Celtic given Matt O'Riley price tag, sale advice and are told to sign two specific players

Former manager Lennon feels Celtic can hold on to playmaker until summer

Former Celtic manager Neil Lennon believes current Parkhead midfielder Matt O’Riley is destined to depart the club next year for big money – but is convinced current boss Brendan Rodgers will be able to keep him for the rest of the season.

O’Riley has been one of the stand-out players in the Scottish Premiership in the 2023/24 campaign. The 23-year-old, who last month made his senior debut for Denmark, has scored nine goals and provided eight assists across all competitions for Celtic and his excellent form has attracted interest of major clubs in Europe. Italian Serie A leaders Internazionale have been linked with the ex-MK Dons playmaker, Leeds United had bids rejected for him last summer and it is expected that Celtic will field bids when the transfer window reopens.

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Lennon, who had two spells as Celtic manager between 2010 and 2014 and 2019 to 2021, knows from experience that top players will eventually move on to bigger leagues when shining at defending league champions. The 52-year-old coach-turned-pundit said that O’Riley’s “progress cannot be stopped” but that Celtic are in a position to hold on to him until the summer, with Rodgers’ men embroiled in title battle with Glasgow rivals Rangers.

Celtic's Matt O'Riley has attracted interest from major European clubs such as Inter.Celtic's Matt O'Riley has attracted interest from major European clubs such as Inter.
Celtic's Matt O'Riley has attracted interest from major European clubs such as Inter.

"Matt O'Riley has had a huge impact on the team this season,” said Lennon. “He's been magnificent in all areas. Wherever I've watched him, be it domestically or in Europe, he's been excellent. His three assists in the Champions League were out of this world, and his game has just improved no end. Under Brendan [Rodgers], he's scoring a lot of goals, and creating so many opportunities for the team. He's always a threat, and he's got a real knack of making those late runs into the box, undetected. He's a fantastic talent, and he's been a brilliant bit of business for the club.

“The priority, for the club, is to keep hold of him. Particularly in January. I'm sure there'll be a lot of offers coming in for him, but I think the club are in a position to stay strong in the January window. I do think that Brendan will want to trim the squad in other areas, but I'm sure O'Riley will stay until the end of the season ... at least that's what I'm hoping for, anyway! But you can't stop the progress, so I would imagine selling him will be something that Celtic will look at in the summer. He's proven himself at the highest level, in the Champions League. He's been the best player in Scotland this season, so you're looking at £25-30million for him, at least. He's made his debut for Denmark, too, so all of these things have come very quickly to him in the last few months, but that's down to the boy, his family, and the way his career has been managed up to this point.

“I think he's a top, top player, and I think that he could play at a very high level in the Premier League. You know, Celtic will get top dollar for him, I'm sure of that. If you're looking at any of the top six or seven teams in England, Matt could play there. Maybe he wouldn't get straight into the first 11, but he'd take his game up a level at any of those clubs, I'm sure of that. He's such an intelligent player and he takes everything on board from his coaches; whoever he's playing under.

“It's not just the Premier League, though; he could easily go and play abroad, maybe in Spain, Italy, or one of the big clubs in Germany... that wouldn't surprise me. But I want him to finish off all of his good work at Celtic first, though. He's been a real standout player this season, and it's really important they can keep hold of him past this January transfer window, at least.”

Neil Lennon knows Celtic can't stand in the way of a player's progress.Neil Lennon knows Celtic can't stand in the way of a player's progress.
Neil Lennon knows Celtic can't stand in the way of a player's progress.

It is not just outgoings that is being discussed when it comes to Celtic, however. Rodgers is expected to strengthen his squad, especially with up to four first-team players expected to be called up by Japan and South Korea for the Asian Cup at the start of 2024. Lennon revealed the two areas that he wants Celtic to address in January.

“The main concern for me when it comes to where Celtic can still strengthen, is the lack of height and physicality sometimes, particularly against higher quality opposition,” Lennon continued when speaking to Ladbrokes Fanzone. “Callum McGregor is having to play in a six role, and I think he's far better in the eight. So I'd want a new number six to come in, a ball winner, a new, strong presence in midfield. And then another striker to supplement Kyogo [Furuhashi]. [Hyeon-Gyu] Oh's still a work in progress, you know. He's got really good attributes, and he'll come good in years to come. But for the here and now, I'd just be looking to strengthen those two central areas, in midfield and up-front. They've got plenty of wingers, and plenty of cover at centre-half, when everyone's fit. But I'd like to see a bit more physicality in the team, particularly in that number six area.”