FOR different reasons, Anthony Stokes and Gary Hooper have both been the subject of speculation for some time over whether they will still be Celtic players next season.
For Stokes, the question has been whether he would be offered a new contract by the club. In Hooper’s case, it has been a question of whether he will be prepared to accept the new deal the Scottish champions have put on the table for him.
As it stands, Stokes is now close to agreeing a new three-year deal to remain at Parkhead. It remains to be seen whether Hooper will also stick around as he continues to be linked with a summer move to the English Premier League.
They proved themselves to be a deadly double act for Celtic at Hampden yesterday, Stokes setting up both of Hooper’s goals which gave Neil Lennon’s men a 2-0 half-time lead in the Scottish Cup final. Irishman Stokes then rounded off a man-of-the-match display by having a hand in Joe Ledley’s late goal which wrapped up a convincing win over Hibs.
Having missed Celtic’s thrilling Champions League campaign this season because of injury, Stokes remains hopeful he will get the chance to pair up with Hooper in the 2013-14 European campaign.
“I’d love the opportunity to play with Gary in the Champions League,” said Stokes. “Someone like him who scores 30-odd goals a season is hard to replace so I’m sure everyone at the club wants him to stick around as long as possible.
“Every fan and everyone on the coaching staff wants him to stay. It’s in Gary’s hands, because he is performing on the pitch, so we will see what happens. He is an exceptional player and, once you get into positions like I was today, you know you just have to play the ball into a certain area.
“Gary is always going to be there. He got on the end of the two crosses I put over and it was two goals. That’s what you get from him. Give him chances and he takes them.”
Stokes is optimistic his own contract negotiations are close to a successful conclusion from his point of view and the 24-year-old is determined to build on yesterday’s success at Hampden.
“There is a contract on the table,” he added. “I need to sort out some bits and pieces, but I’m very positive about it. Do I want to stay for life? Well, I don’t think I’m going to get an eight-year contract!
“But if I sign a three-year contract and do well, you never know, I might sign another one and that will see me out for the rest of my career. That’s a long way down the road, I just want to get this one sorted.
“I’m loving my football here. I don’t want to go anywhere else, I’ve always said that. I missed my opportunity to go to Celtic when I was younger and I wasn’t going to miss it the second time.
“It was a great performance today, very professional, and we controlled the game from start to finish. You are never certain of starting any game with the quality we have in the squad. You just do your best in training and try to impress in the games. I was delighted to start today and pleased with the performance.
“It was a boost to get the nod to start but I’ve said before that the gaffer rotates the squad. It seems to be working as we’re getting the results.
“I think I’m improving as a player. When I came back from injury, one of the things I looked at was being a bit stronger. I need to be a bit more physical and stronger in the air. That’s what I’ve tried to bring to my game. To get in this Celtic side, you need to have a bit of everything.
“But I’m still only 24, there’s room for a little bit more improvement. I’ll just keep working hard and see where that takes me. I was always positive when I was out injured. I worked as hard as possible during my rehab and the medical boys were exceptional with me. They kept me motivated and I think I’ve come back a stronger, better player.
“I didn’t want to be out for that length of time, but maybe it was a good thing. In my first two seasons at Celtic I scored 20 goals, it’s not like I was going through a bad spell.
“I just want to get myself in the team, playing in the big occasions. It’s been an exceptional season with the great run in Europe. To finish the season with the double has left everyone delighted.”
Hooper’s double took his final tally for the season to 31 and the Englishman has now scored 82 goals in 137 appearances for Celtic since joining them from Scunthorpe United three years ago.
“I’ve beaten my goals target every season and that was the aim again,” said Hooper. “It’s been a great season and it’s fantastic to finish off with the double. Anthony played two great balls in for my goals. Mikael [Lustig] played a great one over for me at the third goal but I completely missed it. But it was a great finish by Joe [Ledley]. We are going to party tonight.
“It was a hard game and we had to prepare right for it. Hibs are a good team. I thought we got it right today and played well. Celtic is an amazing club. I am going to celebrate tonight and then take it from there.”