution. “I’m annoyed at that,” said Lennon. “I don’t apportion any blame to the police – I’m sure they did what they could – but I do feel as if some people have got away with it.”