Celtic manager Neil Lennon won’t be tempted by big names in January sales

NEIL Lennon has resolved to maintain a “prudent” transfer policy in 2013, despite the fact that Celtic embrace the New Year with greater ambitions than they did 12 months ago.

NEIL Lennon has resolved to maintain a “prudent” transfer policy in 2013, despite the fact that Celtic embrace the New Year with greater ambitions than they did 12 months ago.

The Celtic manager, whose side face Motherwell at home today in the Clydesdale Bank Premier League, insisted yesterday that he will not be pursuing any marquee signings in the January transfer window, to augment his squad before the Champions League last 16-tie with Juventus on 12 February.

Lennon is looking for low-key recruits, especially on the left side of the pitch, to improve his options but recognises that the big-name signings in previous January windows did not pay off. Craig Bellamy and Robbie Keane were signed in high-profile loans in 2005 and 2010 to secure the championship, but each time Celtic lost out in the title race to Rangers.

Now, Rangers are out of the picture. Lennon’s side hold a six-point lead in the league over Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Motherwell and have no need of a big name to settle the SPL issue. That allows Lennon some freedom to tinker solely for the European arena, something unimaginable when 2012 dawned.

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“I would not do that [make marquee signings],” said Lennon. “I do not think there’s any need. We have to be prudent. That has worked for us over the past couple of years and we feel that is the right way to go. I need left-sided players, either a winger or a left-back, because we definitely are short in that department. However, I think what my players are doing now is creating their own names.”

One of the more expensive acquisitions in recent years, Mohamed Bangura, who cost £2million from AIK Stockholm in 2011, is likely to be told he has no future at Celtic. The Sierra Leone striker has just returned from a loan spell at AIK and could now move back to the Swedish club permanently. Thomas Rogne has also been linked with a move to AIK, with Lennon considering fresh blood in the centre-back department by bringing in Isaraeli Rami Gershon from Standard Liege on loan.

“We have been working away in the background for a couple of months,” explained Lennon. “We have not really contacted anybody yet because we want to be sure. So it might be a case of getting out and looking at players before we make our final decision.

“It is a tough market but I think we are maybe a more attractive proposition compared [for potential recruits] to what we would have been this time last year. So we will endeavour to bring in the kind of player we’re looking for and see what the month brings.”

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The defeat to Hibernian at Easter Road last Saturday annoyed Lennon, who is far from satisfied to be leading the league by six points. “I would have liked it to be ten points,” he declared. “With a game in hand, it is healthy but I do not want any more setbacks.

“I have set the players a points total now and losing to Hibs did not help that.

“They know what is required of them and I just want a little bit more now. The majority 
are giving me everything and December was a heavy month. To come through it with six wins and one defeat is not too shabby.

“I want to progress in 2013, and to keep playing the brand of football we have been playing, and for the players to become even better than they are now. I would like to see a few of my players healthy again, like James Forrest, Kris Commons and Anthony Stokes, people who can entertain fans. We have missed Stokes and his goals.

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“My ambition is to keep this group together for the remainder of the season anyway and see what the summer brings. I think we have got a lot to look forward to. I think they are playing for the club. They are a close-knit group and very proud of what they have achieved so far but we have not won anything yet.”

Lennon’s recruitment philosophy is shared by his counterpart today, Stuart McCall, although the Motherwell manager could be powerless to prevent his best assets leaving the club after the trip to Celtic Park ushers in the two-week SPL winter break. Jamie Murphy is poised to move to Sheffield United, while Henrik Ojamaa has attracted interest in Europe.

Lennon has great sympathy that McCall’s work will be wrecked by financial forces at Fir Park. “Stuart is swimming against the tide but he has done a brilliant job and I think that should be recognised,” said the Celtic manager.

“He had Motherwell in second place last season for a while before coming third and they are right up there again with a small squad.

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“The brand of football Motherwell play is great to watch. They were there at the start and they had a dip and now they are coming back again. So, whatever he is doing, it is working for them. It is impossible [to stop players leaving]. They seem to be a real close-knit team, 
he only uses maybe 15 or 16 players a season and they give him everything.”