Lennon keen for Bangura to sit out Celtic match

Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS
Neil Lennon. Picture: SNS
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CELTIC manager Neil Lennon has revealed he will strongly advise on-loan striker Mohamed Bangura not to play for Elfsborg against his parent club in the third qualifying round of the Champions League.

Yesterday’s draw at Uefa headquarters in Nyon paired Celtic with Swedish champions Elfsborg, assuming both clubs complete the formalities of their second qualifying round ties next week. Lennon’s men take a 3-0 lead into the second leg of their meeting with Cliftonville, while Elfsborg enjoy a 7-1 advantage over Latvian side Daugava.

Among the goalscorers for Elfsborg in that first leg on Wednesday night was Bangura, who is currently on loan from Celtic to the Boras-based club until the end of December.

Under the formal terms of the loan agreement under Uefa regulations, Bangura is eligible to play against Celtic. Elfsborg operations manager Stefan Andreasson, speaking immediately after yesterday’s draw, insisted the 23-year-old will be involved against the Scottish champions.

“He will play,” said Andreasson. “I have sent a text message to (Celtic chief executive) Peter Lawwell about the game, but not about Bangura. He knows the agreement. Bangura is doing well with us. He is an important player for us.”

But Lennon is determined that Bangura will not be in a position to inflict damage on the club he remains under contract to until the summer of 2015. He intends to speak to the Sierra Leone international soon and convince him it is not in his interests to line up against Celtic.

“According to Uefa, we can’t enforce any ruling for him not to play,” admitted Lennon, “but personally, I feel it would be very difficult for Mohamed to play in this tie. If he looked at it in the cold light of day, he would not play himself. I imagine he will be in touch in the next few days. I will put my point across and he will give me his opinion, but it would be best in his current situation that he isn’t involved in the tie.”

Signed from AIK Stockholm for £2.2 million two years ago, Bangura has been unable to make an impact at Celtic, where he has failed to score in 16 first team appearances so far. He returned to AIK for a loan spell last year, scoring five times in 16 games, and has netted seven goals in 17 outings during his current stint with Elfsborg.

“He is doing fine,” added Lennon. “The move on loan to Elfsborg was best for both parties. He is getting game time in an environment he knows well and we’re hoping he comes back a better player for the experience.”

Elfsborg have won both of their previous European ties against Scottish opponents – beating St Mirren 2-1 on aggregate in the first round of the Uefa Cup back in 1980 and more recently thumping Hibs 4-0 in the Intertoto Cup five years ago.

Swedish champions last season for only the second time in the last 51 years, Elfsborg’s defence of their domestic title currently sees them fifth in the Allsvenskan table, five points behind leaders Malmo after 16 games of the campaign.

Managed by Jorgen Lennartsson, the former Sweden Under-21 international coach, their best known player is 36-year-old former Southampton midfielder Anders Svensson, who has been capped 141 times by Sweden.

Former Fulham striker David Elm and English forward James Keene, previously at Portsmouth, are other potential threats for Celtic, who overcame Swedish champions in the shape of Helsingborgs last year on their way to the Champions League group stage. “It’s a very similar challenge,” added Lennon. “Helsingborgs had also won their previous round very convincingly last year. Looking at Elfsborg’s recent results, they have plenty of goals in them. It’s a dangerous tie, there’s no getting away from it. They have bags of experience as well. My assistant Johan Mjallby will know them very, very well and we’ll try to have them watched before the first leg. I might even go myself and get a look at them and try and formulate an idea of how we’re going to play against them.”

Celtic are scheduled to be at home in the first leg on 30 or 31 July, with the return fixture at Elfsborg’s Boras Arena, which has a capacity of 14,800 for Uefa fixtures, on 6 or 7 August.

Lennon’s side have a friendly against Brentford in London today, followed by the second leg of the Champions League tie against Cliftonville at Celtic Park on Tuesday night and then another friendly at home to Borussia Moenchengladbach next Saturday. “That will be a really good workout,” said Lennon, “and it gives us plenty of game time for the players to get up to the levels we’d like them to be at. They showed a lot of good things in Belfast on Wednesday, even though Cliftonville are a part-time team in essence. We handed it well, but Elfsborg will be a step up.”

Lennon, who said talks are still ongoing regarding striker Gary Hooper’s potential sale to QPR, revealed summer 
signing Virgil van Dijk is set to miss the Elfsborg tie. The Dutch defender has a slight fracture in a foot and will be sidelined for another three weeks, but Adam Matthews, Charlie Mulgrew, Joe Ledley and Hooper, who all missed the Cliftonville first leg, are scheduled to return to 
training on Monday.

Meanwhile, a claim from Cardiff City owner Vincent Tan that Celtic moved the goalposts in talks over Victor Wanyama’s exit from Parkhead have been strongly disputed by Lennon. Tan claimed that Cardiff agreed a £10 million fee with Celtic for the midfielder, but were then told they must pay more. 
Wanyama eventually joined Southampton for £12.5 million.

“We didn’t agree a deal and didn’t agree a price with Cardiff,” insisted Lennon. “From our point of view we totally disagree with what he (Tan) is saying publicly. There was never a deal agreed with Cardiff and never a price set for Victor. The only confirmed offer we had was from Southampton and it was considerably more than the figure Cardiff were talking about.

“It’s frustrating to see him trying to give us a bad name in this because we acted as we always do, with the greatest professionalism and dignity towards ourselves and any other club. Cardiff made an offer that wasn’t what we wanted and nowhere near the valuation of the player or structure of a deal that suited us so it was never going to happen.”