NEIL Lennon is confident Joe Ledley will sign a new contract with Celtic this month but he admitted the club are still some distance away from agreeing a fresh deal with Georgios Samaras.
The immediate futures of Welsh midfielder Ledley and Greek forward Samaras have heavily influenced Celtic’s January transfer window business as the Scottish champions try to avoid seeing either player leave under freedom of contract at the end of the season.
Lennon is thrilled by this week’s signing of Norwegian international midfielder Stefan Johansen and anticipates the 23-year-old will hold down a regular first-team slot at the club imminently. But although Johansen is a left-sided player, Lennon was quick to dismiss suggestions he has been recruited as a replacement for Ledley.
“Not at all,” said Lennon. “All the signs from Joe are positive. I haven’t spoken to his agent for a week or two, but that one could get done.”
Lennon, is less upbeat, however, about his prospects of retaining the services of Samaras, who is reported to be attracting interest from clubs in England and Spain.
“Sami’s different,” added the manager. “There’s still a bit of a way to go in negotiations with Sami. The longer it goes on, the more speculation there is, so we would like to get both Joe and Sami done as quickly as possible, but it’s not as easy as that.
“We don’t want to let their contracts run down. I’m not getting that impression from Joe, but it’s a scenario we are keen to avoid. We’ll speak to Sami again early next week. He may want to do that (let his contract run down), he has not given us an indication of what he wants to do, one way or another. There is interest in him, although no direct contact with any of the clubs.
“It’s a difficult thing but he hasn’t actually said he will run his contract down. If that scenario comes. then there are plenty of players who have run down their contracts before. We’ll get on with it and cross that bridge when we come to it.
“We have plenty of time, two and a half weeks to avoid that. We’ll speak to him early next week and maybe we’ll get some sort of clarity on it then. You have to weigh up his ambitions and ours and try to find a happy medium in between. We have to find something to keep him happy and keep him here to avoid him going somewhere else, either now or in the summer.”
Lennon hopes to make at least two more signings this month, with an attacking midfielder and a striker on his wish list, but says he is not currently close to any further business being done. He was in London on Tuesday night to watch Fulham defeat Norwich City 3-0 in an FA Cup third-round replay, but insists he had no specific target. With it being a cup game, we knew there would be some fringe players on view so we just went down to take a look,” he said.
“We are looking to bring in another couple if we can. Where are we with that? Nowhere right now.”
Lennon confirmed that Johansen will not make his debut against Motherwell at Celtic Park tomorrow, with the trip to Hibs on Sunday week a more likely stage for the £2 million recruit to take his bow. “He finished the Norwegian season in November, so he has a little work to do to get ready,” said Lennon. “Hopefully he will be in the squad next week and he can definitely go straight into the team. He is an all-round midfield player. He has goals in him, a good range of passing and is a very good athlete who covers the ground well. He has a lovely left foot on him and a good temperament. The Scandinavians generally have a very good mentality and he comes into that bracket.
“He has a confidence about him, although it’s not over-confidence, and an intelligence as well. We watched him on a number of occasions and the reports and stats we got back on him were excellent. He can play centrally or on the left. We haven’t got a set position for him yet, we just want to integrate him as quickly as possible and I’m sure it won’t be long before he is in the team.”