NEIL Lennon hasn’t ruled out the possibility of Celtic spending up to £4 million on one player this summer. However, the Celtic manager gave a flat “no” when asked the other day whether such a recruit could be a marquee signing.
The chances are that Celtic will do enough at home to Inverness Caledonian Thistle this afternoon to officially clinch a league they had won before a ball was even kicked in the campaign – one reason why, if there are celebrations in the east end of Glasgow today, those indulging in them are likely not to number close to the 60,000 the stadium can hold.
Celtic chief executive Peter Lawwell admitted last week that 10,000 season ticket holders were declining to attend league games. The attractiveness of these fixtures has been diminished by the removal of jeopardy that has resulted from the demise of the old Rangers. There was a time that Celtic might have sought to mitigate against any potential boredom factor by bringing in a player who could be considered a draw for the crowd. That is not the way the club can afford to be run now. A certain David Murray used to talk about “changing the menu” by signing names every summer. That gave his club carte blanche to end up in football’s soup kitchen.
“There will be good players coming in,” said Lennon, pictured below, who must steel himself for a number of good players going out. “We want to turn them into stars. At the end of the day, [Victor] Wanyama turned out to be a marquee signing. But if there is a £3m or £4m player who can make us better now and who can make us money in a few years time then we will do it. I think the board would have no problem seeing that one through. Look, I think the squad needs a jag. I think some of the players need to see some new players come in. We have been together three years and done remarkably well but they need a bit of a hand. It is always good to see new players come in. It gives the squad a lift, it gives the backroom staff a lift and it certainly gives the fans a lift as well.
“As a player, you would always get excited [if the club made a high-profile signing]. When Juninho came it was: what he is going to be like? [Craig] Bellamy was fabulous. He had a great six months up here. He lit the place up and gave everyone that little bit of a shove in the right direction. We haven’t spent a lot of money. We are probably in the black with transfer dealings with Ki [Sung-Yueng] going and some other big hitters like [Daniel] Majstorovic and [Glenn] Loovens coming off the wage bill. We only brought in really [Efe] Ambrose, [Fraser] Forster and [Thomas] Rogic for not a great deal of money. There is money there to spend.”
Yet spending money, or identifying the right players, is a devilish task when you operate in such a modest domestic environment as Scotland. Players such as Miku, Lassad Nouioui and Rami Gershon, sparingly used reinforcements added to the squad in the past year, illustrate the inherent difficulties in squad augmentation.
“It is never easy,” Lennon said. “Already we have been knocked back on a couple of enquiries and already we have had agents on the phone pricing them out of coming here. We have a wage cap to think about within the group. I don’t want to break that by having a big disparity between one individual and the rest. It never changes. You are successful with some, you are unsuccessful with others. What I have to take into consideration is: will he makes us better? That is what we are interested in. The wages have to come into line as well because there is a fantastic spirit in this group of players and I don’t want to change that.”
The likely departures of Gary Hooper, Wanyama, and the possibility that another player such as Kelvin Wilson or Forster could be tempted back south, ensures Lennon will impress upon his players the special moment they have created. Some may never win another title, he pointed out. Keeping his players motivated with no Rangers on the scene has been problematic, the Northern Irishman admitted, but he was scathing about the suggestion from former Celtic striker Andy Walker that the title soon to be landed could not be anything like “as satisfying” as the one the club beat the Ibrox side to last season.
“That is just total nonsense, absolute rubbish,” said Lennon. “Andy has won a title so he should know how special it is. I do get the feeling that sometimes ex-players aren’t as complimentary towards our club as other ex-players are towards their own. That disappoints me because this club has been nothing but good to them. Of course it will be as satisfying, off the back of the European run, off the back of reaching a cup final. That is pretty satisfying to the players, I would think.”
“When you win the title it is the best feeling in football you can have because it is a season’s preparation, work, endeavours, all coming to fruition. It is really good for a player to have on his record. When you don’t have it you realise what you have lost. I lost two titles on the last day of the season, one that was in our hands, and one we couldn’t do much about. The feeling after that was one of total emptiness, despair. When you’ve come through that adversity it makes you stronger and hungry for more, so I want the players to realise what they have done and take a lot of pride from it.
“I know we have lost six games this year. That is not ideal. We have conceded more goals than we have done in the previous two seasons. Our points total will be lower than it has been in the previous two seasons. On the plus side, we have had a brilliant European run, totally beyond anyone’s expectations, and brought the supporters some nights they will never forget, and the players will never forget in their careers. And we are six or seven goals short of the best total of goals scored under me so I would like to get over the line in that department – there are pros and cons.”
Celtic must hope that when season ticket renewals come around their followers focus on the pros.