AFTER what he perceived as a snub last season, Neil Lennon has declared himself satisfied with the quota of Celtic players nominated for Cheque Centre PFA Scotland Premiership player of the year earlier this week.
Three members from the team who lifted the league title last month appear on the list, which is a marked improvement from this time last year.
Although Victor Wanyama was nominated for young player of the year, and indeed lifted the title, no Celtic player featured in the running for last season’s main award, which was won by then Motherwell striker Michael Higdon.
Lennon described the absence of Celtic players as “abysmal”, adding that it “beggars belief” that after a season in which his side reached the last 16 stage of the Champions League and won the league title (with a Scottish Cup triumph also to come), no player from Parkhead was represented. It is a different story this season after an arguably less successful campaign.
Kris Commons, Fraser Forster and Virgil van Dijk are in the running to be named player of the year, along with Kilmarnock’s Kris Boyd. Lennon has no truck with this outcome, following a vote conducted among the players themselves. However, he did wonder about the omission of skipper Scott Brown, about whom he said: “I would like to have seen him in there as well.”
But with regards to Forster, Commons and Van Dijk, he added: “I was very pleased. It’s difficult to separate the three of them. Everyone will have their own thoughts on it.
“I’m just delighted we got three in there. I’d like to have seen Scott in there as well. I think he’s had a fantastic season but I’m delighted for those three. They are probably the three front-runners as far as we’re concerned. To be honest with you, Kris Boyd has had a great season considering where Kilmarnock are to score the amount of goals he’s done. He’s a worthy nominee as well.”
However, he credited Brown with having had his best season for the club, recovering well after “letting himself down” when red-carded for a foolish kick at Neymar in the Champions League defeat by Barcelona in October. “Scott is a really good all-round player now, a really rounded top player and he’s playing really well for his country as well. He’s become a mainstay of that,” he said. “That pleases me. There’s a maturity about him now. We all know he let himself down in the Barcelona game but take that away and the season overall he’s been pretty consistent.
“He’s a great driving force on and off the field and I think he’s really coming into his peak years now. The thing is he’s been injury free, he’s had a good run at it this year. Last year was horrific for him but obviously the surgery has worked and he’s been really consistent.”
As he looked ahead to this afternoon’s league clash against Motherwell at Fir Park, Lennon welcomed the news from a day earlier that Commons, who has scored 28 times this season, would like to stay at Celtic Park, even though the player said he was in “no rush” to sign a new contract. Lennon admitted he was surprised by the player’s goal return this season.
“We knew he was capable of getting goals but were thinking maybe 15 or 16 max but he has come back with 28 – and they have been important goals for us along the way and all different types of goals. It’s a fantastic return.
“He only cost us £300,000 which just shows you,” added Lennon. “He’s surprised me too. I knew him when he was at Nottingham Forest but he’s actually got better and better. He can strike a ball with both feet, and his game intelligence and passing is a lot better as well. We believe him when he says he wants to stay as he enjoys it here. His family are settled, too, which is important.” Regarding the future of the other two Celtic players nominated, he said: “I would imagine there will be interest [in Van Dijk and Forster] and we’ll be aware of it pretty soon. But you can’t stop their progress. We’ve picked them up and developed them so if they then move on it’s got to be at the right price. Ideally we want them to stay.”
Stuart McCall’s injury-hit Motherwell squad will face Celtic without the likes of James McFadden, Stuart Carswell, Simon Ramsden, Lee Hollis, Paul Lawson and the suspended Keith Lasley.
Aberdeen’s Scottish Cup semi-final defeat makes it imperative for Motherwell to finish in the top three to qualify for Europe but their six-point lead over fourth-placed Dundee United is not as secure as it might seem given they travel to Tannadice the following weekend.
McCall said: “I keep saying we’ve got a good group in there. We’ve got to make sure we finish it off. It’s no good talking about what you’ve done up to the split, it’s what you do at the end of the season that counts.
“If we can bring European football back to Fir Park next season, even if it is on 3 July, then we will happily take it.”