Emilio Izaguirre will be ‘better than before’

EMILIO Izaguirre is ready to come back from injury a stronger player than he was before both mentally and physically, according to Neil Lennon.

The Honduran left-back suffered a broken ankle during the second game of the season back in August, and it was feared then that he would be out of action for up to six months. But he is now fit again, and available for Celtic’s game at home to Kilmarnock tomorrow.

“It’s great to be able to sit here and talk about Emilio,” Lennon said yesterday. “He played in a bounce game this week and it was his first 90 minutes in quite a while. He was a bit ring rusty, but if I’m honest he cruised through it.

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“He’s a naturally fit lad but he has had a traumatic injury. It was a bit of a complicated one.

“He’s been frustrated and there’s no doubt at times it’s been hard for him. But he’s a happy boy and he’s worked like a Trojan.”

Izaguirre, who signed a contract extension in August which would keep him at Parkhead until 2015, was one of Celtic’s most impressive performers last season, his first with the club. Lennon is confident that, having worked so hard to regain fitness, the Central American could become an even more important player as Celtic again bid to wrest the title away from Rangers.

“He’ll be back and he’ll be better than he was before. I don’t like making predictions, but he’ll be physically stronger and mentally stronger, too.

“He’s bursting a gut to be involved and there’s no doubt we’ll have to temper the expectations and apply the brakes. We’re talking with the medical staff all the time and we’ll use precaution.

“He’s had his family here with him and I think that’s helped. He had a wee break back home, but he’s just desperate to get back playing.

“We want to get him back to the way he was last season. We will be careful with him.”

Kelvin Wilson, Paddy McCourt and Joe Ledley are also in contention for a place against Kilmarnock, but Glenn Loovens, Kris Commons, Adam Matthews and Daniel Majstorovic are out. The fractured cheekbone which is likely to sideline Majstorovic for six weeks has reinforced Lennon’s feeling that he needs to recruit a new central defender during the transfer window, while he also hopes to strengthen his squad up front.

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“Predominantly a centre-forward and a centre-half,” he said when asked his priorities for January. “I wouldn’t have thought there would be many leaving.

“We don’t need to sell, and I don’t think we need to sell to buy. It would need to be a real knockout offer. I also want to keep this team together.

“It is a bit different if players are knocking on the door saying they want to go. It would depend if it’s good for the player. We did have offers for some players in the summer – big offers that we declined. We said no, because we didn’t think they were ready to go and didn’t think the club suited them.”

Celtic have been linked with Maritimo striker Baba Diawara, but negotiations have yet to reach a serious stage. “There is nothing yet,” Lennon said. “Things won’t kick-off until January.

“We are working hard behind the scenes, but I haven’t given anyone a definite answer on one particular player yet. I am just going through options at the moment.”

There has been a similar lack of contact with Dundee United’s Scott Allan, but Lennon suggested that interest in the player from both north and south of the Border showed that the Scottish game was not in as bad a shape as it was often painted. “He is a good footballer, but my only concern would be that we have plenty in the position. He is a player that is of interest, [but] I haven’t spoken to him yet.

“The thing is, people keep knocking the game up here, but every time I pick up a paper, I’m seeing Scottish-based players linked with big clubs. There is a list of players who have gone south and there is a lot of talent up here, because southern clubs keep coming up here looking for talent. Scott Allan is the latest one.

“With younger players, you can persuade them that it is good to come here [Celtic] for their career.

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“At the bigger level, we can’t match what the Premier League has to offer, but we can with younger players and you can see what we are trying to do. We have a young team with developing players coming through, who are doing fantastically well.”

The Old Firm match next Wednesday is the highlight of the festive football programme, but Lennon said his players could not afford to think about that match when they have Kilmarnock to face first. “We are focused on the Kilmarnock game and it’s not difficult to do that. The situation could all change if you take your eye off the ball. You could end up giving yourself added pressure.

“All we have been thinking about is Kilmarnock this week. Both teams like to play, so it should be a good game.