Hibernian manager Neil Lennon says the Football Federation of Australia would “open up a whole can of worms” if they were to allow Celtic midfielder Tom Rogic to face Rangers at Ibrox a week today but deny his own Socceroos the opportunity to face Hearts in the capital derby later the same day.
With Rogic plus Hibs trio Mark Milligan, Jamie Maclaren and Martin Boyle all in the Australian squad for the forthcoming Asian Cup, the FFA have told both clubs the players must fly to Dubai on 27 December.
That would mean the Celtic and Hibs contingent could play in the Boxing Day fixtures, against Aberdeen and Rangers respectively, but would not be around for the derbies.
Yesterday both Lennon and his Celtic counterpart Brendan Rodgers each said they were baffled by the situation, with the Hibs boss accusing the Aussies of moving the goalposts.
When he met Socceroos coach Graham Arnold on his recent trip to Scotland, Lennon was given the impression that he would be able to retain the services of at least a couple of his trio for the capital clash.
Lennon said: “We were of the opinion that we would be able to negotiate one or two players and not lose all three, so the goalposts have moved a little bit.
“I know he [Arnold] is under pressure, not just from us but from other clubs, but that wasn’t the indication we were given when we were promoting [Martin] Boyle to him. Boyle went away and did very well and has become a welcome addition to their squad but then we get the email in saying they are taking all three of them after Boxing Day!”
Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers, though, has not given up hope of delaying Rogic’s departure. He says the 26-year-old, who has scored five times against Rangers, is ready to personally ask Arnold for permission to play next weekend.
“Tom is the type of player who would do that,” he said. “He’s got good relations with Graham, who I think was his first coach back in Australia, and knows him well. We’ll wait and see what develops but it needs a quick resolution.
“He wants to play for Celtic, of course, and he also wants to play for Australia.
“On behalf of the boy, we have to fight to give him the chance to play because it doesn’t make sense that he can’t travel after the game on the 29th, when there is still a week before their first [Asian Cup] game. It doesn’t make sense for him to travel on the night of the 27th then sit and do virtually nothing for a couple of days – and be sat in Dubai watching Rangers v Celtic when he knows he could be playing in it.
“It’s not a good feeling for him, to meet up with the squad when he could be playing against Rangers, arrive on the morning of the 30th and still have a week’s preparation for the competition.
“He’s a big player for us in big games and that’s what you want, you want your biggest players to play in this type of game – and Tom is desperate to play in it. These are showcase games.
But Lennon warned that any disparity in the approach to Celtic’s appeals and their own, would prompt a backlash.
“Of course we would say something if that was to happen. It opens up a whole can of worms. You can’t have one rule for one and another for the rest. It is not just ourselves and Celtic, there are English teams as well that they are having to battle so I appreciate it is probably a difficult situation for Graham as well but it still isn’t the indication that we got two months ago.
“It is something I have had before at Celtic when the South Korean boys were away and it is disappointing that we do not have at least one of them available for the Hearts game.
“At the end of the day it is not as if they need the training as they will have played six or seven games before the tournament starts and I am sure Brendan will feel the same about Tom. By staying they are not missing the tournament but by going they are missing games against Hearts and against Rangers and I think that’s what has upset the managers involved.”