Absent Kieran Tierney still occupying centre stage at Celtic

Kieran Tierney in action against Motherwell. Picture: Bill Murray/SNSKieran Tierney in action against Motherwell. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
Kieran Tierney in action against Motherwell. Picture: Bill Murray/SNS
While there could be competitive home debuts for £10 million-worth of summer signings at Celtic Park tonight in the shape of Christopher ?Jullien and Boli Mbombo, it is the transfer window fate of an absent hero which will dominate the thoughts of most ?supporters of the Scottish champions.

Whether Kieran Tierney pulls on his beloved green and white hoops again this season will depend on whether Arsenal, Napoli or any other as yet undeclared suitors are prepared to pay the £25 million price tag Celtic have placed upon him.

As Tierney continues his recovery from double hernia surgery and waits to discover if he has a decision to make on a potentially life-changing move, Celtic manager Neil Lennon’s focus remains 
primarily on the second leg of the Champions League first qualifying round tie against Sarajevo.

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With a healthy 3-1 lead from the first leg in Bosnia last week, Celtic are firmly on course to clear the first of four hurdles between them and the 
lucrative group stage of the tournament.

Should they get there, Lennon still hopes Tierney, inset, will be part of his squad and back to delivering his trademark dynamism up and down 
Celtic’s left flank.

But if Tierney does head for pastures new within the next few weeks, Lennon hopes 
Celtic supporters will be appreciative of the circumstances which could persuade even “one of their own” to leave the club.

“It would be a personal wrench for Kieran to go, I’m sure, but then maybe he is thinking about taking his career on for a new challenge.

“Whether he progresses is a different argument or debatable but it is a huge decision, if and when Arsenal or anyone else meet the criteria of the price.

“He is only 22 but has achieved a lot already with Celtic. It is a huge decision for him, if it comes to it.

“Some Celtic fans have tunnel vision about it and I get that as well. But, no matter where he goes, Kieran will still be a Celtic fan. But we are talking about things hypothetically here. It has not come to that sort of endgame yet as far as he is concerned.”

When Lennon was Celtic manager first time around, he oversaw the sale of another boyhood supporter of the club, Aiden McGeady, to Spartak Moscow for a then-record fee of £9.5m.

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“It was a wrench for Aiden to leave Celtic,” added Lennon. “But it was life-changing in terms of the finances where Aiden was concerned and again he saw it as a challenge.

“Sometimes you get to a point in your career where you don’t want to go – and I am maybe using the wrong word here – stale. You want a different environment or a different challenge.

“That’s understandable. I left Leicester City when they were third in the Premier League. But I wanted to come and play for Celtic.

“I wanted that option and to see how far I could take it. Players are competitors. Yes, financially it’s rewarding but they see the competitive side as well.

“I’ve had a couple of chats with Kieran over the past few days and it can be unsettling. You are a human being at the end of the day and sometimes your mind races away with things. It’s just a question of staying in the here and now and letting things take their course.”

Lennon is hopeful Celtic can steer a smooth path into the second qualifying round of the Champions League but remains respectful of the potential threat Sarajevo could still pose.

“They may come out with an all or nothing attitude against us and have a real go at it,” he said.

“So we have to be bang at it. But I think our players will go out with the right attitude.

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“Sometimes subconsciously you can take your foot off the gas a little bit. We have to be very, very wary 
of that.

“It took us 15-20 minutes to bed ourselves into the first leg but I was delighted with the result. But I remember being 3-1 up after a first leg away against Ajax when I was a player and they absolutely battered us in the return at Celtic Park. We still made it through but I’d like it to be a lot more comfortable than that in this tie.”

Mikey Johnston, who scored the crucial equaliser in Sarajevo after Celtic fell behind, will miss out through injury tonight. But there could be a competitive return to action for Leigh Griffiths, sidelined since December after taking time out to deal with mental health issues.

“I thought Leigh was really good in our friendly against Rennes on Saturday,” added Lennon. “He’s looking well, even in training a lot sharper. You never lose that hunger. He’s from the streets and you never lose that competitive edge. Everyone likes the rascal and he’s got that in him. You don’t want to take that away from him but he knows he’s got to knuckle down and he’s really done that over the last couple of months.

“He’s missed out on a lot of football but he seems in a good place.”