Celtic manager Neil Lennon has taken exception with Sky Sports pundit Kris Boyd’s assertion that there are no great footballers plying their trade in the Scottish game, a claim the former Rangers and Scotland forward made during the broadcasters’ coverage of the champions’ 4-1 win over Ross County on Sunday.
Boyd, inset, made the remark in response to the suggestion that Celtic currently possess several great players. Lennon believes Boyd is falling into the same trap as English analysts and managers, who regard the Premiership as a minor league populated by players who could not cut it in the south.
Lennon, who has heard such talk for almost two decades now, reeled off a list of current and former top-tier stars in Scotland who could, or already have, proved that perception misguided and questioned the thinking behind Boyd’s claim.
“I totally disagree with that,” said Lennon. “It depends how you define great. If he’s comparing everyone to Messi and Ronaldo then, but Virgil Van Dijk played in Scotland not so long ago – and I thought he should have won the Ballon D’Or this year.
“Do we have a Kevin de Bruyne or an Eden Hazard? Maybe not, but did we ever have great players at that level? Henrik Larsson, possibly. But the way the game is changing you have to go and spend £30million to bring these players now.
“Listen, we had Virgil before and can we go and create more great players along the way? Of course we can. I think it’s an idiotic statement to make. Give me £50million and I’ll bring in a load of players here and we’ll see what we can do with them.
“Unfortunately, we just don’t have the financial back-up English teams have. We have to create our own monsters again. John McGinn could potentially go on to be a great player. Callum McGregor, I think, is a great player. But how do you compare them? If you put them in the Premier League, would they thrive in it? No question.
“McGinn is already doing that. Andrew Robertson is a great player who was playing in Scotland three or four years ago. Callum and James Forrest would excel in the Premier League.
“For me, it’s folly and doesn’t make a lot of sense to say these things. I get that pundits like Kris have to be controversial and make these sort of statements, but it doesn’t wash with me. We have to talk the game up, not talk it down.
“Whether it’s petty jealousy or something? I don’t know. I don’t know what his mode of thinking is when making a statement like that.”
The current debate in the Scottish game is whether Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard is a superior player to Rangers’ Alfredo Morelos. Lennon refused to offer his verdict on that contentious issue but he stressed that both young men have already proved to him that they can compete with the best anywhere.
“They’re two great players, each different in style and the bring a lot of quality to each team,” he said. “Fans will compare them; young fans, old fans, that’s what all supporters do when there’s a rivalry and I don’t mind that at all. We have more than two top players in the country but they’re two excellent centre-forwards and they’re the ones that make a difference, I suppose.”
It was Lennon who signed Van Dijk for Celtic from Groningen in 2013 and he was still fielding calls from sceptical English predators about the Dutchman after he resigned as manager the following year.
“When I went to see him, I thought he must have had one leg or something like that because he was so good that you’re thinking: ‘There has to be something wrong with him because nobody else is taking him on,’” he said. “Loads of scouts were ringing me when Van Dijk was here and I’m saying to them: ‘What are you waiting on? Is it because he plays in Scotland?’ Well, he’d already played for us in the Champions League. It was there right in front of them.
“Yes, he’s gone on to play well in England but he was already that player when he was up here in Scotland. Edouard and Morelos are the same. They’re already those players and they’re both doing it in Europe as well.”