Celtic won’t get drawn into arms race with Rangers, vows Neil Lennon

Celtic manager Neil Lennon supervises training at Lennoxtown. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
Celtic manager Neil Lennon supervises training at Lennoxtown. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS
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Neil Lennon knows his history. So there was a decent chance the Northern Irishman was offering a nod towards David Murray when he insisted that Celtic wouldn’t be drawn into an arms race with Rangers as they upholster their squad for the challenges ahead.

Back in 1998, Murray, in his role as Rangers chairman, was hellbent on trying to crush his rivals’ spirit, famously offering up the quote that “for every five pounds Celtic spend, we will spend ten”. His hubristic largesse delivered short-term success but the true cost was only realised years later as Rangers stumbled with little grace into administration and then liquidation.

Celtic's Luca Connell. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

Celtic's Luca Connell. Picture: Alan Harvey/SNS

It has been a slow rebuild for the Ibrox side but, seven years on, they now seem intent on challenging Celtic’s domestic dominance. Seven players have been recruited this summer, with an eighth – defender Filip Helander – expected to also arrive for a transfer free in the region of £3.5million.

That renewed show of strength has not gone unnoticed across the city but Lennon, who would like to add at least two more players this summer, can’t afford to become distracted from the job in hand. “I can’t affect what Rangers do,” he said. “It’s not one of those situations where if they spend £4m, then we want to spend £8m. It’s not like that. We just want to get the right players in if the price is good and we think there’s quality and re-sellable value in them as well.

“We have to focus on ourselves. You can’t affect what’s going on elsewhere. You can’t – and we won’t. We might be [going for the same players] but that creates its own issues. Sometimes agents play one against another and I don’t want to get involved in any of that nonsense either.”

Supporters can get frustrated if they don’t see a raft of new names paraded during pre-season but Lennon offered encouragement that sometimes a signing can be concluded in the space of an afternoon.

“We’ve got four or five days [until the next Uefa deadline] and you can do a deal in three or four hours. It’s a question of whittling it down: is this the right price, the right age and the right wage?

“We have to filter that all down and have been agonising over a lot of players over the last two or three weeks. We want to get it right. Not just for the sake of short-term.

“There’s a lot of work being done in the background. We had a four-hour recruitment meeting on Wednesday on two positions. It’s quite energy-sapping sometimes.”

Dealing with a wayward player already on the books will likely also prove a draining experience for Lennon on Monday when Olivier Ntcham returns from his extended summer break. The Frenchman will be asked to explain comments made about the poverty of Scottish football and his desire to explore a new challenge. “It’s a question of sitting down and having it out with him. Finding out where that came from and what his mindset is.

“Whether he is unhappy or not, it shouldn’t have been made for public consumption the way he has done it. He will be reminded of his responsibilities while he is still here. If he wants to go, we will have to sit down and take a view on it.”

Celtic will use this afternoon’s home friendly with Stade Rennais to offer a run-out to a number of fringe players, with Lennon set to hand debuts to Luca Connell and Christopher Jullien. Injuries have ruled out Mikey Johnston – who will also miss the second leg of the Champions League qualifier against Sarajevo on Wednesday – and Boli Bolingoli-Mbombo, while Tom Rogic and Kieran Tierney remain longer-term concerns.

Connell, a recent signing from Bolton Wanderers, is eager to get going. “I can’t wait to make my debut at Celtic Park,” said the teenager. “The manager has said he’s been impressed with me and is happy that I’ve been working hard.

“I’ve been doing extra work to catch up on fitness. I feel ready to play. My mum, dad and girlfriend are all up so hopefully I can get some game time.”