CELTIC striker Gary Hooper may have rejected a contract offer but it didn’t stop him scoring two goals in last night’s 4-0 victory over Dundee United, and manager Neil Lennon remains confident his top goalscorer will still be at Parkhead on 1 February after the club rejected a second bid from Norwich City.
Hooper put the growing speculation over his future firmly to one side to concentrate on what he does best – scoring goals – and he did so again with aplomb last night, scoring the first and third goals in a comfortable win over United.
Hooper, who has 18 months left on his current deal, showed why he is attracting so much interest when he converted a Georgios Samaras pass in the 19th minute before midfielder Victor Wanyama headed in number two before the break. Hooper struck again ten minutes from time to take his tally to 22 before he set up substitute Scott Brown for the fourth as United, whose manager Peter Houston will leave at the end of the season, were left thankful that their defeat had not been more demoralising.
The win stretched Celtic’s lead at the top of the league to 12 points, and after a couple of early wobbles at the start of the season, they look well on their way to retaining the title.
Lennon revealed the contract offer had been on the table since October, while the bid from Norwich was slightly improved on one submitted late last week. Lennon told BBC Radio Scotland’s Sportsound programme: “We have had an improved offer, if you want to call it an improved offer, from Norwich that’s been turned down automatically.”
Lennon did not want to go into details about Norwich’s offer but said it was not much more than the original figure.
When asked if it was £6 million, Lennon said: “It was nowhere near £6 million. It was completely rejected and even if it was £6 million it would be completely rejected.”
Lennon claimed little had changed with the situation of the striker, who has 18 months left on his deal. When asked about reports that Hooper had rejected the club’s latest offer, Lennon said: “It’s not the latest offer because we made it two or three months ago. I’m disappointed again that these things have come out in public. I’m not too sure where they are coming from but it’s certainly not us. It’s as you were. He didn’t like the look of the contract two or three months ago and nothing has changed.
“We feel it’s a very good offer. It would put him in the top two or three highest-paid players at the club. I’m sure he wants to be the highest paid but you can’t always get what you want.”
Celtic paid Scunthorpe around £2 million for Hooper in the summer of 2010, but Lennon claims he cannot see chief executive Peter Lawwell and the board cashing in on the 24-year-old this month. “Not as far as I can see it,” Lennon said. “We are very solid on that, myself, the backroom staff, Peter and the board.”
Lennon added: “Come 1 February, the contract offer will be withdrawn. They have got a lot to think about, Gary and his representatives. If he doesn’t want to sign the contract, that’s his decision. It wouldn’t be my advice, but it’s Gary’s decision, or his representative’s decision.
“We are quite comfortable with that and we respect that.
“We made this offer in October and all of a sudden it has been rejected. It’s no coincidence that it’s the last 10 days of the (transfer) window, but we are quite comfortable with the whole situation.
“I’m pretty sure Gary will be a Celtic player come February 1. We have had private chats and he is really happy here. He wants to stay, he wants to see out the season, and we will have a look at the situation then.”