Neil Lennon striking out in search of support for Odsonne Edouard

If – and Neil Lennon draws that word out – he becomes permanent Celtic manager then the current interim is in no doubt as to his No.1 task. Find the club a No.9.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Pic: SNS/Alan Harvey
Celtic manager Neil Lennon. Pic: SNS/Alan Harvey

It is an endeavour, confesses Lennon, into which he has already put time and effort. He was in Paris the morning after a scouting mission, he revealed the other day, when he heard the news about Billy McNeill’s death. Although the Irishman did not state his target, it is believed he was in the French capital to run the rule over £4.5 million Paris FC striker Silas Wamangituka. Lennon is in no doubt that, even with Leigh Griffiths working his way towards a return, Odsonne Edouard needs helpers given the weight placed on his 21-year-old shoulders.

“Centre forward is the position I would look at, if I were the manager,” Lennon said. “We are very much doing some work on that anyway, regardless, looking at players that have been recommended.

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“I’ve been delighted with Odsonne, absolutely delighted with him. He has had [to do a lot]. It is difficult playing up there on your own when you’ve got two big bears wanting to stop you, but he does it very, very well and I think he’s a better player than what I first envisaged him to be. I’ve been delighted with his contribution up till now, in the past couple of months he’s been outstanding. Listen, centre forward is a hard position to play; scoring goals is the hardest thing to do. There are 11 people out there trying to stop you. But he’s taken on the burden very, very well. Sometimes I’ve wanted to play with two strikers, get a player closer to him, but I haven’t had that luxury. We know strikers can cost money and possibly you could be looking at a [£9m] fee like the one paid for Odsonne.”

Lennon’s predecessor Brendan Rodgers mixed the central striking duties between Edouard and loanees Oliver Burke and Timothy Weah following the winter shut-down. In the two months since, Lennon has come to the conclusion that is not the best means to utilise this pair.

“We played Oli through the middle once or twice,” Lennon said. “The one outstanding centre-forward is Odsonne because of the other stuff he brings to the team. Oli had never played centre-forward until he came here. It’s very difficult to turn him into a centre-forward in three weeks and think he can score a barrowload. That’s unfair. Timo is more of a winger. Our bona-fide centre-forwards are Edouard, Griffiths and [Vakoun] Bayo, but he’s out for the season and Griffiths has been off for a few months.”

The difficulties Lennon inherited have tended to be downplayed in the rush to sense a post-Rodgers decline. Form is comparable with the same period last season but it is noticeable that loanees are not starting under Lennon. He insists it is not a deliberate policy to minimise the contributions of such as Filip Benkovic, Jeremy Toljan, Burke and Weah.

“We are just trying to pick the best team for the occasion,” he said. “Jozo [Simunovic] has come back in and has been outstanding. We know he has knee problems so we are just trying to manage him and get him ready to play. He has been a huge bonus. [Mikael] Lustig I have known for a long time. I think he is a top player. He has played brilliantly for us as well. As regards the loans, it is not a case of ‘I am not picking him because he might not be here next season’. You are just trying to pick the best team to do a job.”