Neil Lennon: It’s way too early to write off Jullien and Bolingoli

When it comes to assessing new signings at Celtic, the jury seldom stays out for too long. Snap judgments are all too readily and easily reached.

Boli Bolingoli, centre, has been training well ahead of the Europa League play-off against AIK, according to Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Picture: Craig Williamson/SNS

It’s a familiar story which is currently repeating itself in the case of Christopher Jullien and Boli Bolingoli, the defensive duo recruited at a combined cost of £10 million by the champions this summer.

Even before the leaves start changing colour, there is no shortage of those who have rushed to the conclusion that neither Jullien nor Bolingoli is good enough.

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Celtic: Get the latest team news, match previews and reports

Both men will be given another opportunity to win over the doubters when they line up for Neil Lennon’s side in the first leg of their Europa League play-off tie against AIK Stockholm at Celtic Park tonight.

Lennon, pictured, can cast his mind back to the summer of 2013, during his first spell as Celtic manager, for evidence that patience is required with any new signings.

That was the transfer 
window which saw Virgil van Dijk and Teemu Pukki both arrive at the club. Neither man was an instant hit, but Van Dijk ultimately shone and is now a Champions League winner and Ballon d’Or contender with Liverpool, while Pukki – albeit never a major success for Celtic – is now lighting up the English Premier League for Norwich City.

“It shows people often write players off here too quickly,” said Lennon. “That’s the environment we’re in.

“It’s almost ‘needs must, get him in and hit the ground running’ or after three games it’s ‘he’s a dud, get rid of him’. We can’t take that approach, it’s impossible to take that approach. Maybe some players will come good, maybe some others won’t.

“I remember Virgil played when we lost 2-0 in Karagandy in the first leg of a Champions League qualifier and was dropped for the second leg which we won 3-0. Playing for Celtic, playing in Glasgow, it’s a tough football environment. It takes a bit of character and players learn that as they go along.

“It’s funny looking at Teemu Pukki now. I remember Johan Mjallby and myself went to watch him play for Finland a couple of weeks before we signed him. We turned up at the Olympic Stadium in 
Helsinki and there was no-one there – it turned out the game was in another city, Turku! We had to jump on another flight and we ended up catching 30 minutes of him in action. He did enough to convince us to take a punt on him. He did okay for us (scoring nine goals in 37 games) but was still quite young then. He’s matured into a top striker. He’s an exciting Premier League player now, and I doubt very much people would have seen that coming. But it’s a great story and great for him.

“I’m delighted it’s worked out for him but it shows people often write players off here too quickly.

“I’m not writing them [Jullien and Bolingoli] off. Other people can but it’s way too early. We work with them. We coach them. It’s our responsibility to get the best out of them. We’re determined to get the best out of them and let them enjoy their time here and enjoy their football.

“Christopher is doing fine. Boli is lacking a bit of confidence but he’s training well so I’m sure there’s more to come from him.

“The pressure can be crippling at Celtic and, at the minute, I think it’s getting worse. It’s a sign of the times. Most neutrals would like to see us lose because 
people get fed up seeing Celtic winning and winning. But from our point of view it’s 
brilliant. We are focused on making sure we stick to that mantra. Neither player has hit the ground running but we’ve got hopes they will come good. We have to be patient.

“They’ll play on Thursday and hopefully it’ll be a step in the right direction for them to show what they’re really all about.”

Celtic previously overcame Swedish opposition in the shape of Helsingborgs and Elfsborg during Lennon’s first spell as manager and he expects a similar test as his team bid to put the disappointment of last week’s Champions League exit behind them.

“They were really tough ties against those Swedish teams, they were tight,” said Lennon. “We negotiated them pretty well, though, and I’m hoping for more of the same.

“AIK are a strong team, they play 3-5-2 and like all Swedish teams they have a good mentality, they are rigid. They are good at set plays and have Seb Larsson who had a good career in Britain and is a great Swedish international player.

“They won the league last year so it isn’t going to be a walk in the park. What I want is for us to be purposeful and on the front foot and set a good tempo, because when we do that we are quite good – very good actually.

“It is important we start the game at our pace and don’t let AIK take the sting out of it at any time.

“It is important that we endeavour to keep a clean sheet as well. We have to go full throttle, try and get on the front foot, get the crowd onside and try and play at a tempo that AIK find difficult.”