Neil Lennon: £9m signing augurs well for future - if I’m still here

Neil Lennon cut a relaxed figure as he sat in a changing room at Celtic’s Lennoxtown training complex on Friday, chewing the fat with the media ahead of his first meeting with Rangers since replacing Brendan Rodgers as Celtic caretaker manager on 26 February.

He is entitled to be sanguine, of course, and not simply because of the 10-point lead the champions enjoy over their closest rivals.

There is also succour to be drawn from the presence of Odsonne Edouard, the unorthodox but effective Frenchman, who has stepped up this season to fill the void created by the sale of countryman Moussa Dembele to Lyons for around £19m and the enforced absence of Scotland striker Leigh Griffiths due to medical problems.

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Rangers’ fine Colombian, Alfredo Morelos, has garnered more headlines – and goals; 29 to Edouard’s 18 – but Lennon would not be inclined to swap.

Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard. Picture: SNSCeltic striker Odsonne Edouard. Picture: SNS
Celtic striker Odsonne Edouard. Picture: SNS

Edouard has recorded his tally in spite of enduring a campaign pock-marked by injury. Morelos, by contrast, has missed games only through suspension after racking up 17 cautions and four dismissals thus far, compared to the paltry three yellow cards Edouard has been shown.

He also has three goals from four appearances against Rangers, compared to Morelos’ none from seven versus Celtic.

Lennon has enjoyed working with the former Paris St Germain forward, although he stresses that the 21-year-old is nowhere near as good as he will become.

“He’s a maverick and he has really good skills at times even if, physically, he could do a little more,” he said. “However, I’ve been really pleased with his contribution.

“Odsonne’s come up with some really important goals but there’s more to come from him. Even so, I’m pleased with his progress and I’m sure the club are as well.

“He has the ability to rise to the occasion and that’s always a good thing to have. You need your big players at big moments in the big games. He’s certainly done that for me in two of our four games so far.”

“The [stoppage-time winning] goal he scored at Dundee two weeks ago was really important, psychologically. Can he score more? That may come and his all-round play might get better as well but we’re talking about a player who’s nowhere near his peak yet.

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“He’s got 18 goals already, which is a healthy return and, in the modern game, the way prices are going everywhere else, then £9-10m is not a lot of money.

“It is for us, obviously, but we’re hoping to get that back over the years with what he produces for us.”

Lennon is also well aware of the confidence a talismanic forward can pump throughout the rest of a team.

“I played with Henrik Larsson and he scored key goals in key games,” he said. “Chris Sutton did his bit as well. That’s a good knack to have and the timing of Odsonne’s goals under me have been pretty good, although I wouldn’t mind if they were scored a bit earlier.

“I’m pleased for him because he’s a quiet boy, and he’s working very hard at his game at the minute.”

Edouard does have a tendency, particularly evident at times when he has been asked to play in a front two, to drift off to the left wing and get in the way of Scott Sinclair when he can wreak more havoc through the middle.

“I’ve played him a bit off once but only because I was just in the door, but I see him as a No9.

“There are facets of that position he needs to learn a little bit more but he can be on the periphery of a game and then, all of a sudden, catch fire - and that’s the maverick in him,” said Lennon.

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“Ideally, we’d prefer to work more centrally in the process of the team and simply play centre-forward as much as he can. He’s a good finisher once he’s in there.

“Physically he’s a specimen; I don’t think even he knows yet how strong he can be.

“Can he be more consistent in his performances? Yes, and we’re hoping that’ll come.”

Lennon butted horns with the Celtic board over loosening the purse strings during his first spell in charge but he was pleasantly surprised when they broke their transfer record to make his loan deal from PSG permanent.

“I’m glad they did! It augurs well for the future…if I’m here,” he said. “Whether it sets a precedent, I don’t know but it did send out a message that the club do have that spending power if needed.

“He’ll develop more. He’s still adjusting to the British game, having come over from France. He doesn’t speak great English yet - or at least he cracks on he doesn’t. He pricks his ears up sometimes when he wants to.

“He’s a very laid-back sort of character as well but you always get the feeling he can do something special at any given time and that’s the real asset he has; he can produce something out of nothing.”