By Ryan Fleming
It was almost with unconcerned ease. Neil Lennon’s Celtic, in one game, the 3-0 win over Rangers, almost forced out the miserable memories of the last couple years. In his time at Celtic Park, he brought out the trash and brought in some talent. With the club’s success comes recognition from other team’s and their managers. There are some members on Celtic — like Gary Hooper, Biram Kayal and Emilio Izaguirre — that now find themselves on the radars of top teams.
This is my message to you Lennon: you must not sell.
After the 3-0 emphatic thrashing of Rangers early Sunday morning, Celtic now has its destiny in its hands, with an eight-point lead in the league and two games in hand. The future of the Glasgow club looks big and bright with the new acquisitions. Lennon has also gotten the very best out of Scott Brown, a player that could easily, and almost certainly could be hailed as a bust or overrated. Brown is finally looking like a captain and is acting like one. Brown actually has the players around him playing better and bossing around the midfield with Kayal and Joe Ledley, who joined on a free transfer from Cardiff City as his usual partners.
Since Hooper came back from an injury on Jan. 15, the former Scunthorpe and Leyton Orient striker has been nearly unstoppable and Celtic fans aren’t the only ones that have taken notice. What’s really alarming is the fact that seemingly no one else was on Hooper’s radar at the end of last season. For a player that scored more goals last season than Andy Carroll in England’s Championship, it’s an alarming surprise that Carroll is playing in one of the best league’s in the world and Hooper is in the Scottish Premier League. But credit that to Lennon. The Northern Irishman brought in Hooper for £2.4m – an absurd price considering the astronomical fee that placed Carroll at Anfield.
Izaguirre is on the same boat. Brought in for almost nothing, a feeble £580k from Honduran club Motagua, the left back has brought in a certain peskiness and pace to the outside that the club lacked for years. With Sir Alex Ferguson and Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish at Celtic Park Sunday, local Boston papers suggest that the Honduran could solve the Reds problem at left back. With Izaguirre’s price believed to be around £4.2m, Lennon would do his club and its supporters proud by not selling or holding out for double or triple that price.
The story on Kayal is much of the same. The Israeli defensive midfielder has been perhaps the club’s best player this season. Morphing the former player to look like his current manager, Kayal has brought a certain intensity and passion that his teammates seem to feed off. Combine that with the utter grit and imposing, sometimes overwhelming physical presence he brings, Kayal is already on foreign radars, too. When Lennon brought in the former Maccabi Haifa midfielder on the realm of around £1.2m, the club’s midfield was at a loss. Losing battles and being pushed around was seemingly the norm. Kayal changed that.
When you count the most recent addition of Kris Commons from Derby County, Celtic added another punch to its attack. Lennon and his assistants, Alan Thompson and Johan Mjallby, have done an immense job at scouting, but it is Lennon who ultimately pulls the trigger on any moves.
With a team built around youth, strength and passion, the Hoops seem to bringing the SPL’s balance of power their way. Lennon has proved he can scout a player, now he has to be just as skilled at keeping them from the grasps of Europe’s elite.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at email@example.com.