Champions League will not spark marquee signings, warns Neil Lennon
NEIL Lennon has warned Celtic supporters not to expect a marquee signing if his team secure a place in the Champions League group stage tonight, insisting he already has players capable of achieving iconic status at the club.
The Scottish champions take a 2-0 lead into the second leg of their play-off round tie against Helsingborgs in Glasgow, with Lennon admitting he is preparing for a hectic last two days of the current transfer window once their European fate is determined.
But Lennon, who dismissed rumours linking him with a move for out-of-contract former England striker Michael Owen, stressed that Celtic will maintain their existing recruitment policy of signing younger players with a sell-on value even if they do earn the minimum bounty of around £12 million for participation in the Champions League.
The manager is confident the team he has developed over the past two years contains individuals who can take their standing in the eyes of the Celtic support to a new level in Europe’s elite tournament, citing young Scotland winger James Forrest as a prime candidate.
Asked if Celtic could make a high-profile signing by the end of the week, Lennon replied: “I’m not too sure that is going to happen. But why not create your own heroes with this group of players? There are plenty here who have the potential to be fantastic Celtic players. They have already laid really good foundations to take that step.
“James Forrest is as exciting as anything you’ll get in British football at the moment. He has got the attributes to play at the highest level. Technically, he’s very good with both feet. He’s really quick and, the majority of times, he has an end product. He is exciting to watch. He made a huge difference to us when he came on in the first leg in Sweden last week. So we are blessed with young talent.
“Now, I don’t want to build them up and then see them fall flat on their faces on Wednesday night. But we know we’ve got a good team here. If we take them on, enhance them and develop them further, then Champions League is the place where they want to play.”
Lennon confirmed Celtic’s interest in 21-year-old French central defender Willy Boly of Auxerre and 20-year-old Norwegian midfielder Markus Henriksen of Rosenborg. Dutch side AZ Alkmaar are also keen on Henriksen and Lennon admits Champions League group stage football could be Celtic’s trump card in any moves for new players before Friday night.
“I haven’t spoken directly to any targets and I’ve not had that sort of message coming back to me,” he said. “But I think it’s a huge carrot for any player to come to a club if Champions League football is there. It’s a big incentive.
“We have had our eye on some players, but not made any significant inroads with any of them yet. I’ve just been concentrating on the start of the season. It has been pretty hectic and hopefully fruitful by the end of this month.
“We have options lined up if we can get through to the Champions League group stage. Even if we don’t get through, we will still go through those players on our list. We are not talking £4 million or £5 million players. We are talking about players who fit the DNA we have been looking at over the last couple of years. It has worked well for us, if you look at the assets we do have in the team now.
“I enjoy trying to bring younger players on, but sometimes you’d like to have a wee bit of experience in there as well, like we did in the recent past with Daniel Majstorovic and Glenn Loovens. It does become a bit of a rush, but we sort of have foundations in place so that we can maybe do a bit of business in the last couple of days of the window.”
Celtic completed one piece of outgoing business yesterday with striker Mohamed Bangura joining AIK Stockholm on loan until the end of December. The 23-year-old Sierra Leone international, signed from AIK for £2.1 million a year ago, has failed to make an impact at Celtic so far. In 16 appearances, just three of them in the starting line-up, he has yet to score.
“Mo needs to play some football,” said Lennon. “His career here has been curtailed by surgery, then he had a couple of soft tissue injuries during pre-season. He couldn’t really get going. So it’s an opportunity for him to go back and get his confidence going again, hopefully score a few goals. He is still our player but we feel this is best for both parties, to get him out there and playing regularly. He’s still only 23 so he has a lot of potential in him.”
Another Celtic striker, Republic of Ireland international Daryl Murphy, could also return to Ipswich Town for a second loan spell. The 29-year-old, who is in Lennon’s squad for tonight’s match against Helsingborgs, spent the second half of last season on loan at Portman Road.
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Saturday 25 May 2013
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