CELTIC manager Neil Lennon believes Anthony Stokes damaged the club’s reputation with his controversial attendance at a benefit function for murdered Real IRA leader Alan Ryan last month.
Republic of Ireland international striker Stokes has been criticised for his appearance at the fund-raising event in a Dublin pub held in memory of Ryan who was shot and killed by a masked gunman on 3 September.
Speaking publicly for the first time about the issue, Lennon revealed Stokes has been disciplined by Celtic. He says the 24-year-old has “taken on board” the club’s view of his decision to attend the function. The nature of Celtic’s disciplinary action was not disclosed by Lennon, who confirmed he hopes to have the player back in first-team action within the next four weeks. Stokes, who scored 40 goals in his first two seasons with Celtic after signing from Hibs in 2010, has not played for the club since 4 August because of an ankle injury.
“We spoke to him (Stokes) internally,” said Lennon. “I am not going to moralise to him, but you cannot damage the reputation of the club. He is aware of that now. It has been dealt with internally.”
Asked if Stokes had indeed damaged the reputation of the club, Lennon replied: “Yeah.” When then asked if Stokes had learned from the incident and taken on board Celtic’s position on it, he said: “Absolutely, yes.”
Lennon rejected the suggestion Stokes now faces a make-or-break situation at Celtic in terms of repairing any damage he has caused to the club’s image, insisting the player’s main challenge now is to try and re-establish himself as a key performer on the pitch.
“It is maybe (make or break) in terms of football,” added Lennon. “He has been out for the best part of six months. So he wants to get back playing and we want him to get back playing, because over the last two seasons he has been a very important plaayer for us in terms of goals.”
Stokes will again be among the absentees when Celtic take on Arbroath at Gayfield Park tonight in their William Hill Scottish Cup fourth-round replay, a match in which Lennon intends to field a strong line-up after seeing a much-changed side held to a 1-1 draw at Parkhead by their Second Division opponents ten days ago.
The Celtic manager also clarified the treatment undertaken by captain Scott Brown, who stormed out of the press room at Rugby Park after playing a key role in the 3-1 SPL win over Kilmarnock on Saturday, irritated by questions regarding his long-standing hip injury. Before his walk-out, Brown denied he had taken cortisone injections.
“Well, he did,” said Lennon yesterday. “He has had an injection but maybe he does not want to talk about. He would rather people were talking about his level of play.
“He is sick of the whole thing and would rather people talk about his football and not refer to the injury if he has a below- par game. There is no doubt it was affecting him. You could see it in Barcelona and at Benfica. But when Scott is in full flow, he is really strong and a good athlete. He eats up the ground on players and teams.
“He was in a lot of discomfort for quite a while. He was struggling to play an hour. We thought it would deteriorate rather than improve. We are not saying he is over the worst, but he has had this condition since August and at times he has played fantastically well.
“He has moved a lot more freely since his last injection and he keeps going. Surgery is the last resort and is not guaranteed to remedy the problem anyway. If we can avoid it, great and we will shut him down at the end of the season and give him enough rest to recuperate fully.
“He could possibly play to the end of the season That is what he wants but there may be games coming up when we have to balance against his training, balance the amount of games he plays. But when he plays like he did on Saturday, he is great to watch.
“To lose him at any time is difficult because he is such a presence in the dressing room and on the pitch but I am delighted with how things have turned around.”