Celtic manager Neil Lennon has made it clear that he will have the final say on any and all comings and goings from Parkhead when the transfer window reopens next month – and he doesn’t intend to allow anyone to leave.
Only clubs backed by oil sheiks or Russian oligarchs need apply and even they may be disappointed as the Northern Irishman plots a course to further progress in the Champions League while attempting to complete the domestic treble for the first time since he was an integral part of Martin O’Neill’s all-conquering side in 2001.
Lennon will only countenance “astronomical” bids for his key players (citing the £9 million sale of Aiden McGeady to Spartak Moscow in 2010 as an example) but they will also be dismissed unless he is given time in which to find suitable replacements. Either way, he isn’t dreading 1 January.
“No, I’m pretty confident,” he said. “We don’t need to sell. As I said before, everyone has their price and I think I will have a say in the decision if a huge bid comes in for any of the players.
“But I don’t want them to go. I want them to see this season out anyway, and make a real fist of the competitions. There are not many teams still going on four fronts – including the Champions League – with half the season gone.
“I’d like to think I’d have the final say. At the time when Aiden was going, I felt it was good business. It was a good offer and something where we could use the money on the team.
“We are now in a totally different position here. We are in a position where we don’t need to sell, although every player does have their price.
“It might depend on the club as well. It could be the case that I don’t want to stand in the way of a player going to one of the bigger clubs. But I hope I don’t have to face that scenario.”
Striker Gary Hooper will be out of contract at the end of next season but Lennon is confident that he can persuade the £2m bargain buy from Scunthorpe United to commit himself to a longer stay in Glasgow. “I am pretty sure we are not far away with Gary,” he said. “I think we can get an agreement pretty soon. We speak maybe once a week on it and he is pretty comfortable. I don’t think anyone is avoiding us. I’m hoping to see [chief executive] Peter [Lawwell] in the next day or so and he’ll come up with another solution.
“I don’t think Gary’s far away at all from an England call-up. He had a wee bit of bug and that’s why we left him out against Arbroath. But he’ll play the bulk of the games now. He’s a goalscorer and I think they’re priceless. Not only that, I also think he is a pretty intelligent player. He’s got a great first touch and he can bring other people into the game. And he’s scored at every level – Champions League, Europa League, Old Firm, big, big games.
“I wouldn’t put a price on him but it would have to be a significant amount of money.”
Hooper’s former manager at Scunthorpe, Nigel Adkins, who wanted to sign the player for Southampton during the summer, has been credited with an interest in buying him in January but Lennon doesn’t believe that will appeal to Hooper. “I wouldn’t like to think so,” he said. “The other thing is if it’s a Champions League club that comes in then he can’t play for them in the Champions League anyway, so that would work in our favour.
“Regardless of the speculation. I’ll rebuff the offers unless it is an astronomical one that suits everybody. We’ve given Gary a great platform. He’s grown – he’s still only 24 and people forget that – to the point where he is more on less on the verge of being in the England squad. Now people would have said that’s virtually impossible, they would have said that about Fraser Forster as well, but it shows how far the squad has come that people are really sitting up and taking notice of them now.
“There will be people coming in for them but I keep saying when you leave here it’s not the same at other clubs. Money is a huge carrot, obviously, but at this stage of their career the football is the most important thing. The more successful you are the money will come anyway. If we receive a bid on the last day of the window, it’s too late. I wouldn’t have time [to replace him] and they’ve all month to put a bid in. It does happen but it won’t happen here, not to any of our major players anyway.”
However, Lennon would like to increase the depth of his squad for the second half of what could prove to be a memorable campaign. “There’s a couple of positions we’d like to strengthen – the left-hand side either full-back or wide-area – but if I don’t add to it I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got,” he said.