Celtic manager Neil Lennon pleads: Don’t sell our stars

Parkhead boss expects a flurry of interest from English Premier League clubs before window closes

Celtic manager Neil Lennon says it is too important a season to be 'selling players for top dollar'. Picture: PA
Celtic manager Neil Lennon says it is too important a season to be 'selling players for top dollar'. Picture: PA

Neil Lennon believes the significance of trying to win a tenth consecutive domestic league title means Celtic must resist the temptation to cash in on any of their leading players in the wake of their latest Champions League exit.

The Scottish champions are bracing themselves for interest from the English Premier League in several key members of their first-team squad before the extended transfer window closes on 5 October.

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Celtic manager Lennon insists missing out on the £30 million the club would have earned from reaching the group stage of the Champions League does not make it more likely bids for players such as Odsonne Edouard, Kristoffer Ajer and Olivier Ntcham – all in the penultimate year of their current contracts – will either be encouraged or accepted.

“This is too important a season to be selling players for top dollar,” said Lennon as he reflected on the fall-out from Wednesday’s 2-1 defeat against Ferencvaros at Celtic Park in the second qualifying round of the Champions League.

“We want to keep our best players. Losing on Wednesday is damaging but it’s not terminal by any stretch of the imagination.

“I don’t get involved in any negotiations with agents or on the contract side of things. We make recommendations about players we want to keep and those who deserve new contracts. Negotiations are ongoing as we speak. I don’t think we budget for getting in the Champions League. If we get in, it’s a big bonus for the club. We don’t need to sell any of our players, we don’t want to sell any of our players. If anything, we want to tie them down on longer contracts. I think that is the forefront of what we want to do.”

Asked specifically about leading striker Edouard, who missed out against Ferencvaros because of a thigh injury and is attracting interest from a clutch of English top-flight clubs including Leicester City, Everton and Aston Villa, Lennon confirmed discussions with the French player and his agents are imminent.

“We want to talk to him and his representatives and try to keep him here for as long as we can and as long as he wants to be here,” said Lennon. “It was a real blow losing him. He gave it a go in training on Tuesday but he just felt it was too sore. Again yesterday he was feeling the thigh muscle. It’s a big loss to us given the way we want to play.”

Having questioned the commitment and desire to remain at Celtic of some of his players in his immediate post-match media interviews on Wednesday night, Lennon appeared keen to temper that criticism.

Asked if he regretted his comments, he replied “not really” but then added “I don’t want to elaborate on it”. Ahead of Celtic’s return to Premiership action at home to Motherwell tomorrow, Lennon insists his intention is to ensure every member of his squad is fully focused on the potentially momentous bid for ten-in-a-row.

“The players are aware how important this season is,” he added. “We made them aware of that before the first league game against Hamilton. It was the start of the league campaign and we told them how historic this could be.

“They know what it means to the support, the club and what it means to us as a group. There was no evidence of any poor performances in the team on Wednesday night.

“The attitude was spot on but I am angry that we have let that one get away from us, through our own fault. We played more than well enough to win the game twice over.

“I just want the players to settle down and focus. This is always an unsettling time of the year but I’ve been in that position as well as a player where you have a bit of interest and sometimes you can get distracted.

“Sometimes it can agitate away at you in the background as a player. So the message to them basically is ‘come on, let’s really focus’. There is a big season lying ahead of us. We want you all with us.”

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