Neil Lennon refuses to write off Mikael Lustig at Celtic

When it was first confirmed Neil Lennon was returning to Celtic as manager jokes were doing the rounds about him calling up Victor Wanyama, Joe Ledley and Gary Hooper in order to “get the old gang back together”.

Mikael Lustig 'has been a top, top player' for Celtic, says manager Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS.

In the case of Mikael Lustig, it’s true. Lustig was very much a member of “the old gang” but had fallen out of favour in recent times under Brendan Rodgers. Lennon didn’t have to pick up the phone. He simply had to beckon Lustig in from the fringes. The Swede was an unused substitute in Rodgers’ last six matches in charge before his shock switch to Leicester City. He was being edged out, with the recruitment of right-back Jeremy Toljan a clear indication that Rodgers felt Celtic could do better than rely on Lustig.

It’s no coincidence that Lustig has been involved in both matches to date under Lennon, coming on as substitute last week against Hearts to help secure a dramatic victory
and then replacing Toljan at right-back in Saturday’s 2-0 Scottish Cup victory over Hibs.

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As it stands, Lennon is only in charge until the end of the season but it would surprise no one if both he and Lustig were still around at the start of the next campaign after signing new deals.

Before the Northern Irishman returned it looked as if Lustig’s distinguished career at Celtic Park was coming to a close after more than seven years. He signed from Rosenburg during Lennon’s first spell in charge and has proved an exceptional servant. Lennon clearly feels loyalty towards the defender but also insists he merits inclusion in the first team and is worthy of a new contract.

Lennon attributes any loss of form to the demands placed on him. As well as featuring week, in week out for Celtic until recently, Lustig has been maintaining a hectic schedule of playing international football for Sweden. He featured at both Euro 2016 and last summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Lustig’s current deal expires at the end of this season and with reported interest from elsewhere, including his homeland, it was presumed he was preparing to say farewell to the Parkhead faithful. However, Lennon cautions anyone against such an assumption.

“I’m not writing him off, I know what he is capable of and what a player he is,” said Lennon. “What Mikael has done for the last seven or eight years is play non-stop football, whether it be 40 or 50 games a season here or European qualifiers, World Cup qualifiers, finals.

“He has been through the rigours of a physically demanding season. He has been playing every game possible and eventually the fatigue or stiffness or whatever you want to call it creeps in. But this guy has been a top, top player for this club and a top player for his country as well and I think he’s got plenty to offer Celtic.”

Lennon confirmed he will “sit down and discuss things” with players such as Lustig and Dedryck Boyata, who is also out of contract at the end of this season. The defender was unsettled at the start of this campaign amid interest from elsewhere but has returned to form at the heart of the Celtic defence. The manager, even given the temporary nature of his own position, hasn’t given up on Boyata being persuaded to stay longer.

Lennon has underlined the importance of continuity and it’s noticeable that the two successive wins on his watch since returning have hinged on the contribution of stalwarts such as James Forrest and Scott Brown. Goals by both players took Celtic into the semi-finals of the Scottish Cup at the weekend. The pair were vital contributors in Lennon’s first spell as manager at Celtic.

As in the case of Lustig, Lennon believes Brown still has a lot more to give and having signed a new two-year deal under Rodgers can concentrate on his game without other worries about the future.

“I know what it’s like to be getting into your mid-30s when you’re not too sure of your next step and people are saying, ‘you can go to America or you can go to Australia’,” said Lennon. “But he is still more than good enough to play here for another couple of years. He has a contract and I’m delighted because it will settle him down. We are seeing the best of Scott Brown again, whereas before he was maybe a bit off the boil because there were other things swimming around his head.

“He is so important to me and [interim assistant manager] John Kennedy,” he added. “Like your Lustigs and your Jamesie Forrests, you need those sort of players who have been the course before. They are important to me personally at this stage.”